A Blueprint for the NEXT Hamilton

Mayor Eisenberger argues that our new Official Plan will help shape the Hamilton of tomorrow.

By Fred Eisenberger
Published July 02, 2009

City Council has passed the first urban Official Plan for the City of Hamilton since amalgamation. This was the culmination of a long process that required the former six municipal plans to be merged into one consistent document. As Mayor, I congratulate staff on all their hard work as the new Official Plan will effectively help transition our city to become what I often call, the NEXT Hamilton - the Hamilton of tomorrow.

Mayor Eisenberger champions NEXT Hamilton, a transformation of the city involving collaboration and consensus.

The Official Plan is a very important document. It is the blueprint for the future growth of our City. It outlines when, where and how we will grow and it speaks to the values of our community: quality of life, economic opportunity, and sustainable development.

It is important to look at it as part of a process - where's we have been, where we are now, and where we are heading. For example, Council increased a density target for downtown Hamilton to 250 people+jobs per hectare, up from the current density of 200 people+jobs per hectare.

While some may wish this number to be higher, we are looking at this as a minimum to be surpassed. Ultimately, the real determinate of downtown density will not be a single number in a document, it will be the overall supporting plans, policies, and projects that will make downtown a more vibrant place to live and work.

The overriding question is whether we are making downtown more dense or less dense. Just as the current reality of our City is a product of the direction of previous decades, the Hamilton of tomorrow will be a product of the direction we start traveling in today.

In this respect, I think that in a number of ways we are changing course and heading in the right direction.

Maintaining an Urban Boundary

Public input, evolving priorities, economic realities, and Provincial policies have all contributed to the final document. Looking back over the past three years, we have come a long way in many respects. I have often said that we need to limit urban sprawl and more effectively use our existing land base before growing outwards; so I am pleased to report that there is no urban boundary expansion in this Official Plan.

Further, there is a robust and transparent process required for when we do look at growth down the road. This includes looking to intensification and the reuse of our brownfields before contemplating any more urban sprawl.

Given the size and complexity of the issue, any urban boundary expansion associated with the Airport Employment Growth District is going to be dealt with as a separate Official Plan Amendment that will need Provincial consent. I am still strongly advocating for a phased approach to airport land development to ensure that our future employment land picture is balanced with Greenfield and Brownfield land.

Rapid Transit

Three years ago, when I became a member of the Metrolinx board, transit planning was just starting to become a serious part of how we talked about our city's future. With the passage of the new Official Plan, rapid transit in Hamilton is now recognized as a major part of the backbone of our urban form.

Two corridors - North-South and East-West - will help citizens get across the city faster, safer, and in a more environmentally friendly manner, all while contributing to a more sustainable community.

Rural Protection

The flip side to the urban boundary is our rural landscape which actually makes up the majority of land within the City of Hamilton. By limiting urban sprawl and promoting intensification in our downtowns and major corridors, the Official Plan also helps to preserve precious agricultural farm land and many magnificent natural heritage features.

New Economy

Recognizing the diversification of our economy is also an important element to our long-term planning. By providing policy tools to help address the growing importance of the arts and cultural industries, institutions of higher-learning, the Innovation Park, the Port and Airport, the Official Plan helps modernize our municipal government toolkit to be relevant to our contemporary economic needs.

Main Streets and Big Box Stores

On the commercial side, Big Box developments are another element of our city for which we need to do a much better job of planning. We have seen a boom in the number of these big-box discount stores, both planned and developed in recent years and the impact on our existing retail base must be fully understood.

Particularly: what is the impact on our traditional commercial streets, lined with mom-and-pop retailers who collectively contribute the lion's share of commercial taxes and commercial employment in our community.

The economic impact of small business is significant. By some estimates three times as much money stays in the local economy when you buy goods and services from locally-owned businesses compared to chain stores. Local businesses rely on local services and suppliers (banks, manufacturers, accountants, lawyers, farmers, newspapers, internet providers, etc.).

