Comment 51636

By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 16, 2010 at 12:21:34

We need to leverage our unique strengths rather than try to emulate nearby cities. We need to hand pick other peoples' success stories only when they are applicable to us.

We have built a brand new highway and have done little to attract business park development to it. We should be focusing on our already built infrastructure before building anew at the aerotropolis.

But fringe business parks are not the true answer for this city. We need urban development (both commercial and residential) to develop a beating heart which will nourish the business parks that currently sit empty.

How can we build this heart? Solutions have been elusive, mainly because of "chicken-or-egg" scenarios. We need good jobs to attract a workforce to the core. We need a good workforce to attract employers to the core. Getting either started without the other is almost impossible.

Without a workforce and employer base, any projects the city invests in are simply a veneer on a crumbling core.

I propose a two pronged approach to providing the catalyst for attracting employers and employees. Once the trickle starts, there will be a positive feedback loop that results in a greater influx of both.

Left Prong: attracting employees. We have long suffered in the shadows of Toronto. We do not want to be considered a "bedroom community" of this neighbouring behemoth. We want our own identity and we are too proud to admit that we already rely on Toronto. Well guess what: the entire province (and country) relies on Toronto. It is the business centre of Canada. This reliance is never going away.

We are in the enviable position of living an a true city with a real core that is within spitting distance of Toronto. Let's leverage it instead of lamenting it.

I propose we aggressively position ourselves as Toronto's only true "urban suburb". Let's use Toronto's huge employer base to attract a young, urban workforce to Hamilton. The reality is, you can live in an urban space close to many amenities within walking distance of the GO, and be swept to your Toronto job in under an hour. Many Torontonians suffer longer commutes than this despite living geographically closer to downtown Toronto - and they live in areas less dense than Hamilton and pay more money to do so. Let's give them a true urban living option. This approach will require some hard fighting on our part - 24 hour go service would be nice. More trains including "Express-to-Union" options. Some of this is already on the table - we can't let it slide off. But there are some easier parts too - for one, a pure marketing shift. Hamilton cannot market itself effectively. We really suck at it and we need to change that. We need to swallow our pride and hire a marketing team that can get the urban suburb message out to the people who count: already-employed Torontonians who suffer long commutes and overpriced accommodations. The message? Own a home in Hamilton for less than rent. Or rent for less still. Live in an urban setting with all amenities. Spend less time commuting and more time living. These messages can help us add Toronto's job dollars to our tax base. A little friendly rivalry is fine, but we need to bury the "F*ck T.O." attitude asap. If we can build a trickle of employed outsiders in, amenities will improve, attracting more people, and eventually a critical mass will be reached where downtown Hamilton is seen as a livable place, and high quality employers will come to leverage this workforce to their advantage. We need to help build the trickle into a flow through infrastructure and planning changes. LRT will definitely help (but it needs to be built intelligently - that's another post unto itself). Improving life for pedestrians and cyclists will make downtown more attractive to young professionals. Revamping building codes to allow for denser residential, more mixed use, and relaxed parking requirements will help current landowners leverage their properties to better effect. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, but none are unattainable.

Right Prong: attracting employers. Having good jobs downtown will alone do more to attract people than all of the incentives mentioned above combined - but how can we achieve this goal? We need to make it easy and cost effective for companies to open up shop here. This means everyone from mom and pop's pizza all the way up to major banks etc. Building infrastructure and changing zoning in a way that proves we are serious about downtown redevelopment will help. but more importantly, we need to use cold hard cash as an incentive. Rather than spending on new fringe infrastructure we need to invest downtown and provide real financial incentives in the way of tax breaks to incoming businesses. Whether it's a property tax freeze or even a sumbsidy for a certain number of initial years, we need to make it economically viable to locate here. Right now we have cheap land but the taxes are ridiculous, as is the red tape.

By combining smart planning and investment in attracting businesses with smart marketing to attract people we could kick start a positive feedback loop that will revitalize the core.

We need to get busy looking at many of these small tasks instead of focusing on a few huge and expensive projects that will do little to help us in the long run.

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