Comment 2748

By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 23, 2006 at 12:47:07

I've lived in two cities where 'renewal' was effected. Collingwood, and Brighton, UK. Each city had its own pecularities, and I'm not going to hold forth on any of them here. Suffice to say that it seems to me that there are two main elements to consider when 'revitalizing' a city. (I'll use this as an umbrella term to describe wholesale change undertaken by cities, not just by developers.) The physical developments and the people.

The former can include new buildings (office, housing, etc), transportation, entertainment (including concert halls, theatres, stadiums). The latter... Well, the latter usually is somehow lumped in with the former. That is, 'We're seeing a new shopping center/city hall/concert venue/recreation centre/mass transit being built; this will enhance the quality of life for the residents of the city remarkably.' But it rarely (and please, correct me if I'm wrong) brings into play the fact that usually, when you've got a city in need of renewal, you've got yourself an impoverished underclass. And I guess this is where my cynicism rises up. Has anyone actually taken the HSR recently? I have. Daily. Many routes. And I can tell you that this is how our underclass travels. The old, to be sure. But the young...and all those in between. I'm sorry, but I fail to see how enhancing the ability to get people from Point A to Point B in a timely, humane and comfortable fashion is going to change these people's existences.

This point also leads to the topic of 'perceived gentrification'. I know this may be a distasteful subject for many people, but when a city is 'revitalized', it means that something new and invigourating is injected into the mix. This 'newness' doesn't manifest itself within the underclass. (It can; but only by way of raising-up this underclass to a less impoverished level.) It's usually seen when developments are constructed that will attract a fresh batch of residents. I saw it in Brighton, and I've certainly seen it in Collingwood. (A third reference that comes to mind personally might be the Ocean View neighbourhood of Norfolk, VA.) What happens to the 'locals', the underclass? Well, unless we're talking about entire neighbourhoods being obliterated and rebuilt in a new vision, if we're talking about a reborn downtown, they simply don't frequent the 'revitalized' areas anymore. I worked downtown in Hamilton from the mid-80s to the early 90s. And I can tell you that the cross-section of the average 'attendee' back then was far different than what you see there today, even taking into account the fall of Stelco Tower. The riff-raff, the rummies, the young ne'er-do-wells, the down-and-outers... Sorry, I don't mean to be crass; I am the one who brought up this issue, after all, but really; there's a profile of Hamilton that almost everyone seems to be ignoring, this underclass. And these are not the people who will benefit by any 'revitalization' efforts downtown, unless there's a accompanying element put into play to include them, along with all the pretty, new facilities. They'll simply feel out of place...and push their 'activities' elsewhere. So where's the accomplishment in that...?

When we're talking about 'revitalization', there's an implication that the state of affairs has fallen into disrepair. Disuse. Within this context, we're not talking about urban change. In any major city, this occurs daily. Building use changes. Buildings are torn down, other developments rising up in their place. That's not what we're talking about when we refer to 'revitalizing' Hamilton, is it? If it is, I feel we're having the wrong discussion, focusing on the wrong issues. What needs to be discussed is not how to solve the riddle of the Lister Block. And it's not how to create a more efficient and morally responsible way of moving people. And while microcredit is a fantastic 'innovation' that certainly has a role to play in this community of ours, I fear it's merely a tertiary means to a much larger end: 'How do we raise up our underclass so that we can stop the downward spiral of poverty, not only for those thus affected, but also to include them in the overall scheme to revitalize Hamilton (which, let's face it, will be preaching to the converted, a more affluent middle-class)?'

This from a dear friend of mine: "The poverty issue in Hamilton is something my wife and I discuss a lot. However, we tend to focus on the kids in schools. She gets much feedback regarding the state of some of the schools in Hamilton, and many are described as war zones. If kids are in fact our future, then it doesn't look good for many of them."

Again, sorry to sound like a broken record, but I applaud the hell out of this site, out of its editors, out of its contributors. But seriously; someone has to start talking about a much broader vision of Hamilton, one of prodigious hopes and dreams, not just of well-intentioned, energized visions of issues such as mass transit, otherwise, in due course, we're all going to be holding our heads, wondering "How on earth did we end up falling this far?!?"

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