Conversely big box retailers typically use international suppliers and corporate services.

Our older commercial areas have certainly had their struggles, but many have shown their resilience by reinventing themselves and becoming some of the most vibrant and sought after destinations in the city - think of Ottawa Street, Concession Street, Locke Street, and James Street North.

Study Big Box Impacts

However, if we are truly interested in cultivating the next Ottawa or Locke Street, we need to approach new discount big-box retail developments with a more serious eye to their impact: what is the net benefit to the community between the jobs and taxes they create, and the jobs and taxes that will be lost as other small stores are put out of business?

It makes no sense to put money into urban renewal programs, if we are simultaneously allowing new commercial development to de-populate existing commercial areas.

We have a starting point for this discussion by way of a commercial study that was done by the City in preparation for our new Official Plan. The study helps answer a common question regarding these developments: "Do we need more of these stores in our community?"

The study looked at the measure of square feet per capita to determine whether certain areas of the city are underserved.

As of 2004, the study concludes that on average the City of Hamilton is fully serviced by commercial uses, with some pockets being underserved, and others over-served. However, the new developments since 2004 in Flamborough and Upper Stoney Creek as well as the proposed developments in Lower Stoney Creek, should push Hamilton into the over-serviced category.

At the very least, any room for commercial growth over the long term as a result of predicted population growth to 2031, has likely all been taken up with all the recent big-box developments. Therefore, the City of Hamilton should be done with big box development for quite some time and the new Official Plan policies encouraging the vibrancy of traditional commercial corridors and downtowns should be the focus for commercial development moving forward.

It may take some time to achieve balance in this regard, but we are headed down the right path.

The Right Plan

In summary, the Official Plan is not the only document that will guide our future. Nor is it a static document as it needs to be reviewed every five years. However, I am confident it is the right plan for our City moving forward.

It is also a great achievement, as it is the first common document since amalgamation that puts our collective future on common footing so that we can make planning decisions with an eye to the benefit of the overall community.

Fred Eisenberger is Mayor of the City of Hamilton.


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By Rocky (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 17:02:49

Funny how you're making these comments about big box stores while at the same time Centre Mall and Mountain Plaza Mall, two malls that housed independent businesses, are being torn down in favour of more offensive big box development. I'm not exactly a fan of malls generally, but it's unfortunate to see independent family-owned businesses such as the ones at Mountain Plaza, which have been there for decades, thrown out and forced to either relocate or close because WalMart need to build a bigger store. I'm going to assume that that's the "old way" of doing things in Hamilton that this 'Hamilton Next' report is going to fix?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 17:51:09

Fred, thanks for taking the time to publish this report. I must admit that I'll need to go back and slowly re-read most of this.
I'm having a hard time digesting the very first point about 'maintaining an urban boundary'.

We haven't seen any change at all in the massive onslaught of new developments around the periphery of the city. They are low density, car-dependent and really no better than the stuff that was built in the 80's and 90's. Maintaining an urban boundary is great as long as density goals are attached. The developers are paving over whats left of the 'urban' greenfields in this city with the ultimate goal of seeing the boundary expanded. I suspect that will happen sooner rather than later since we are rapidly running out land thanks to the incredibly low volume of homes and densities that have been built.

Portland drew a circle around their city a couple of decades ago and wouldn't budge it until the urban, built up areas of the city had reached a specific density target. And it was a good target.
Hamilton would be wise to do the same with this new plan, instead of the rather low, un-ambitious targets we are currently setting. http://raisethehammer.org/blog.asp?id=14...

That said, I think your plan is right on the money. The big, million-dollar Hamilton question is this: Will we actually implement it??

Kudos for your steadfast support of LRT and the overall greening of our city.
Despite some media critics, I think you've done a good job in your first term as mayor and can see some of these projects to fruition in the next term.


