Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Now, maybe to others, this is no biggee, but from my perspective, I think it's the most exciting development in local civic-activism blogging:
Cal DiFalco, publisher of 'The Hamiltonian', commenting on 'Raise The Hammer', published by Ryan McGreal, at the article entitled 'Fletcher: No Alternative to Rezoning for Pearl Company'.
Why is it important to me? Because it's genuine engagement.
It shows a willingness to venture out past our own 'storefronts', to tangibly expand this online community.
It's like a restauranteur having dinner at one of his competitors...only better. Because this demonstrates grace, is a tangible gesture towards a free-flowing of information, a desire to bring people together do create dialogue, exchange ideas.
Ironically, only this week, Ryan posted the article ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’, dealing with how important it is for people to be ‘mixing’ in order for creativity to be given its due.
Well done to all concerned.
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 on...so 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 governance...is 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.'
I want to say at the outset that I’ve formed my opinions as a resident of 'The Amalgamated City of Hamilton'. So while I may not be privy to the overview a Councillor or a City-department comptroller or otherwise-bureaucrat might possess, I am speaking as a citizen, someone for whom all these people work. I may not have their 'insight' into the workings of the City of Hamilton vis a vis potential 'de-amalgamation', but I’m willing to bet I probably have a better handle on the 'insight' of a person on the street than someone on the inside might...especially as I consider myself particularly aligned both with Stoney Creek and Hamilton.
The Stoney Creek News editorial 'Hamilton break-up' was a refreshing -if somewhat badly articulated- read. In the first portion of my 'analysis/commentary', I took a look at its message. But here, I'd like to address the common biases the piece reveals, illustrating truths that have been evident from the start of this arbitrary ‘experiment’. Truths that, were this a marriage, would have ended in either annulment, divorce...or the public spectacle of a household under extreme duress...with denial being its strange succor.
I suppose the best place to start is to acknowledge the internecine 'squabbling' that commonly goes in all cities. (Truth be told, it goes on in provinces, states and countries themselves...never mind larger conglomerations of associations, such as the European Union. But on a far more basic level, you see it in families. Witness the dynamic when there are, say, four brothers under the same roof.) Stark and staunch perceptions and entrenchments of place, of neighbourhoods, of community, of towns...of belonging. Pockets of pride. Healthy levels of self-interest. 'Uptown' vs 'Downtown' vs 'The University District' vs 'The Industrial Area' vs 'Entertainment Row' vs 'Sleepy Neighbourhood Enclaves, etc. No matter how you label the ‘frisson’, it’s there. It’s how Nature operates. Everywhere.
But the ties that bind in those situations -being part of the same city, the same 'family' as a result of organic growth- are not extant in this creature known as ‘The Amalgamated City Of Hamilton’. Regardless, from very start of Mike Harris's bullying initiative, we've sighed, rolled up our sleeves and expected that we'd make it work. (Or at the very least, make the best of the situation.) Why?
Probably because Canadians have such a strong sense of 'doing the right thing'...also known as 'manners', or 'being polite'...but also because for the longest time, Hamilton (and here I’m talking about the original city, not the amalgamation) has been in decline, resulting in undeniable protracted self-esteem issues, not to mention a questionable maturity level...meaning we’ve decided en masse to just accept our lot and soldier on. (The ramifications of all this will be looked at in the concluding portion of this series.)
From my perspective, all of the usual pride-and-competition-and-disinterest stuff that goes on within organically-developed cities have been accentuated in this amalgamation. Only because there's nothing 'organic' about the development, there's no 'blood', we're talking entirely different communities with entirely different histories, and (within limits) entirely different priorities.
So keeping this in mind, explain to me why should/would someone in Waterdown have any interest in the North End’s woes? Why should someone in Stoney Creek really have any concern about economic development in Downtown Hamilton? Why should someone living in Dundas feel compelled to weep about the travails of what is another city entirely? Other than the fact that we’ve all become inextricably connected, dependent on each other’s success. (Or so ‘they’ would remind you...while rationalizing to their hearts' content why we have to stay the course.)
