Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Unspeakable Option

In this week's Stoney Creek News editorial 'Pan Am stadium appears doomed' (yes, the link may well still be broken when you read this post), interim Senior Editor/Managing Editor Mark Cripps puts forward some very cogent, straightforward thoughts. I don't agree with all of his connotations. But I do acknowledge that he's managed to state things plainly. And these days, with all the rhetoric being thrown about, the column is a breath of fresh air.

Some would disagree. Some would declare that we cannot let this opportunity slide by, and find ourselves empty-handed at the end of so much effort, becoming the 'laughing-stock' of the province, if not the country.

Since at least the beginning of the summer...when things really began ramping-up controversy-wise...I've believed that the Ivor Wynne-Scott Park 'superproperty' was where the new stadium should be built.

But beyond this, I've felt there's always been another choice for our Council to consider.

It's not really been talked about much. Mostly because of what's connected to it. The aforementioned 'laughing-stock' bit. It's just too grievous a contemplation for so many Hamiltonians.

Hence the title of this post.

But the truth is that we need to consider the possibility of having to say 'I'm sorry, but we are unable to come up with a way to make this work for the city and the people of Hamilton. Therefore, we're backing away from our 2015 Pan Am Games commitment.'

Would the sky fall as a result? Would the world end? Would Paxil or Zoloft or Xanax have to be insinuated into our water supply in order for us to cope? Would the Ti-Cats leave town? Would Mayor Fred be re-elected?

Clearly, the answer to all these questions is 'No.'

There's a lot that's currently wrong with Hamilton's governance. But I'm not as quick as some others to lay the blame on the Mayor, nor on Council, either as a whole or individually. Unfortunately, I believe that what ails us is a malaise. And while it's surely present in the general population (something I've touched on previously, and undoubtedly will again), it's the manifestations at City Hall that I believe to be the more insidious...and the far more crippling, because their very reason for being is to create a better way for us all.

From what I've gathered, contrary to the broadcasts out of City Hall, Hamilton is in fact not 'Open For Business'. My impression is that Hamilton has created an environment that does not encourage business development. That its by-laws and general policies do not foster a 'We're here to facilitate success' attitude. I believe that Councillors must shoulder some of the blame for this, but I don't believe they're the real villains here. Rather, I believe that the lower levels of governance...the 'civil servant' bits, the layers of bureaucracy, the habits, the mindsets, the kingdoms created...are where the problems lie.

I believe there is a 'culture of obstruction' within our city government, created and tended by non-elected officials. 'The Red Tape Barons', if you will.

I saw a number bandied about this weekend that suggested that more than three-quarters of tax revenue in Hamilton currently comes from the residential base. Meaning that only a small portion is being generated by business. Meaning that we most definitely are not 'Open For Business'.

I mention all this within the context of the Pan Am Games stadium discussion because not only do we have a 'city in transition' psyche process going on (underestimate at your peril how past losses 'fuel' present perceptions and dialogue), not only do we have an identity crisis connected to this (not a problem in itself; change is Life's constant, after all), but as a result of these elements combining with other contributing factors, there's a certain desperation that pervades almost everything having to do with moving forward.

So it should come as no surprise that the notion of 'losing' this opportunity to revitalize Hamilton by way of a Pan Am Games stadium...then to be the new home of the Ti-Cats...would be so traumatic a one to render it 'The Unspeakable Option'. People have become so down-in-the-mouth about what Hamilton is capable of, what our potential is, whether or not we're a functional city (even if you don't groove to the tune a downtown provides under any circumstances, you should be able to acknowledge that what's been allowed to happen to Downtown Hamilton speaks volumes about our ability to manage our resources) that even bad weather tends to reinforce it. So the idea of ending up with 'nothing' at the end of this process, the notion of walking away from the table because we've been able to see that we just can't accomplish what we'd committed to doing is beyond their ability to see in any other context than the catastrophic.

While I happen to believe it might just be a very, very good thing...if we don't get caught up in the expected self-immolation, self-flagellation and self-medicating.

For me, the real question -putting aside just how we're going to change this 'culture of obstruction'- is 'Who's going to show some actual leadership and guide us past this traumatic interlude, if it actually unfolds?'

Mark Cripps isn't very hopeful that something might be salvaged 'from the Pan Am stadium debate war zone.' In fact, he believes it would be a miracle were this accomplished.

As it stands right now, I think the 'miracle' would be if this person -or people- to marshall us all forward constructively actually materialized.

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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.