Not A Bedroom Community

By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 06, 2011

People often talk about the advantages of Hamilton becoming a "bedroom community" to Toronto, as house prices rise beyond the affordable there and more transit links are established.

But a city must be more than just a place for people to sleep. A "bedroom community" is just a satellite, forever in the orbit of something much greater, where the principal activities - besides sleeping - are yardwork, grocery shopping, and child-rearing (children, of course, being principally a product of bedroom-related activities).

In contrast, proper cities leverage density, scale, association and extension to realize efficiencies and generate wealth. They are the principal source of wealth, ideas, influence, power and technology in modern society.

In many ways, Hamilton does not currently act, and is not treated, as if it fits into this category of entity. Although we are the ninth largest metropolitan area in Canada, the perception of Hamilton is that it is minor and insignificant.

A failed city with a failed core, we ought to be happy if we just become part of the amorphous sprawl that has grown from the outskirts of Toronto all the way to our doorstep.

But other than Toronto, Hamilton is the only city in the Golden Horseshoe that has a genuinely urban character, and we are by no means a failed city or merely a bedroom community.

Although there are plenty of positive indicators that could make this point objectively, what I see first-hand in this city, and what all of you are seeing as well (after all, you're reading Raise the Hammer right now), are people with drive, determination, intellect, ingenuity and ideas that are working incredibly hard to make this an amazing place to live and work.

There is a large, very motivated group of people, with a strong contingent of young professionals, who have made it their personal mission to improve this city. I think we're starting to see the return on that intense investment of passion, money, and time.

New businesses, ambitious condo projects, startup incubators, activist groups, demo camps, publications, and professional organizations are popping up all over the place. The people who are pouring their hearts and souls into these endeavours are doing so because they believe that Hamilton can be and is more than a bedroom community.

If you want proof, get involved or just look around. If you're more interested in peaceful slumber, I'd suggest taking a look at one of the sprawling suburbs to the east. You're not going to get much sleep here.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By JM (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 09:02:12

well said... i want to be a part of making this happen, need to get off my butt and get involved!! once my home renos are done...

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By Andy (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2011 at 09:41:05 in reply to Comment 63141

I have worked in Hamilton for the past 3 years and could not overlook the fact that there are thousands of mutants living in the core of the city. I believe this city is one big lab experiment gone wrong !!!,,,
Hamilton is the most filthy place I have ever been in Canada, I have never seen so many spitting, broken headed chain smoking, shopping cart, dumpster jumpers in my life. ( Got any spare change ) should be written on the city limits sign.
" People ",, can't you smell that?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2011 at 10:29:40

Interesting; as contrarian as I tend to be, as much of a realist about the city I was born in and spent a good portion of my life in and close by, I've never seen Hamilton as a 'bedroom community'. At all. And that's no slam on Taranna. I've just never taken that view.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2011 at 12:05:10 in reply to Comment 63146

The lower city of Hamilton is not a bedroom community. The Mountain most definitely is. That's the entire point of the Linc and the Red Hill Parkway - to better-connect our housing sprawl to the QEW.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2011 at 08:57:19 in reply to Comment 63158

Hence my point regarding at least a dual reality at play.

If you accept those upper/lower generalizations – and I think there may be something to them – then the POV of the individual is everything to how they define the city.

Going off the 2001 StatsCan ward data, the old lower city Wards 1-4, the area from Cootes Drive to Red Hill and the escarpment to the harbour, contain about a third of the city's population. The outer Wards 10-15 comprise around another third. Those in between, Wards 5-9, would be the final third.

StatsCan 2001:

01-04 = 147,655
05-09 = 166,473
10-15 = 134,798

If you do the upper/lower math more literally, Wards 1-5+10+13 contained around 236K people – around half of Hamilton's 2001 population of just over 489K.

That was 10 years ago, of course. I would imagine that the mountain population has filled out considerably since then, and 10-15 possibly matches the population of 1-4.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2011 at 09:24:16 in reply to Comment 63231

Coffee, stat...

"...old lower city Wards 1-4, the area from Main/Osler to Red Hill and the escarpment to the harbour..."

