Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pithy Quote of The Day

"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know for sure that just ain't so." 

From the article 'The futility of reasoning with crazy'.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Simple Plan

How to turn around the downtown in Stoney Creek, insofar as parking goes...?

1) Get rid of metered street parking in Downtown Stoney Creek. (City of Hamilton purview.)

2) Increase the number of parking passes made available to business owners and their employees. (City of Hamilton purview.)

3) Do an actual study of parking space use in the downtown. (Not within the City of Hamilton purview. Although I'm sure a strategic alliance could be formed with them by concerned parties.)

4) Once this has been completed, begin addressing the issue of the cause-and-effect of the Health Sciences Building monopolizing parking spaces in Municipal Lot #3. (Not within the City of Hamilton purview. Although I'm sure a strategic alliance could be formed with them by concerned parties.)

5) Initiate a 'master plan' regarding potential changes in land use in Downtown Stoney Creek. (Not within the City of Hamilton purview. Although I'm sure a strategic alliance could be formed with them by concerned parties.)

6) Initiate a 'master plan' regarding the sincere revitalizing of Downtown Stoney Creek. (Not within the City of Hamilton purview. Although I'm sure a strategic alliance could be formed with them by concerned parties.)

Successfully addressing the 'situation' in Downtown Stoney Creek is not one where 'the government', no matter what manifestation at what level we're talking, should be the crux. 

It is not 'the government's' responsibility to effect changes such as those desperately required in Downtown Stoney Creek. That is not any government's role. 

That having been said, it is 'the government's' role to enhance opportunities, to provide the best circumstances possible for success, to encourage and support commerce energies being utilized to their maximum potential. 

So no, Downtown Stoney Creek is not 'the government's' problem to solve. 

And, to a certain extent, it's not 'the public's', either. And can certainly be an active player, because this has to do with the quality of Life that people in the area, people who might frequent Downtown Stoney Creek might experience. It's not the public's responsibility to make sure their retail and entertainment and service needs are addressed to their satisfaction. The this sense, 'the consuming public' with their dollars. Except when there's a vacuum, a bubble, except when someone somehow has pressed 'Pause'...and it's stuck in that mode. 

This capitalist, materialistic society of ours was built as a result of businesspeople who took what was available to them...their own initiative, their own resources...and combined them with the momentum of the times, of opportunities as laid out on the landscape. 

Throughout all of this 'discussion'...which I myself have co-opted from the bitchfest about the City of Hamilton forcing metered parking down our collective throats into one addressing Downtown Stoney Creek's actual vibrancy and thriving nature...'the government' has been consistently presented as 'The Bad Guy'. And quite frankly, it's frustrated the Hell out of me that this tack has been so convenient and so powerful a distractor. Because in the end, as I've been saying for almost a year now, the issue isn't about metered parking. It's something of a much greater impact, something of a much greater importance, something that nobody seems to want to address. (Not even our community newspaper, The Stoney Creek News.)

Which is why I'll keep yammering-on about it. 

Not just because it's in my innate nature to be the grain of sand that prompts the pearl. (Though I do like that sentiment and am considering fashioning it into a t-shirt...)

It's because Stoney Creek deserves what's long been absent: a vibrant and thriving downtown. 


Clearly, I'm obsessed.

Supposing, if you will, that metered parking in Downtown Stoney Creek was repealed. (Mostly because what they'd projected revenue-wise appeared to ultimately be proved either a 'terminological inexactitude'...or a horribly manipulative forecast.) 

So we go back to 'the way it was'. 

People are able to park free on King Street. Which, as I recall, was two-hour parking. More than enough for shoppers. But then we're back to one of the four foundational 'particulars' about Downtown Stoney Creek.

1) There has maybe never been sufficient parking allowances for business owners and their employees. So even when parking was free, employees would have to regularly jockey their vehicles about during the work day. This meant that every two hours, they'd have to go out, in sunny weather, in rain, in snow, to move their vehicle in order not to get ticketed. Does this seem amenable to productivity in the marketplace? 