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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 19:03:44

It is the million-dollar question. We're used to getting excited about things and then being let down in Hamilton. "This time is going to be different", we all say. It's an attribute of a negative constant that Hamilton continually battles.

I agree re. Mayor Fred. In my opinion, the best mayor of Hamilton within my voting years, allowing open-forum and progressive thinking.

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By bewildered hope (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 19:10:02

this is one the few things to come from the mayor that carries any real hope for the city and the communities taken over by almalgamation. it would be nice to see council follow this course. reversing some current bad decision making would help but then lining up with the developers, walmarts and others promising quick cash seems to still get the vote

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By Mahesh P. Butani http:/www.metroHamil (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 22:47:14

WRCU2 I presume is a 'poetic licence' rather than a articulated point of view based on experience or insights. Like most poetic licences things most often get stretched, contoured and entwined in a rush of emotions.

It is perfectly ok to feel sad - after having compared RTH in a poetic rush, to the Spectators 'handled' blog solely based on the software it is being run on; or the location where it is being hosted. It is also perfectly ok to feel a bit silly the morning after this rush born of loose observations and looser prognosis only exposes our parochial grasp of a global life we have found ourselves

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By jcorn (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 23:12:58

Your single mention of natural heritage under the rural section is a little alarming. How about talking about which new areas you've designated as environmentally sensitive or describing steps you've taken to avoid paving over priceless ecosystems (ie redhill)? Why don't you address Ryan's comments about the lip service Hamilton continues to pay to actually increasing density while continuing to bow to developers who want to build at the urban fringe. I hope the province has the presence of mind to step in and hold Hamilton's feet to the fire as they did in Simcoe....

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By Mahesh P. Butani - http://www.metroHami (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2009 at 23:54:08

sorry about the incomplete post above - I seem to have hit the wrong key!!) --- reposting here ---

WRCU2 I presume is a 'poetic licence' rather than an articulated point of view based on experience or insights. Like most poetic licences things most often get stretched, contoured and entwined in a rush of emotions.

It is perfectly ok to feel sad - after having compared RTH in a poetic rush, to the Spectators 'handled' blog solely based on the software it is being run on; or the location where it is being hosted. It is also perfectly ok to feel a bit silly the morning after this rush - born of loose observations and looser prognosis.

This unfortunate pattern is symtomatic of Hamilton, as I have observed it over the last 12 years - and only exposes once more our communities parochial grasp of a global life that we collectively have found ourselves living in since the advent of computers, software, servers and networks.

Some like to host their servers in their basement, some in server farms across borders. Both instances, fortunately have never been the reason why a local economy expands - or sputters for decades.

Our biggest challenge in creating vibrant local economies after having read the earnest "Blueprint for the NEXT Hamilton" is that, we continue to use words and poetry to overcome our conditions, while willfully choosing to be blind to the most obvious patterns surrounding us.

It has taken 10 years from our amalgamation to the passing of the first official plan - The very same ten years, in which the world economies switched hemispheres, and the world very nearly has arrived at the tipping point in sustainability. Our sense of urgency and timing is indeed impeccable!!

The one single thing that will define our "NEXT" city is not big or small boxes, or 200 or even 400 people+jobs per hectare, or even contained urban boundaries or the nationalistic or reagional-istic parochialism in buying widgets --- but whether our Economic Development and Planning efforts recognize the notion of a "Jobless Recovery" in their plans and strategies, which are being laid out for the next generation.

What we are seeing in Hamilton is an abject lack of preparation for this eventuality.

The NEXT Mayoral run will be based on a more solid proposition. We have already missed the boat on the Green thing and even the Creative Cities thing... as we will soon find out.

We will be lucky if we manage to grasp the wave of the Jobless Recovery notion -- ahead of its arrival, and be prepared to do something about it. Failing which, we will most definately have a beautiful well planned green, sustainable city with 74 people+jobs per hectare.

