Saturday, September 25, 2010

Regarding 'de-amalgamation', Part Three

Notion: 'If it ain't broken, don't fix it.'

Question: If it is ‘broken’...what then?

I believe that in the case of the current ‘Hamilton’, amalgamation hasn't worked.

I believe that amalgamation has not served the interests of anyone involved.

And I believe that each of the entities in question...Hamilton, Ancaster, Dundas, Glanbook, Flamborough and Stoney Creek...has the right to declare its own interests and do what’s best for its own citizens, rather than feeling that it’s constantly compromising these needs, and/or feeling pushed along by the needs of its neighbour(s).

The current trend in good governance is to move away from ‘big’ and focus on ‘small’. The most common complaint I read in almost every situation I come across is that people do not believe that the behaviour and policies of their governments, their representatives reflect their needs. People feel they’re not being ‘heard’. (Yes, I concede that much of this would be remedied by my much-flaunted notion of increased ‘relationship of engagement’ on the part of the citizenry, regardless of the governance situation in question...therefore here I will dutifully refer readers to posts found on this blog with the label 'Civic Engagement')

So if we’re talking about the idea of creating high quality-of-Life circumstances within our neighbourhoods, our communities, our cities, it seems reasonable to me to do as little compromising as possible.

Meaning that each of these six arbitrarily-affixed municipalities should be looking after their own citizens’ needs while forging strong strategic alliances with the others. (Come on; there's no 'mutually-exclusive', 'either this or that' standing in the offing as come kind of insurmountable bulwark going please; all you nay-sayers out there, suck back the bile and stop pouting.)

Meaning that we really, really need to be talking about de-amalgamation.

There’s a pretty common anti-downtown bias in the Stoney Creek News editorial that to a great extent prompted this series of posts: they made reference to the "...tired, old downtown area." (Now, I'm not sure how different its sentiments would be were the area in question in a more vibrant state, but the funny thing is that this is the stance of a publication in a place where the downtown is absolutely, positively nothing to send a postcard from.) To me, this reveals about a fundamental -and typical- disconnect regarding cities and how they grow, what commercial, cultural and psychic importance 'downtowns' have always possessed, often manifesting itself in a strong dismissiveness about the basic concept of ‘downtowns’. (Regarding the particulars of what I'm espousing: I'll leave it to you to do your own research. I think that's only fair.)

Over time, I've come to the conclusion that those citizens of ‘The Amalgamated City of Hamilton’ who have no time for the downtown aren't actually valid participants in the discussion about the merits of a thriving central core and the value of its revitalization. Why should they be? The area doesn't interest them. They don't go there. Some haven't gone there in years. (Unless there's something they want to purchase or an exclusive experience can be had...then they conveniently change their tune.)

This conclusion is germane to the discussion about amalgamation because if I live in Stoney Creek, don’t you think it’s apropos for me to be more passionate about my own downtown core than one six miles to the west?

Conversely, if I’m a tried-and-true Hamiltonian, and I want my downtown to shine again, don’t you think it’s a little much to have to essentially ‘defend’ its resurrection to people in the ‘outlying’ areas of the amalgamated city because they're anti-downtown, specifically anti-Hamilton's downtown? (I happen to feel that it’s preposterous that any sort of 'defending' is warranted. Period)

If I’m a resident of Dundas, don’t you think it’s reasonable that I want the thrust of maintenance and growth that I’m paying someone to be the steward of to happen in where I make my home? Where I live...?

If I live in Ward 1 or 2, don’t you think that I shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting poverty-alleviation and jobs-creation resources to be brought to bear there, rather than watching development in the peripheral areas of the amalgamated city?

Ya know... I can’t help but let my imagination wander here, and fashion a scenario where we have a hypothetical ‘arranged marriage’.

Let’s suppose that on the one hand, we have a gal who’s an entertainer. She lives to perform. Not only that, but she lives to perform on the road. She loves the thrill of making a splash in different towns all the time. She loves the press, she loves the pace, she loves being in the spotlight. (She also loves the adoration of fans, the myriad ways this adoration manifests itself...and gets expressed.)

On the other hand, we have a guy who’s itchin’ to have a family. He’s a homebody. Loves to cook. Can’t wait to have big family dinners, to go on camping trips, to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays...the full-meal deal.

Now I imagine them being brought together and ‘amalgamated’. (Come on; use your imagination. It’s not that hard.)

And then I imagine how things clearly do not line up.

Finally, I imagine the small number of ways this scenario turns out.

I figure that when amalgamation was foisted upon all of us, Hamilton was probably about twenty-five years away from being in a healthy, self-supporting, vibrant state. Of having its various woes addressed, of solutions being applied, of successfully moving past the ‘economic triage’ state that we can find the beginnings of somewhere around 1990. And that because of amalgamation, all of these vital processes were either denied....or put in abeyance. (Lord, there's a series of posts deserving to be written on this topic...but this is 'My Stoney Creek', not 'My Hamilton'.) Leaving Hamilton in this continued and protracted dysfunctional state.

And leaving the other five communities’ residents frustrated. And angry.

I’d have no problem with amalgamation were it a) warranted, and b) designed around a central municipality whose state wasn’t critical.

I maintain the neither variable was or is present here.

Hamilton needs to have the latitude to sort out its problems. Without compromising its state because of proclaimed -and confirmable- inequities in the design.

Stoney Creek, Flamborough, Glanbrook, Dundas and Ancaster deserve the same.

To bury our heads in the sand, to get that wide-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth thing going on where ‘perceived failure’ gets us making bad decisions out of desperation (Pan Am Games stadium site-selection process, anyone...?), where we refuse to examine and acknowledge the core reality of our simply not acceptable.

We all deserve better.

The real question is: ‘Do we have the leaders in place who are possessed of the right kind of insight and courage to deal with de-amalgamation?’

Or are we going to ignore the fact that all the municipalities concerned have more than enough capabilities for being 'great friends', just not 'spouses', and settle for a begrudged 'marriage' in the process?

My answer comes from an old counselling maxim:

'People stay where they are until they're uncomfortable enough to have to move.'

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.