The solution? Well, this is where things get interesting, and in the case of most tough-to-crack puzzles, different elements would need to be recognized and their particulars implemented. a) More parking passes should be issued by the City of Hamilton to Downtown Stoney Creek businesses. (I have to issue a proviso here. What the downtown doesn't need are businesses that come in who 'require' what amounts to an inordinate number of staff spaces, and they can only supply a portion of these on their own property. This places a ridiculous burden on the available resources.) If businesses don't have what they need to reasonably set up shop...for instance, places for their employees to park...then they're probably not going to locate in Downtown Stoney Creek. To those who say 'But you're taking away spaces from shoppers!', I'm going to direct you to point #2, below.) Hand-in-hand with this, is b) an entirely new approach to the existing land between Elm and Lake Avenue. I've redesigned the downtown. I'm positive that there are available spaces for more parking...but it ain't gonna happen within the current paradigm and dynamic. This is not, as some might want to whinge, an impossible situation. Merely impossible within the current set of circumstances. If you cannot grasp this, then frankly, you need to find another focus for your energies. 

2) The Health Sciences Building (and its patrons) by-and-large monopolizes the spaces available in Municipal Lot #3 on Mountain Avenue South. (However, this is connected to point #3, below.) Consider if you will, the hypothetical that it's not a medical building on that spot, but something else. Something whose patrons' needs (or maybe employees' needs) necessitate the same degree of monopolization of spaces. Would we be as blithely co-operative or understanding when it came to so much valuable parking being made unavailable to actual Downtown Stoney Creek customers? In the words of the great feline philosopher, 'I think not, baby pupplatina.'

There are more parking spaces on this lot than the rest of the downtown streets combined. It's an invaluable resource in terms of creating the vibrant and thriving downtown I want to believe all those concerned genuinely crave.  

The bottom-line here is that the Health Sciences Building is actually the primary bane of Downtown Stoney Creek as it relates to creating this desired environment.

3) Given that we have a large lot where free parking has continued to exist, it's a reasonable assumption that many people are lazy. They don't want to walk 200 feet. What they want...even though this flies in the face of 'The Mall-shopping Mindset', where you are bound to walk considerable distances to get what you want no matter where you to park directly in front of the store they want to shop at. 

Which means what they really want is to go back in time. To the 50s or 60s. 

Which generally means they're of a certain generation. 

Moving on...

We already have an abundance of parking in Downtown Stoney Creek. Especially when taking into account the general Level of Wonderfulness the current mix of businesses possesses, the absolute dearth of authentic 'draws' we currently have. If we take away the 'paid' element and make it all '2-hour free parking', even when the Health Sciences Building is monopolizing the spaces, at almost any hour of the day, there are available spaces. But...but...

But many people tend to be lazy and they don't want to walk 200 feet to get free parking. 

So if this is true...and I'd be willing to arm-wrassle anyone over this point...then one of the primary issues isn't paid's people's laziness. 


4) If you have businesses that are authentic draws...along the same line as The Village Restaurant, for the sake of argument...then people...especially people who are not of 'that generation' who aren't willing or able to walk 200 feet...will do what's required to park their car. Upon request, I can name you instances in various cities in various countries where people don't blink at the prospect of walking 200 feet to fulfill their desires, because there are businesses at hand that supply these needs. 

We don't have that in Downtown Stoney Creek. 

Let me repeat myself here: We don't have that in Downtown Stoney Creek.
People do not think of Downtown Stoney Creek as a destination in which they can satisfy some of their shopping needs. Not like, dare I be so bold, Dundas. (Yes, I'm very aware of the differences in scale. Yes, I'm very aware of the differences in particulars. And yes, I'd be willing to arm-wrassle anyone over this stuff, too.) 

As this is my blog, with my rules, I'm allowed to do an imitation of a broken record, so:

'There's no there, there.'