It is scary, it is real. It is the politics of the future which is already here.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted July 03, 2009 at 02:14:13

The only thing that will change this city is for the people to be engaged, to be involved. Why should we just listen to the paid hacks?

I am disappointed in the mayor, as there has been no movement in recapturing the brownfields in this city. No, we are too busy covering up farmland and for what, for a few to make their money, while the rest struggle? Food people need food but their cries go unheard, while we line the pockets of the rich and powerful in this city.

Jobless Recovery, know isn't that a joke. What is our motto, oh yes, the best place to raise a child, but in the meantime, what are they doing for the parents of the children that struggle, I know, temp work, forced volunteer work, endless cutoff letters from a computer system, you need food, you have to proof it now. People banging on the doors and windows of the foodbanks because they are hungry, but then do you know is the city itself has put limits on who can get what and how much. But then those who make these policies, they are not hungry, no they expect or should I say demand their entitlements.

From the mouth of a Ontario Works manager, we cannot change the system, well maybe in this person eyes they do not want the system to change, I wonder how they would feel if say, their pay cheque was cutoff and would have to run around to prove that they actually needed the money? Maybe we should be telling them, sell your house, sell your car, sell your assets, live within your means, quit expecting those at the bottom to support your lifestyle and bad habits

So many cowards that work for the system, they would never actually think to stand up for something, no that would mean their job, their big house, car and so on. The hypocrisy is astounding.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted July 03, 2009 at 08:49:43

@WRCU2 ^^ I can't speak for others but I down-voted you because your comment was just tiresome absolutist off topic OSS trolling against people who have done alot to make this city more open and transparent.....even if they use tools that aren't Pure enough for you. Learn to pick your fights mate!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2009 at 19:54:21

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2009 at 21:07:57

Good lord! Contrary to some, I'm actually extremely pleased (pleasantly surprised) to see Hamilton's mayor so engaged with local urban enthusiasts. This, at least, bodes well. I don't fully agree with every aspect of Mayor Fred's article, but I'm happy with the general direction. Hopefully he is familiar with our voting system and, when phase 2 of the system begins, we might actually succeed in attracting a larger number of quality posters.

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By the tempest (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2009 at 01:56:52

@WRCU2 Free is better than non free, but working is better than non working. Tempest in a teacup.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted July 04, 2009 at 21:31:36

Very interesting how the focus for this publication ("NEXT Hamilton") is the RHCP/LINC interchange and surroundings, with the Downtown area barely visible.

This tells us a LOT about where the centre of focus really is.

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By Mahesh P. Butani - http://www.metroHamil (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2009 at 22:04:18

Math is never simple:
4 /.015 = 266.67 people + jobs per ________ ? :-)

"We cannot solve the present crisis until we acknowledge that the architecture and urbanism of the twentieth century had as its principal goal the isolation of people, from buildings and from each other. That admission necessitates the even more difficult acknowledgment that the idols of modernism were false gods, and that several generations of planners and politicians were deceived into destroying our cities by applying inappropriate urban principles."
from ~ Towards a New Urban Philosophy: The Case of Athens,
by Nikos A. Salingaros
read full text at url: zeta.math.utsa.edu/~yxk833/newurban.html

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By By Mahesh P. Butani - http://www.metroHa (anonymous) | Posted July 04, 2009 at 23:20:32

In continuation to above thought...

Nikos Salingaros on: Peer-to-Peer Urbanism.
read full text at url: p2pfoundation.net/Nikos_Salingaros_on_Peer_to_Peer_Urbanism


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By jason (registered) | Posted July 06, 2009 at 08:39:23

sometimes I'm glad we have Ancaster next door to Hamilton. They provide endless news headlines that make your head shake. I'm guessing that pesticide companies or landscaping companies must be involved in trying to maintain these oversized, unused lots out there.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted July 06, 2009 at 11:19:07

As an aside...we've lived in one of Mattamy's communities for 10 years, with a mix of smaller lots and larger ones, which they tried to put together a neighbourhood in a "new-urbanist" style. It's still suburban, but there is more of a neighbourhood feel than typical developments. The fact that there are townhomes and smaller lots around has not detracted from property values one bit. Homes in my neighbourhood are a bit above the average in the city, even with smaller lot sizes mixed in. In fact, a few million dollar custom-built homes are going up a couple of blocks away as infill in our neighbourhood. The folks in Ancaster have absolutely nothing to worry about.