Moreover, why, oh why would anyone expect that everything would work out fine? The various entities involved might not, as the Brits say, be a case of 'chalk and cheese', but seriously; other than the commitment we took on at the behest (I'm being generous here) of Premier Mike Harris and his cronies, what other reasons are there for grand expectations as to its success? When you take independent towns and cities and force them to 'become The Borg', unlike on 'Star Trek', wouldn’t you expect that longstanding mindsets and all their concomitant energies are going to come back and bite you on the ass?
Here’s what current mayoral candidate Mahesh P. Butani had to say on The Hamiltonian’s feature '10 Tough Questions' from September of last year:
Strategic errors were made by dismantling the regional structure in our city in the name of efficiencies and parlaying it into a loosely cobbled amalgamation of towns with an appearance of a larger city. What we already had in place a decade ago was the structure and potential of 'Polycentricity', a planning and spatial policy notion, which has been gaining currency over this decade in Europe and other parts of the world. We dismantled it politically in the name of progress, and we have suffered for it since then.
From 2007, here’s what Ryan McGreal of Raise the Hammer had to say in his post 'Singing the Amalgamation Blues':
"But let's be blunt: the real reason for amalgamation was politics, not policy: the provincial Harris government was determined to download social services onto municipalities and knew that Hamilton could not afford to carry its disproportionately high expenses without the help of its suburbs.
In short, the purpose of amalgamation was to enlarge the tax base so the government could impose its ideological agenda. Ontario is still paying for the disastrous legacies of the Harris/Eves government, and amalgamation is part of the price.”
(Interestingly, there’s actually a comment from a ‘Larry Di Ianni’ on this post.)
Look; all of the formerly-independent entities absorbed into the single-tier city known as Hamilton each possessed their own individual charms upon entry, their own brands of distinctness. And nothing has diminished after amalgamation. Go to Dundas. To Ancaster. To Flamborough, to Glanbrook, to Stoney Creek. What they had going for them back pre-2001 is still there. They are never going to become 'outlying bits of Hamilton', no matter how much anyone exhorts them to...including the Stoney Creek News.
The people in those places never wanted amalgamation. (They still don't.)
And really, reversing course once again for a moment, Hamilton (and many Hamiltonians within the city-proper) have no desire to compromise what it is to be a Hamiltonian living in Hamilton by somehow blending into the mix notions of Dundas or Waterdown or wherever. They don't, in fact, give a rat's ass about these five 'boroughs'...because in their heads -and rightly so- they're ‘Manhattan’ in this analogy, and that pretty much ends the discussion.
So what we have here, if we can be honest with ourselves, is equanimity...though nobody in power seems to want to talk about it.
Before moving onto the final portion of this series, here’s three final points to consider:
-How differently do you suppose something like the Pan Am Games stadium site selection process would have unfolded had there never been an amalgamation? Think of the dearth of conflict; Stoney Creek definitely wouldn't care if the thing was built at the proposed West Harbour or the HIP or the East Mountain locations. (Just that it certainly wouldn't be put at Confederation Park.)
-Perhaps if they'd renamed the city, instead of keeping the moniker 'Hamilton', the amalgamation might have had a better chance. Because what does 'Hamilton' mean to most people outside the city-proper? If I'm from Dundas, I'm not giving up my identity in order to kowtow to Mike Harris and his ilk, and if people refuse to take on the identity of a ‘single-tier metropolis’, why would we expect that any degree of cohesiveness would result on any level being considered? (Empty, half-hearted rhetoric aside.)
-I suspect that most successful amalgamations begin with one of two scenarios. The first sees a strong core city around which the ancillary cities will be affixed...eventually -and consistently- benefiting all parties through mutual goals, varied contributions, and a sense of synergy. If the Stoney Creek News is to be believed ("The original goal of amalgamating six municipalities into one city was a last ditch effort by the former PC provincial government to keep Hamilton from going bankrupt."), then this certainly wasn't the case.
The second involves more or less ‘equal partners’. Which we definitely didn’t have here, don't have...and never will.