"But mystoneycreek, the kinds of businesses you're talking about wishing were in Downtown Stoney Creek won't locate there because there's insufficient parking! For either their customers, or their employees (and themselves)!"

To this I reply: "There's not 'insufficient parking'. Once you eliminate parking fees for the downtown, it's more a case that a) what's available has been both monopolized and badly utilized, and b) potential land use focusing on parking hasn't been integrated into a 'master plan'. Oh, and c) some people are lazy cunts and won't walk 200 feet."

Up next: my 'solutions'. 

And now for some visual input...

Check It Out
John Cougar Mellencamp

A million young poets
Screamin' out their words
To a world full of people
Just livin' to be heard
Future generations
Ridin' on the highways that we built
I hope they have better understanding

Goin' to work on monday
Got yourself a family
All utility bills have been paid
You can't tell your best buddy that you love him
Where does our time go
Got a brand new house in escrow
Sleepin' with your back to your loved one
This is all that we've learned about happiness

Forgot to say hello to my neighbors
Sometimes I question my own behavior
Talkin' about the girls that we've seen on the sly
Just to tell our souls we're still the young lions
Gettin' to drunk on saturdays
Playin' football with the kids on sundays
Soarin' with the eagles all week long
And this is all that we've learned about living
This is all that we've learned about living

A million young poets
Screamin' out their words
Maybe someday
Those words will be heard
By future generations
Ridin' on the highways that we built
Maybe they'll have a better understanding
Check it out
Hope they'll have a better understanding
Check it out
Maybe they'll have a better understanding
Check it out
Maybe they'll have a better understanding
Check it out
Hope they'll have a better understanding
Check it out...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of garbage and the such

In an article on Raise the Hammer entitled 'Garbage Collection Decision Is A Missed Opportunity To Engage Citizens', Adrian Duyzer makes some great points. Points that got me thinking. 

Most of my life I’ve been apolitical. I was never drawn to the process, never drawn to politicians, period. (Granted, part of this is attributable to a strong abhorrence to what Living Colour referred to in their song ‘Cult of Personality’. I have little time for celebrity, for the fawning, for the passive obeisance, for what amounts to the lowering of self in order to facilitate the elevation of the celebrity. But clearly, that’s a diatribe for another time. LOL)

Even though my general awareness is so much broader and deeper than it was when I was ‘younger’, even though I’m mightily intrigued by governance and everything its good execution entails, I’m still apolitical. Because I really don’t believe in ‘politics’. I find myself flinching, even mentally gagging when having to wade through the North American political landscape. In the hierarchy of governance, local, provincial/state and federal, my only tolerance seems to be for the first; my attitude towards the latter pair can be summed up in a quote I offered up recently:

"Don't confuse 'politics' with governance. One is a hybrid of sports, entertainment, the gossip mill and a schoolyard sandbox, while the other concerns how the quality of our lives is constructed. Most involved in the former are seemingly incapable of contributing to the latter."

What I’m saying shouldn't be seen as a blanket affirmation of faith in local governance; it’s not like I believe any given local Council necessarily reveals the best of the best in human nature, that this is where are most exemplary talent is, that there is nothing but good to be found amongst Councillors and Councils. But I do have more faith in non-party governance. In direct service being performed, with no party filter in place. At least there’s a chance of everything not turning into the massively grotesque game we’ve come to accept as politics

During the last municipal election, I allowed myself my first up-close spectating of how things unfold locally. As much as I was turned off by how some candidates regarded the process they were endeavouring to be a part of (far too cavalier, far too arrogant, far too self-serving for my sensibilities), I was turned off all the more by the consistent attitudes that so many people had about elected politicians in general. Best seen in how so many believed with a bewildering fervent energy that those who had been in office should be voted out, that virtually anyone new was a better choice. (This could be seen by CHML’s Scott Thompson exhorting listeners to ‘Vote them ALL out! Get rid of ALL incumbents!’)