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By Mahesh P. Butani - http://www.metroHamil (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2009 at 11:58:11

Hello Gregory,

What devalues property values are things like gradually growing old in large well manicured lots and suddenly finding that our kids have left home, never to come back... and not having the strength in our old bones to mow and rake the lawns - just to keep the neighbors happy...

What devalues property values are things like gradually realizing the futility of up keeping facades and pretenses about a notion we call "home", and not having the retirement income keep up with the voracious appetite of the utility companies, and the high-maintenance modern construction marvels we call homes...

What devalues property values are things like small-lot minded people realizing that moving into large-lot properties may have been an economical option for their parents, but they simply do not have the job security and retirement/pension/security to take such chances...

What devalues property values are things like the swing of a pendulum - a force of aging that hits us hard on our rear - while we are busy ogling property values arising from the quality and quantity of our front yards...

Market forces may very ironically be responsible for finally bringing diversity into the monoculture we call suburbia. Smaller lots will bring younger and even stranger people to the neighborhood with possibly limited income... who may possibly look at opportunities for generating supplemental income. And thus the "large-lot" people, living lives of quite desperation - may finally have someone to look after them and their assets in their old age - right in their neighborhoods!

This whole small-lot thing could have been so very easily packaged as an "Innovation" project!!

This flap could have been avoided and this idea successfully sold to the community -- if only the developers had a savvy marketer - who positioned the small-lots as cutting-edge "socially innovative" planning :-)

Imagine the cost-savings on senior's managed-care that our community can accrue, by promoting in-your-own-house --"large-lot retirement living"-- serviced by the new "small-lot people" who are no longer tucked deep inside the bowels of the subdivision in shame.

Imagine the enormous value appreciation for the whole town called Ancaster -- where people are finally looking after people and large properties - right thru old age, co-existing near each other in varying sized lots.

Imagine the enormous value appreciation for the City of Hamilton - where councilors are finally facilitating creativity and allowing density-innovation to occur in the most un-innovative of circumstances called suburbia!

Portent of the Hamilton NEXT... eh?

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By Dcept905 (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2009 at 10:29:54


While I don't mean for this to reflect on the business you work for, I'm afraid you've brought this on yourself by not thinking before speaking (typing?). I'll start by copy/pasting some text from you first post on this article:

"Y'all hate the big boxes and yet
you happily use them as dedicated hosts."

Your site (even though it's not actually "functional")is being run on Apache... kudos! Now, the unfortunate part that makes you look like a big hypocrite, is that it's hosted *GASP!* outside of Canada:

City: Orem, UT
Latitude: 40.2982
Longitude: -111.698

Rather than go on some self-righteous rant about how your company doesn't support the local economy, and draw random parallels between your plumbing business and The Spec, I'll just chalk this up to somebody who wasn't thinking before they decided to post and should likely take the "choose your battles" advice from an above poster.

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By Dcept905 (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2009 at 09:06:10

I enjoyed that last poem :) Well written sir!


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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 09, 2009 at 14:20:27

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By JM (registered) | Posted July 09, 2009 at 16:00:28

Where can I get that aerial photo on the cover!?

That's a great shot....

by the way, i love how the new Big Box centre at RHVP & the LINC is classified as a mixed use node... does this mean that they plan to stick a small apartment bldg in the parking lot?

it would look great next to the 2-lane drive through at the tim hortons. or maybe an adaptive re-use of the already "abandoned" linens'n'things?

this cannot be considered mixed use :( ...is the new walmart concept going to be considered mixed-use as well?


