It's both frustrating and encouraging that a national magazine like Spacing is paying attention to Hamilton's urban growing pains. On the one hand, this is not what we want to be known for in the rest of Canada: a city whose regressive, risk-averse managers react to an inspiring citizen initiative with threats and bullying.
On the other hand, we have at least progressed to the point where our halting, controversy-laden steps toward becoming a healthy city are garnering attention.
I've been advised that Gerry Davis, the general manager of Public Works who wrote the memo warning Council about citizen efforts to create safe pedestrian spaces, has agreed to meet with representatives of the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects (HBSA), who organized the tactical urbanism workshop and talk that inspired these campaigns.
This is a good sign, and I hope Davis can find a way to step back from the hyperbolic language he used in his memo. Public Works needs to get better at understanding that complete streets, walkability and cycling aren't going away.
It's no longer good enough for the City to go through the motions of making a progressive-sounding plan without any intention of going through with it. It's no longer good enough to say that complete streets are nice to have but cannot interfere with "traffic flow".
We have two decades of Council-approved plans on the books calling for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, street trees, two-way traffic, bumpouts and other traffic calming measures that are proven to increase safety, improve neighbourhood equity and support local business development.
We have countless case studies from other cities all across North America and the world - cities like Hamilton, cities smaller than Hamilton, cities bigger than Hamilton, cities denser than Hamilton, cities sparser than Hamilton - proving that healthy streets are a necessary part of healthy neighbourhoods.
What we don't have is City leadership with the understanding or courage to put these lessons into action: to actually do what successive Councils have endorsed in principle if not in practice.
That's why citizens are taking the future into their own hands and making the changes they've gotten tired of waiting for. The City can choose to panic and suppress that passionate, hopeful activity, or it can choose to embrace and adopt it.
Ultimately, the City's future depends on whether we can harness and apply the energy of our residents. Does threatening to arrest active citizens really help Hamilton to achieve its Vision of being "the best place to engage citizens"?
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