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By Peter Graefe (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 10:35:53

I see the point in working to keep Hamilton as a distinct pole, but there is also no point in denying that the regional economy around Toronto is going to have effects on employment and commuting patterns, particularly with the importance of two earner families. As a result, I think a mature strategy involves recognizing those regional trends and shaping them to our advantage. For instance, to the extent Hamilton becomes a "bedroom community", we need to realize that there is a difference between a "GO commuter" bedroom community, centred downtown around the GO station, and presumably shopping and playing in Hamilton, and a "car commuter" bedroom community, centred around suburbs. The first makes efficient use of existing infrastructure, brings aggregate demand into our local economy, and can be part of community building. The latter requires the expense of new infrastructure, is less able to capture the spending locally, and makes civic engagement harder as the link to Hamilton may be limited to the stretch of road between the highway and the driveway. I realize that these are caricatures, but my point is that SOME commuting will be part of Hamilton's future, but we can shape it in a way that serves a broader civic purpose, or we can allow it to transform us into the poor man's Burlington.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2011 at 10:53:14

Being a bedroom community is a real pain economically. It essentially means tacking a huge pile of travel costs (time, money, carbon etc) onto all of our trips to the institutions which no longer operate in our town. It's not just work, either - it's shopping, administration, entertainment...all services lost as the region centralizes upon Toronto.

Is Hamilton a Bedroom Community? I wouldn't say so, at least not entirely. And that's one of our greatest strengths.

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By Synxer (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 11:05:06

When people have mentioned Hamilton as a "bedroom community", I've always taken it with a grain of salt since we are so different from Burlington or North York. We have a history. People actually "settled" on Hamilton soil in Canada's early years, heck, the area of Hamilton was integral in the war of 1812. While that all might not mean a whole lot today, it's unsettling to think of Hamilton as a bedroom community.

You deserve a giant hat tip, Adrian. I hold a great deal of respect for the things you've done for Hamilton. You are a true business leader and definitely understand what it takes to ferment change at the ground level. I think we all feel that Hamilton is at the edge, ready to tip. Some of us have heard it before, but some of also have noticed that we haven't seen this kind of change previously. It's different. This time we're not living in a bubble.

Comment edited by Synxer on 2011-05-06 11:06:38

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 21:05:08 in reply to Comment 63152

Thanks for the great compliment. That's one of the nicest things anyone's said about me, and although I think there are plenty of more deserving people it could be said about, I'll take it as graciously as I can. Thanks.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 11:47:58

The key to cementing this is really to create jobs for the tsunami of Toronto "housing refugees" that have been arriving since the early aughts. EcDev's claim that Hamilton "is one of Ontario's most economically diverse" cities may be semantically sound but in reality we're top-heavy with public sector job growth – Hamilton can boast around 71,000 jobs between educational services, health care and social assistance; there are approximately 448,000 humans in the Hamilton-Burlington CMA between ages 20 and 64.,_Ontario#Biggest_employers

There is additional urgency if you put any stock in the population projections
presented to the City by the Centre for Spatial Economics in 2000:

Not only has Hamilton failed to meet 2000's Slow Growth population projection of 532K (or even the Current Growth trending of 549K), but the CSE estimates show the old city of Hamilton slowly draining of population.

Flawed though the study may be – and failing to foresee the real estate dynamics that lay ahead – the fact remains that Hamilton is not adding jobs as quickly as it is adding residents. The longer that dynamic continues, the longer the commuter culture will compound.

And in the ten years that passed since that CSE projection, the city has not been very good at staunching the flow. An article in January 19, 2011's Spectator admitted that the city had added "about 300 [downtown residents and/or jobs] per year over the last decade."

Even forgetting about CSE/GRIDS, let's look at Places to Grow projections, which call for 80,000 new households to sprout up in the next 20 years. Assume for the purposes of this exercise that there will be an average of two employment-age individuals per household. How many jobs do we need to create/attract for each of the next 20 years to achieve 51% intra-Hamilton employment?

Killing the talk of a "bedroom community" is at least a two-fold challenge. First, you need to promote and realize a mainstream culture of civic engagement. Second, you need to consistently reduce the percentage of your employment-age population that must leave the city for work. To this I might add that the relative affordability of Hamilton real estate only adds to the viability of its identification as a "bedroom community".

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2011 at 12:20:16 in reply to Comment 63156

Remember that Hamilton's healthcare industry isn't just providing healthcare service to the region.

This city does substantial medical research as well as medical education. Medicine is an industry in Hamilton, not just a service.

So bundling Hamilton's healthcare economy into our overhead problem (which, I agree, is substantial) isn't entirely legitimate.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 12:40:10 in reply to Comment 63160

That may be, but it's an 'industry' that doesn't contribute to our corporate tax base and that is a big problem. We need to facilitate more private sector spin offs.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 12:32:14 in reply to Comment 63160

These statistics are reliably obtuse, perhaps intentionally so, which is why I'm unable to draw a bead on the problem, but the basic challenge remains. Especially as pertains to the city's downtown, whose employment base was scooped out like a jack-o-lantern in the 90s and which only regained that ground in the last year or two.

