City hall’s decision last week to create a new panel that would review architecture and building designs for the city’s downtown and waterfront areas is yet another thumb in the eye to the former suburban communities.
While this is not another anti-amalgamation criticism, for too long councillors and city staff have remained myopic in their quest to resurrect the flagging downtown fortunes of Hamilton at the expense of the downtowns of the surrounding communities.
To be sure, one of the glaring reasons for amalgamating the six municipalities was to somehow pump some sort of life into the moribund Hamilton downtown. Suburban councillors even applauded the effort, believing — to a point — that a strong city core meant a strong municipality as a whole.
In subsequent years city staff and politicians have shoveled boatloads of money into various projects such as saving the Lister Block, helping to fund activities such as the Supercrawl along James Street, loans for the construction of the Hilton Hotel and condominium complex at Bay and Main streets, and even more cash for the new McMaster Health Campus, all for the benefit of rejuvenating the core with people and jobs.
Now the city will be spending $9,000 to on a two-year design review pilot project overseen by local architect David Premi. The panel, composed of professionals, will level their distinguished opinions on larger residential and commercial proposals for the downtown and the waterfront. It seems all the large, progressive and self-important municipalities have one, including Ottawa, Toronto and London.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the loans, money, time, political capital and other resources that have been poured into Hamilton’s beleaguered downtown areas. These communities need all the help and assistance they can get from the municipal government after decades of neglect.
But it seems yet again that suburban areas continually are watching from the sidelines. For instance, Stoney Creek’s old town project remains stuck in neutral. The seemingly simple project of building a parkette has become a major, and frankly embarrassing, endeavour for the city. After nearly two months of work, all that is visible are mud, holes and a fence.
Dundas has the most vibrant and exciting downtown in Hamilton, if not of most southern Ontario communities, yet the need remains to revitalize some areas including J.L. Grightmire Arena. Binbrook has a growing downtown where more resources will soon be in demand; Ancaster is finally getting its long-delayed road repairing and sidewalk replacement on Wilson Street after years of waiting for the money to do it. And Waterdown is an exploding downtown area where development is being left unchecked, becoming like a mini-Mississauga.
Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark did inject some suburban perspective to city hall’s downtown dementia by requesting that the design panel members first look over its own mandate.
Maybe they would like to look at all developments, regardless of region to provide a broader, fuller perspective of what Hamilton should look like.
A decade ago, suburban politicians insisted signs be installed at the entrances to the city that branded Hamilton a City of Many Communities. That perspective seems to have been lost as the city’s core continues to blind council to the fuller possibilities of the community.