While other universities have figured out how to embrace integrated downtown campuses, McMaster remains addicted to four-storey box buildings more suited for the North Service Road in Burlington.
By Jason Leach
Published June 19, 2009
I have lamented on RTH in the past about the fact that so many urban cities in North America are blessed with universities and colleges that see their role as more than just an in-class educator, but also one of urban revitalization catalyst, with real-world educators creating exciting, livable urban environments through their strategic locating of downtown campuses in an urban, city-building design.
Here in Hamilton we have one of Canada's leading universities in the classroom, but possibly one of the worst when it comes to embracing its massive potential in our downtown core.
I was excited a couple of years ago when David Braley gave $10 million toward a McMaster Health Centre. One of his strong stipulations was that the centre be located downtown.
Braley is a well-traveled man and sharp businessman. He's seen the massive effect that university campuses have had in downtowns of other cities such as Portland, Tacoma, Montreal and so on. I thought it was a brilliant move by him, and possibly the only way McMaster would ever locate any substantial portion of it's operations downtown - by being forced to by a large donation.
Sadly, we are now seeing the same old business model from McMaster after negotiations fell apart with Hamilton's School Board.
Today's Spectator reports that developer Brian Otis (from Toronto, no less) has offered to give McMaster a $2 million piece of land right downtown, mere steps from the school board site.
That's right - he wants to give them the land. Do you think he understands the value of urban university campuses?
McMaster has turned down his offer and is now leaning towards building this massive health project in the McMaster Innovation Park.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Mac actually has it in for our downtown. A $10 million gift and now a $2 million piece of land are still not enough to convince the school to break out of its suburban business park mentality and actually do a wonderful, urban project that would not only raise their profile, but also be a tremendous boost to the city's downtown and very convenient for the site's 75,000 annual patients.
Publicly, we've been told all along that a downtown locale close to convenient transit was necessary for this project. Residents near the Innovation Park can brace themselves for close to 75,000 new vehicle trips annually trundling through their neighbourhood.
The University of Toronto seems to have figured out how to grow and expand their university in the heart of Canada's largest downtown. McMaster is addicted to four-storey box buildings more suited for the North Service Road in Burlington. This is becoming a wasted opportunity for a signature project at a prime site in downtown Hamilton.
Imagine the impact an additional 75,000 people would have on the businesses in Jackson Square, Hess Village, the Farmers Market and along King Street.
Instead, we're going to do what we do best - stick them all on the 403 and watch them curse under their breath in a traffic jam at Aberdeen.
As is case far too often in Hamilton, we're left to ponder what could have been.
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