Part Three: If it is ‘broken’, what then?
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
September 20, 2010
This is not a Press Release
A sincere request to both the incumbents mayor Fred Eisenberger and the past mayor Larry DiIanni, to put a lid on the press releases:
The press/media release is an instrument that is used to announce something new and substantial or meaningful to the public via the media. It is not a weapon to launch political attacks nor is it a means to authenticate lackluster or dubious political performances of the past decade.
It is an understatement to say that the people of the City of Hamilton have suffered enormously under both your administration
Your policies over the last two terms have seen an increase in poverty, loss of industries and jobs, spiraling taxes and user fees, cut in essential services, and the degradation of our environment and physical infrastructure. Both of you have shown a total disregard for the financial and physical realities of our city, and instead have chosen to create and support projects that have brought no immediate or short term reliefs to the residents who have been suffering the serious consequences of your media driven leadership style.
Your continuing indulgence in projecting major economic gains from highly contentious ‘publicly funded’ mega projects, has brought us to the current state of financial and infrastructural crisis we are facing as a city.
With an election in a few weeks, instead of bringing forth policies and plans that at least have the –pretense– of leading us out of the colossal mess that our city has been in since amalgamation, you’ll no doubt continue to challenge the intelligence of the people by indulging in public mudslinging with your so-called 'media releases'.
Your most recent LRT media releases -which imitate Howard Elliot's latest missive on the same topic in the Spectator– are clear examples of your abject lack of knowledge of the kind of projects this city needs to recover financially; and displays your lack of sensitivity towards the families and countless small and mid size businesses in our city that are struggling daily to just survive the harsh realities of your policies.
Your assumptions that a few public announcements of unsubstantiated mega projects will bring back the lost jobs and prosperity ends up making a mockery of the fundamental tenets of economic development and community rebuilding.
Supported by an uncritical media -that's quite happy to change the focus of the fatigued minds from the absurd PanAM issue they helped create– both of you have shown poor judgment in quickly jumping onto the LRT bandwagon, something still in the design/review phase in our Planning Department.
Attempts to make this into an yet another hollow key election issue will no longer distract people’s attention from your very public record of lack of leadership over the last seven years.
While the one candidate who decimated an entire ecosystem in just one mayoral term has proudly managed to reintroduce himself to the people as a sensitive green man and is now pushing the limits of credulity by suggesting that he wants to reroute the LRT lines to whichever neighborhoods that promises him the most votes, the other, the incumbent who has made a political career out of selling the virtues of LRT –while being fully aware of the enormous funding gaps– now just weeks before an election wants to establish a SWAT team to twist the arms of the federal/provincial governments to hand over the entire funding for a LRT system, while he is still at their very mercy to yet deliver to the people his promise of the PanAM stadium and the Randall Reef capping.
It is this kind of pathetic posturing supported by an equally pathetic and uncritical media, that turns cities in a developed nation into a third world, banana republic; where just about anything goes, as long as you are in power, and you have a band of misguided merry men to cheer you along.
Both of you could have done better than this. Our city surely deserves better.
If you're both running out of ideas to win another term in office, I can suggest a few which are guaranteed to capture votes. How about focusing on creating real jobs from ground up? How about attracting new private sector investments? Or writing policies that open up the gates for small businesses to flourish, and increase wages for workers who are already present in our communities? Or even offering solutions to address the devastating impact that your continuing inactions have had on mental health issues at the street level in our lower city?
Putting a gun to the head of higher levels of government to get them to invest in Hamilton, or rerouting the LRT through various neighborhoods to win brownie points is not the best way to raise investments for a sustainable transit system, nor is it an appropriate way to win votes, least of all run a city.
It is my sincere hope that both of you begin to focus on issues that critically matter to the very survival of this city. I challenge you to read this report titled: "The False Promise of the Entrepreneurial University", by Marc V. Levine, and tell the people how wrong your past policies have been in suggesting to the people of Hamilton that our publicly funded Innovation Park is going to be the much celebrated driver of our economic engine!
I also challenge you to show up for
Mahesh P. Butani