Hamilton was poised to prosper once. With the growing, grumbling consensus that Toronto may not be such a great place to live for much longer, Hamilton is poised once again.
By Ben Bull
Published May 18, 2007
The latest plans for Toronto's waterfront are not exactly generating huge excitement this side of the pond. Perhaps that's because, in the midst of the many neighbourhood beautification projects that are dangled like carrots just out of our reach, the only project that looks like getting a nibble is ... another condo tower.
After the weekend announcement of the all-but-done deal, disenchanted Torontonians screamed their frustrations all over the op-ed section of Monday's Toronto Star.
"Maybe if they (Toronto council) stopped their habitual and ridiculous squabbling, they might just have a clue once in awhile," chastised Linda Dowds of Toronto.
"Is all hope lost for the development of our "world-class" city?" asked resident Peter Roman, "Here's a novel challenge for our city's leaders: Lead!"
And this from disgruntled resident, Robert Manders:
This is why I have no faith that the beautiful plans for the lower Don River, or any plans to beautify the waterfront, will ever be more than exercises in public deception: Beautiful parks and grassy knolls will always be sacrificed to development.
Grass doesn't generate tax revenue, but condos do. Toronto has never demonstrated any ability to put into practice the vaunted words of public access and beautification. The tallest towers will always get the choicest land.
This latest squabble - one of many permeating the political landscape in my new home town - made me roll back the years, to Hamilton's prime. I recalled the Trevor Shaw article, Once Upon A Time, in which he recounted Hamilton's past glory as a communications hub and economic powerhouse.
"Hamilton was...Canada's industrial powerhouse" wrote Trevor, recalling the 1910 arrival of Stelco, "The location was ideal...a close proximity to the U.S. border, a deep-sea port with access to the Atlantic through the St. Lawrence seaway and to the Ohio basin via the Welland Canal... Hamilton was proud. Hamilton was world-class."
Back then Hamilton was second cousin to no one. In fact, its growth rivalled that of any Canadian city. Toronto almost paled in comparison.
But that was then. Today, Hamilton's problems are well known. The heydey of its manufacturing prosperity is long gone and, with the influx of new residents in search of cheap housing pouring in from the east, the city struggles to shape its destiny into anything other than a bedroom community for its well-to-do cousin, Toronto.
Perhaps it doesn't have to be this way. Maybe Hamilton, once again, can be poised to erode the enviable position of its illustrious neighbour to the east?
Because here in Toronto, while Hamilton tries to set itself apart and create the kind of diverse economy essential to any successful city, we are stuck. It's as if we have nowhere left to go.
Four years after Mayor David Miller's infamous broom campaign, in which he promised to sweep away corruption and bring a new energy to City Hall, nothing much has changed.
The island airport bridge didn't happen but a commercial air service did. The much maligned waterfront power plant is still a go. Nobody buried the Gardiner. And the only green scheme to emerge from the Mayor's office is the disappointing decision to truck our garbage to London, Ontario instead of Michigan.
It's all very underwhelming.
So what does this all mean for Hamilton? Well, as we've said before here on RTH, Hamilton has, in many ways, something of a blank canvas to work with when it comes to charting its future course.
When you look at the large swaths of undeveloped land along the waterfront and the downtown and the little pockets of potential in the North End, you can see that Hamilton has an exciting template for successful regeneration.
In Toronto, however, where ideas abound, and leadership has run aground, the focus seems to be on just fixing past mistakes, on working around our overdevelopment, rather than steering a bold course into the future. What with this latest waterfront condo announcement, it seems we can't even do that.
"As it stands now, we might as well scrap any waterfront revitalization committees...because it is clear there is no waterfront left," laments Linda Dowds, in the latter part of her letter.
The back-door deals are done and there is nothing left to revitalize. The committees talking about tearing down the Gardiner - they, too, can go, since traffic needs to somehow get in and out, even it will move at less than a crawl. The committees pushing for closing one lane on Queens Quay to make way for more green space, extended bike routes and street fair events - they can pack up, too.
The letter writer's pessimism is even shared by our councillors.
"I don't think there's much we can do," Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, remarked, when asked by the Star about the proposed waterfront condos.
"I don't know what can be done," agreed Councillor Brian Ashton.
How did Toronto get to this impasse?
I got my first wind of the intractible climate over here not long after I landed, last spring. The city was bracing itself for the long awaited report on burying the Gardiner Expressway.
At first, the Mayor refused to release it, opting instead to hide it under his desk until after the election. But in the end, after much public pressure and even more anticipation, he relented.
It wasn't worth the wait.
Pull it down and create a 10 lane Lakeshore expressway was the authors' #1 recommndation.
You could almost feel the city deflate.
A few months later, I reflected on the winning entry for the Don Lands beautification competition. What's the point of all this? I thought to myself.
The Don Lands is the spot where the Don River meets Lake Ontario. It is situated right underneath the Gardiner, where it ramps down to the DVP. It's not exactly a prime spot for fishing.
Today Torontonians are crying out for a better quality of life but, in dealing with our current climate of political ineptitude and inaction (did you know that several Toronto city councillors recently argued about who should stand where for the post-election photo shoot? They had to call it off and reconvene later) and looking at the unchecked overdevelopment that continues unabated, we are left to wonder how we are ever going to dig ourselves out of the many messes we've created (and continue to create).
Which brings us back to Hamilton. Out of Toronto's despair, Hamilton has, once again, a great opportunity to edge ahead, to show us how it's done.
Imagine a town with a walkable waterfront, acres of green spaces, plenty of bike lanes, safe sidewalks and world class transit. Instead of attracting the bedroom community set that are flocking to the Hammer now, a flourishing Hamilton could begin to attract something much more important and profitable: new businesses, and with it - new jobs.
I know this is a stretch for many of us sometimes. Hamilton was, after all, one of the last towns to enact an anti-idling by-law, and a pretty wishy washy one at that.
But Hamilton was poised to prosper once, and with the growing, grumbling consensus that if Toronto carries on the way it is it may not be such a great place to live for much longer, I believe Hamilton is poised once again.
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