Hamilton Heritage in Spacing Magazine

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 16, 2012

Toronto's Spacing magazine just published an engaging essay by Julie Baldassi on Hamilton's struggle over whether and how to preserve its built heritage of old, urban buildings.

Hamilton has a livable, vibrant urban core which is distinct from its suburban periphery. And, over the past decade, the urban core has been inhabited by a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial Hamiltonians who have raised the profile of their local arts community and thriving businesses. These facts are worth stating - not to brag or invite flattering comparisons to grander cities or boroughs - but to illustrate the point that Hamilton is its own city with its own unique set of growing pains and reasons for civic pride.

Chronicling the "anti-urban" policies of the 1960s and on, in which Hamilton bulldozed whole city blocks in a misguided, top-down attempt to repurpose the core, Baldassi also touches on the parallel phenomenon of "demolition by neglect", in which old buildings are allowed to deteriorate until they collapse of their own volition or are ordered demolished for safety reasons.

She closes by asking: "how can Hamilton's built heritage advocates convince investors to preserve culture, if what they value is only based on utility and money?"

This is the first in a series of articles about Hamilton.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By Breezeblock'd (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 14:44:24

The prevailing daisy logic seems to short us two adjacent heritage buildings for every one we save.

So I gather that's our city's opening position: Knock down stuff if you can save at least some.

We have some lovely heritage properties at Main and james jut also some conspicuous parking lots.

The Piggott came at the expense of the building next to the Landed Bank.

We saved the Lister but the Balfour took it in the neck and there's cinderblock canyon to the south.

If there are public monies in play -- Lister, Sopinka -- the results can be something else. But in most cases it's a market proposition.

I'm not sure what heritage advocates can really do to increase the odds of buildings being reused, to be honest.

Maybe select one or two poster children and catalogue and price out the cost of building new using these materials and processes, versus restoration.

Maybe lobby for meatier heritage retrofit grants at every level of government.

Maybe become more present in the municipal mechanism. I gather that many have abandoned the process in disgust over the years, and I've heard some dismiss the LACACs as a dark joke. That might be an understandable response from someone who is sullying their professional credentials by association, but obviously it can appreciably change your professional leverage in the heritage debate.

That said, stuff like REIN's ranking (cited in the story) isn't based on untapped potential of historical real properties. It's founded on the odds of investors making money off of properties. Not typically the motivation of heritage investors.

Bridging that disconnect will be the crucial challenge.

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