Post-amalgamation Hamilton is a big enough place that it might be able to be accurately identified both as a city and a bedroom community, depending upon how you choose to look at it. Binbrook and Bronte are equally far from King and James, and if you consider the baseline of city-building as a matter of identification and involvement with one’s neighbourhood, it is a matter of no small consequence where those neighbourhoods are sown.

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted May 06, 2011 at 12:13:20

Hamilton is also undergoing a cultural renaissance. The visual arts, music, literary, and theatre scenes are burgeoning here. The creative energy shown here is becoming the talk of art circles in T.O. For the first time that I can remember the cultural current is flowing into Hamilton from Toronto. R.M. Vaughan (Art writer for the Globe and Mail and Border Crossings) is making regular forays into Hamilton to review exhibitions.

A distinctive cultural life defines a city, creating an environment where people who move here from the GTA also want to contribute to the vibrancy and make Hamilton home.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2011 at 14:54:37 in reply to Comment 63159

Plus you've got C Magazine reviewers Sally Frater (Program Director at The Print Studio, former Resident Curator/Education Officer at McMaster Museum of Art, also a Border Crossings contributor) and Stephanie Vegh (Boards of Directors for Hamilton Artists Inc. and The Print Studio) embedded in the scene's brain pan, so that definitely can't hurt.

The Globe's former art critic Gary Michael Dault, a former C Magazine contributor himself, was pretty big on the city as well. He championed Hamilton painter Matthew Varey a few times over the years, collaborated with him a few years back and then even had a show of his own at the Transit in the fall of 2006.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 13:31:24

Hamilton, to me, is both a city and a bedroom community - depending on who you are. I think we have to consider the proportion of commuters to the proportion of people who work within the city to truly determine whether we're more like Oakville or more like London.

Toronto has a wide reach, and definitely has economic implications for Hamilton. That said, I don't think we're in danger of turning into more of a bedroom community than we already are, and I share the optimism that the trend is actually reversing.

Unfortunately I do have to commute to Toronto for work, but if I could find a position in my field in Hamilton that paid competitively, I would take it.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 21:15:13 in reply to Comment 63165

Unfortunately I do have to commute to Toronto for work, but if I could find a position in my field in Hamilton that paid competitively, I would take it.

Most professionals cannot find work in Hamilton that is competitive with the salaries they can make in Toronto or another larger city. This makes sense, though, since the cost of living here is correspondingly lower.

This still makes it difficult for companies here who cannot pay salaries that are competitive with Toronto. They have to get creative and appeal to other motives (e.g. the desire not to spend one's time commuting) or provide other benefits to try and make up for the salary difference.

There are still people who must, due to economic circumstances or the total absence of jobs in their chosen profession, commute long distances for work. Others, however, have simply decided that the tradeoff between time spent commuting and money earned is worth it. For me, it isn't.

I hope that more Hamiltonians, fed up with commuting, decide to start up their own companies here. Of course, some markets are extremely resistant to new entries (e.g. medical devices, telecoms, etc.) and so that doesn't work for everyone, but it could work for some.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted May 07, 2011 at 11:32:22 in reply to Comment 63181

Adrian, it is hardly only proffesionals who have a hard time finding employment in Hamilton. I am a tradesman and have travelled out of Hamilton for 10 of the 18 years I lived here. Now with US Steel I am looking at Toronto employment again. Without a solid industrial base Hamilton cannot support tradesmen or professionals, only the working poor and commuters.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 07, 2011 at 13:54:57 in reply to Comment 63189

Thanks for chiming in. I only said "professionals" because I'm unfamiliar with the situation for most tradespeople, although one of my best friends is an industrial electrician and he moved to Alberta for want of opportunity here. That's a loss I feel frequently and one I hope I never have to feel in the context of my children.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 13:45:46 in reply to Comment 63165

"If I could find a position in my field in Hamilton that paid competitively, I would take it" is a fairly common sentiment.

The problem is, depending upon the field or industry you work in, Hamilton may have an immature range of job offerings or none at all. And that's part of the challenge. It's one thing to add 4,000 jobs in fast food outlets and telemarketing banks, and another to add them in finance, computers, internet technology, engineering, high technology or green energy.

Adding to the stakes is the fact that aging baby boomers are the pig in the python and will cause our already large healthcare sector to grow markedly in the next decade or so. Hopefully there are similarly impresssive gains in our drowsy private sector.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 17:02:28

Hear hear Adrian! Thanks for writing this. Cities are places that dare to define themselves, not places that let themselves be defined by someone else, for someone else's agenda.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 18:23:45

In 1998-99, when Ontario's economy was humming along quite nicely, the Mike Harris government spent 13.78% of the Ontario budget on community and social services (i.e. welfare). Fast forward 12 years and that figure is down to 7.36%.