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By arienc (registered) | Posted July 10, 2009 at 09:30:44

Welcome to Winona 2014


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By Dcept905 (anonymous) | Posted July 10, 2009 at 12:01:10

That's what happens when short-sighted politicians focus on figures like a whopping $1M / yr. in tax revenues without considering the revenues they'll be losing from the mom & pop stores that get put out of business, as well as other economic factors. I can see parallels between this and the service industry where a previous rise in the Canadian dollar's value caused several U.S. based companies to shut down (or at least scale back) Canadian operations. It's unfortunate that some people can't see past the carrot being dangled in front of them.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted July 10, 2009 at 16:54:18

NEXT Hamilton same as the last Hamilton.

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By Jaundiced (anonymous) | Posted July 12, 2009 at 09:31:19

Can't wait for MayorNext!!!

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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 15, 2009 at 12:34:12

The Mayor plays only a single-vote holding in council. We would need MostCityEmployeesNext to provide the kind of dramatic changes required.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2009 at 17:13:50

I must admit, I was excited that such a populist mayor was elected - perhaps the least establishment mayor since Sam Lawrence. Although he was anti-valley (I think a lot of people were through expedience), he seemed to get the overall concept of sustainable urbanism.

However, no single politician can change a municipality. To modernize, Hamilton needs broader social movements. The developers who are pushing sprawl are not a "community"; they are a class; an anti-democratic force that dominates the municipal institutions. They need to be opposed and run out of town politically (with all the risks that their mafia connections entail). This triple-bottom-line stakeholder BS is not cutting it.

Hamilton is not Toronto. A progressive consensus wont happen through educated white-collar workers moving in to downtown. Although that certainly is happening to a lesser extent, you've got to capture the imaginations of the existing blue collar population. Blue collars may seem to conform to anti-city, mass motoring ideology. What do you expect when the people pushing alternatives come off so poncey? You've got to vibe with Hamilton's union and social democratic traditions. You've got to attack mandatory motoring, sprawl, and the developers on class terms. It's time to start naming names of the a$$holes who are getting rich by controlling city hall. (That's why I love CATCH so much.)

Sprawl isn't just a "feedback loop" or an accidental manifestation of cultural ignorance. It goes right to the heart of the way capitalism has been structured for the last 60 years. Fordism - the "regime of accumulation" that is at the root of sprawl - is over. In the chaos of restructuring, the working ("middle" my ass) class is either going to be captivated by class consciousness on one hand, or by the old standys of racism and a war against nature. Activists need to realize this and not be so... well... liberal.

A lot of "green urbanism" is certain to happen around the world as a way to activate surplus capital. Manesh could be right that Hamilton has largely missed the boat on that. If city hall drops the ball on light rail and fails to fund the cycling network, I would say Manesh is definitely right. I'm not going to cry too many tears. A lot of this has amounted to a socially unjust gentrification game. Here in Hamilton and cities like it, the debate needs to be framed more radically - as in an access to civic use-values for working people and the poor, a shorter workweek, and direct citizen participation in planning.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 17, 2009 at 18:30:57

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted July 21, 2009 at 08:30:45

The next blueprint for Hamilton: Those who are marginalized are to be left in the streets.

I received a phone call last night and it seems that not one person, not one agency, not one leader has step forward to help a family that is now homeless. This family has been trying for a couple of months now to get help and there has been no one.

I am ashamed of our community that has many workers within the system, social workers, shelters, foodbanks, legal clinics, our polictical leaders whom have done nothing to help them.

Are they to lose everything they have? Are they to starve in the streets?

The only advice of a welfare worker is get rid of your family pets, and our motto is the best place to raise a family? How is this community helping them? I do not see that.

We live in one sad, sick, deprived society. Shame on you all!

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