Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yes, it's *that* topic once again...

Recently, I wrote an email. The subject was 'Regarding the Downtown Stoney Creek paid-parking issue...' I wrote it because of pointed references to the issue during the election campaign, notably during at least one of the debates, not because I have any desire to yammer on additionally.

I wrote it because these days I'm especially sensitive about information being passed around in discussions that has more in common with myth than it does with fact, about issues ending up being burdened by ignorance and emotion rather than understanding and a willingness to craft genuine solutions. I saw it in our election, but I've been additionally witnessing it the mid-term elections in the US as well as in pedestrian Life-stuff that unfolds unceasingly each and every day. I'm sensitive to it not because I want people to share the opinions that I have, but because I want the opinions they voice to be the result of having become sufficiently informed about a subject to be able to end up with what I have long referred to as a 'qualified opinion'. Otherwise, what we have is dialogue rife with inaccuracies, irrational thought and anger. What we have is a lot of inane shouting. And from what I've picked up so far on this journey, those aren't things conducive to much of anything constructive.

Anyway, here's an expurgated/edited version of the email:

1) Different areas of the City of Hamilton *should* be afforded the opportunity to be treated 'distinctly'. This is called 'good management', the idea of addressing each situation objectively, especially when you're trying to get the most out of it, and not just imposing some autocratic solution for expediency's sake. Clearly, even an enlightened approach requires limits. You have to have certain levels of consistency, and yes, given the tendency for certain human foibles to rise up, this approach lends itself to favouritism, etc. So yes, it should be safeguarded from abuse, its wielding requires discretion and insight, but to have a cookie-cutting philosophy where trying to foster vibrancy, where attempting to bring about resiliency in a vulnerable commercial area is incredibly ill-advised. (I won't inject the whole notion of 'this is Stoney Creek, not Dundas, not Ancaster and certainly not Hamilton'...but it's there, regardless.)

When an area has a specific personality, when it requires some degree of honest objectivity in its management, defaulting to an uninspired -and uninspiring- arbitrary approach is at the very least unwise, and really, to me, foolish. (No matter what your civil servants, your mid-level know, those who are not elected to serve the people...might tell you.) This is the case with Downtown Stoney Creek, which deserves to be looked at within the context of its own needs, its own requirements...which frankly might be vastly different in five or ten years. But to insist that 'We need to have everyone operating under the same set of rules', when the execution of such an approach might deleteriously impact an area, is folly.

2) The whole discussion of parking in Downtown Stoney Creek has elements that I suspect some are either unwilling to concede the existence or the examination of, instead relying on ill-founded grievances against The Big Bad City, yet another manifestation of the 'Us vs Them' mentality. Here's how I see the various elements at play:

-The Health Sciences building on Mountain Avenue South was not constructed with sufficient parking. Apparently they were granted a broad enough variance/exemption back in the day. So currently, visits to the professionals in this building make up an inordinate number of Municipal Lot #3 spaces being used. This skews the entire situation...especially given that 'There's no 'there', there' where the existence of an actual 'downtown' is concerned. (I'll deal with this presently.) To me, the bottom-line is that there should have been sufficient parking provided for at least 75% of its patrons, and I'd say that really should have been more like 90%. (No, this does not take into account increased patient traffic over the years, but then I can't grasp the logic in having this burden passed onto other Downtown Stoney Creek patrons, which is precisely what's happening.) So this factor affects the situation immensely...and yet it's something I don't recall seeing having been put in the spotlight in the news coverage. (I'll deal more the Health Sciences building in a bit.)

-There is a lack of employee parking for those people who work in Downtown Stoney Creek. My belief is that an entirely new approach needs to be taken by the City in terms of parking permits; nobody should have to be moving their car three, four times a day as many employees currently do. This is beyond unacceptable, and surely runs contrary to the slogan 'We're open for business!' (As is the notion that 'they should be taking transit; when our regional system has the penetration and the service to allow anyone to live anywhere while being able to commute anywhere, then we can look at this concept. Before that's unfolded in front of us, this is a wholly inappropriate response.)

Yes, this is a legacy situation, in that there's probably never been 'enough' parking for those working at the various businesses along King Street. However, in one of my proposals for the reinvention and rejuvenation of the downtown, I provided solutions to this problem, and hand-in-hand with a new parking permits proposal for Lot #3, we could once and for all be done with this dilemma. (I feel the need to add here that we really need to be aware of the cause-and-effect of having businesses established that have massive employee parking requirements. This makes no sense at matter how wonderful it is when we get someone putting down roots.)

-During the months and months that the 'parking brouhaha' was front-and-center in town (especially in the Stoney Creek News) the main concerns regarding the impact of metered parking had to do with a) the Royal Canadian Legion, b) the Community Food Bank and c) the Seniors' Outreach Service. At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, to me these were non-issues. Why? Well, if any discussion about paid-parking has non-commercial players at the fore...that is, retailers and restaurants, who, if it's not abundantly understood, should make up at least three-quarters of the businesses on any 'Main Street'...then you know something's amiss. (Besides, aren't two of these entities going to be relocated into another ward with the impending closure of The Fire Hall, and the third quite capable of relocating if necessary, which rumour had it was imminent had Lot #3 been metered...?) Which leads to my final point...

-If you have a vibrant downtown, a shopping area that has anchor tenants, key players that drive business, a true 'destination location', then paying a buck for an hour's worth of street parking is not going to be a concern. Go to any street in Ontario where there are successfully busy shops and restaurants and cinemas and theatres and you'll see that when people are genuinely drawn to be there, paying for parking is a non-issue. Unfortunately, we don't have this in Downtown Stoney Creek, as you'll know from the plethora of articles I've written on my site...including the posts where I've entirely redesigned the downtown from top to bottom. (I need to say something particularly blunt here: if the Health Sciences building left, if they relocated and the site was razed and reused, I'd get down on my knees and praise the heavens. Especially if it coincided with the downtown finally being turned around, being potentialized, something that it really hasn't been for about forty-five years. As it stands, it's no longer suitable location for such a facility, not after four decades, not if we're being brutally honest about Downtown Stoney Creek's needs. But then there are at least three other 'foundation' businesses I'd love to see gone, bulldozed in order to make room for what's required for our core's genuine resurrection, so I'm hardly picking on the Health Sciences people.) In short, the residents of 'The Golden Square Mile' deserve a proper downtown...even more than they deserve 'free parking'.

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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.