While welfare is technically government spending, it is actually more of a transfer from the rich to the poor. It still encourages free market competition, but it doesn't require the hiring of any more public workers.

In contrast, public health, education, etc, all involve central planning and high levels of bureaucracy, but very little if any free market competition.

If we want an Ontario economy that is more dynamic than the one we have today, more of our taxpayer money should leave the public unions and flow back to the poor. Even if total spending wasn't cut, but just this shift took place, private business in downtown Hamilton would see an immediate pick up in their level of business.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2011 at 14:33:18 in reply to Comment 63174

A. Smith. Oooooooh Pleeeeease... :D Stop pulling our legs.

It must be interesting to have such a selective memory, or maybe selective memory loss.

Jim Flaherty, then Ont. finance minister under Harris, just about put Ontario into the dumpster. It was the beginning of the end of Ontario as a "Have" Province, & the beginning of the end of manufacturing in Ontario employing people in good paying jobs with health benefits & pension plans.
The "golf pro, used car salesman, failed teacher" did nothing for Ontario except make a bad situation worse for many of the most legitimately in need. We will pay for that in terms of wasted resources, aka 'People' for generations to come!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2011 at 17:36:15 in reply to Comment 63204

>> Jim Flaherty, then Ont. finance minister under Harris, just about put Ontario into the dumpster.

Jim Flaherty was finance minister in 2002-2003, not 1995-2000, when Ontario's economy was one of the best in Canada.

So, would you like to address my original point...

"In 1998-99, when Ontario's economy was humming along quite nicely, the Mike Harris government spent 13.78% of the Ontario budget on community and social services (i.e. welfare). Fast forward 12 years and that figure is down to 7.36%."

Do you think it's better to pay public employees big salaries (as McGuinty has done) RATHER than the people in poverty? Could you answer that?

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 02:41:18 in reply to Comment 63217

I know full well when Flaherty was finance minister of Ontario, & lot of Ontario industry went South (Mexico) into the Southern U.S. & to Malaysia & S.E. Asia.

Highly skilled Ontario civil servants now are earning substantially less than their counterparts in the private sector. They have a measure of job security, & a pension & health plan, so this is of some compensation, especially to the older workers or those with young families. It's the only reason many of them stay.

Isn't Capitalism supposed to be about being competitive? If you need a highly skilled employee, why should you not pay an approximation of the going rate? You can make up the difference in benefits to some degree, but in the end if that person can have those too in the private sector, why would she/he work for less?

Community & Social Services isn't just "Welfare". It's care for those who must leave hospital earlier than they should, it's anti-substance abuse programs,
it's recreation & day care, it's a lot of important things that go way beyond "Welfare".

This is apples & oranges again. If the Ont. Gov, decides everyone must take a pay cut, & reduces staff, then we get less services when we need them ( "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line." Sound familiar?)

No where is it written that all/any money saved by staff cuts & pay cuts will go directly into the hands of people who need it. Does it ever?

After all there are corporations who need our tax dollars, tax right-offs, & cheap hydro, cheap fuel, cheap water, unlimited ability to produce garbage & dump it at discount rates, & the ability to waste as much as they care to, with our Government's blessings.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2011 at 09:21:03 in reply to Comment 63363

"Ontario Public Service's financial benefits are rated as above-average. To keep salaries competitive the company participates in outside salary surveys every 12 months. Individual salaries are reviewed every 12 months. In addition to ensuring competitive compensation rates, the Ontario Public Service also provides employees with defined benefit pension with employer contributions (up to 8% of salary); life & disability insurance; retirement planning assistance."


"Well-intentioned public-sector managers and union leaders may ultimately be selling their workers out. With each pay increase, public demands for radical outsourcing grow."

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted May 11, 2011 at 09:06:39 in reply to Comment 63363

"Isn't Capitalism supposed to be about being competitive?"

Maybe so, but in case you haven't been paying attention to the broader private workforce over recent decades (and certainly in the last few years), part of that competitive nature involves expanded workload, longer hours, reduced salaries and benefits, vastly eroded job security etc. Apples and oranges also applies when we hear about "approximation of the going rate," when the going rate in the private sector probably doesn't include the security of a unionized workforce or any of the attendant perks such as CoLA bumps.... not that we ever get to see the math on how "the going rate" is derived.

But of course nobody is making anyone take any jobs or stay in those demeaning public sector jobs. That's the beauty of Capitalism, right?

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2011 at 10:31:25 in reply to Comment 63371

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2011 at 09:11:40 in reply to Comment 63487

"...a high-ranking city official reports that CUPE salaries jumped by a whopping 16 per cent during the last four years.

That's fully 4 per cent higher than the 12 per cent pay hike CUPE 5167 workers negotiated in their last contract with the city.

In an email obtained by The Spectator, Rob Rossini, general manager of finance and corporate services, attributes the additional increase to a salary-adjusting job evaluation program.

Rossini also notes that during the same time frame — 2007 to 2010 — inflation increased by 6.6 per cent.

That means, according to city figures, salary increases for the CUPE local were almost 10 per cent above the rate of inflation.

The union, which represents some 3,200 inside and outside workers, is now asking for 4.25 per cent pay hike over two years."

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2011 at 07:02:58 in reply to Comment 63174

get that man a copy of Das Kapital! Commie.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2011 at 12:49:22 in reply to Comment 63186

Bob Lee, in 2010-11, the total Ontario government expenditure was $125.8B. Of that, $45.3B went to prop up the government monopoly health care system and $21.3B went to the government monopoly education system. In contrast, in 2008-09, Ontario spent only $1.9B on Ontario Works (cash welfare to the unemployed). That works out to only 0.32% of Ontario's GDP.

In your opinion, which is better for the economy and for people, giving money to inefficient monopolies, or giving it to needy people so that private businesses can compete for it?

If the amount of Ontario works was doubled, to $3.8B, not only would it likely abolish the need for people to line up at food banks, it would only increase the current budget by only around 1.5%.

Is that amount of money too much to help people who weren't blessed with the gifts that others take for granted?

For example, the current Ontario Works benefit is $572 for a single person. If rent is over $500, how does a person live on that? If that number was doubled, they could rent a place, buy food, clothes and not have to worry about ending up on the street.
All that for a fraction of the current Ontario budget.

Not only that, but that additional $1.9B in cash welfare would be spent in the free market, creating real jobs and profits, not government jobs.

That's not commie, it's just smart.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 06, 2011 at 20:39:20 in reply to Comment 63174

Shorter A Smith:

Stealing from the rich to give to the poor = immoral!

Stealing from the middle class to give to the poor = awesome!

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By ProfessorQuack (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2011 at 09:27:27

Peter Graefe said in part: "and a "car commuter" bedroom community, centred around suburbs. The first makes efficient use of existing infrastructure, brings aggregate demand into our local economy, and can be part of community building" He then extolls the virtues of the core and again criticizes the suburbs as contributing to our becoming 'a poor man's Burlington'.

What poppycock. I hope this isn't the same man who teaches at Mac. If he is what an embarrassment of stereotypes in suggesting that Hamilton with its modest half million people population is somehow not deserving of a rural, suburban and urban character.

If I were his students (assuming that it is he) I'd get out of his class. This man is a poor man's imitation of the great Henry Jacek.

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By H T0 (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2011 at 21:15:25 in reply to Comment 63199

Is a personal attack in order? I happen to be a former student of Peter Graefe and consider him a political savant. Attacking his character is bizarre and completely irrelevant to the discussion.

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By greenfingers (registered) | Posted May 10, 2011 at 08:26:46

I'm planning on moving to Hamilton in about a year largely because of the affordability of housing.
I am not looking at Hamilton as a "bedroom community" but as my new home. As a garden designer/landscaper I hope to work spring to fall in downtown Hamilton making beautiful gardens. I generally do admin work on contract in the winter and if I can find work in Hamilton I will take it. Otherwise I will be commuting to Toronto. I will, however, be spending my money in Hamilton. Food, shoes, movies, beer, etc.

The only thing that can stop me shopping downtown is not being able to get across the street! On recent visits when I’ve gone on walking tours around town I have been appalled at the negative effect that the multi-lane one way streets have on being able to feel comfortable strolling the sidewalk, wanting to shop neighbourhood shopping. If you spot an interesting shop on the other side the speed and breadth of traffic is very intimidating and unfriendly, as mentioned on many occasions on these pages.

Currently I live near Bloor Street (certainly a major east-west thoroughfare) in an area known as Bloor West Village. The shops are lively and lovely with restaurants, book stores, coffee shops and the like. There is a lot of on and off street parking and many intersections with stop lights. The result is traffic slows down going through the area and it is a friendly place to walk and shop. The traffic still flows well in both directions and businesses flourish as a result. Raise the Hammer strongly supports changing the current Hamilton traffic flows and after I move I will be joining that endeavour with enthusiasm.

Everyone can help make Hamilton downtown viable and user friendly.

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