For me, though the examination of how we got here, how such deeply-rooted cynicism became the norm would be time well-spent, what really matters is how to better move forward as residents, as voters, as constituents. Because there ain’t no magical cache of newcomers waiting in the wings to provide salvation. 

Recently a comment was posted on a article, the final portion of which to me contained a wealth of insight:

The world has gotten increasingly complex over the past fifty years. The scientific/political/educational/ economic literacy of the population hasn't kept up."

I believe the Salon quote also inspires a variation on its theme: that just as the average person has not ‘kept up’, I don’t believe that our societal structure has kept up with what this Information Age can deliver in a moiety of the time that used to be required for dissemination and penetration. Because if knowledge is in fact power, then what’s available at any given moment is of a degree of power previously unimaginable…and we are, to my estimation, incapable, unqualified, and perhaps disinclined to wield it. 

What’s this got to do with garbage?

As Adrian Druyzer’s article suggested, the recent consideration afforded biweekly pickup was a wasted opportunity for civic engagement. But as true as that declaration was, what’s all the more true is that in acknowledging it, we've ceded power. 

A decision was made by Council purportedly based on fear of residents’ anger at having further services ‘cut’, and we collectively shrug. 

Look; I want the most qualified people looking after the welfare of our city. But in casting an election vote, I don’t want it to be assumed that I’m OK with the attitude ‘See ya in four years! Do what you think is best, and we’ll review your performance during the next election!’ Frankly, I think that’s part of what’s wrong with the local governance status quo; a lack of engagement on the part of the citizenry. 

So don’t you think that if what we want to do is create a greener, more environmentally responsible culture here in this Amalgamated City of Hamilton, then waiting for our Councillors…who rightly or wrongly decided that the risk of appearing to be cutting back on services that have been paid for by taxpayers is too great, the potential blow-back too potentially calamitous to even consider, given the possible repurcussions…waiting for these elected officials to take the lead is folly?

If we want to create the best city possible, then we’re the ones who need to be acting. Not those we vote in every four years, the very people that so many of us have no faith in, the ones that so many wish to place term limits on. (By the way, I think I’ve revised my feelings about term limits. Done a one-eighty. I’m for them, now. A term limit of one term, thankyouverymuch. Again, the topic of another diatribe, another time.)

If we want to create a culture of greater environmental responsibility, then to my way of thinking, this is up to us. It shouldn’t come down to a new policy as mandated by Council. It shouldn’t come down to new bylaws. Its potential shouldn’t have anything to do with either legislation or the people we pay to fashion that legislation. 

Don’t you think we already have people in this community who are the right ones to be spearheading these kinds of initiatives? Don’t you think that some of these are the bright-and-shining-stars who ran unsuccessfully in last autumn’s election? I don’t believe I need to name names; anyone who’s aware of what’s happening on a grassroots level knows who these people are, and these people themselves don’t need to be pointed out in order to validate their innate sense of purpose, either individually, or en masse. 

Hamiltonians should be contributing less to landfills. We should be composting. We should be showing more responsibility where our waste is concerned. Impacting our environment less, wherever possible. And this may very well include once-every-two-weeks garbage pickup. 

Life throws so many things our way we have no control over. It behooves us to look after those things that are within our remit.’

So how about we not wait for a Councillor or two or three to decide that the initiative is sufficiently important to get the ball rolling? That it’s worth the potential risk of career suicide?

How about this time ‘round, we make this decision for ourselves, and we simply start effecting change curbside?

'Once more unto the breach...'

As a result of the article 'Dynamic Pricing for Parking Ensures Vacancy, Reduces Congestion' over at Raise the Hammer, I've found myself revisiting the whole 'paid parking in Downtown Stoney Creek' discussion. (It's a compulsion; sue me.)

I've been 'addressing' this issue for almost a year now. Written about it endlessly, examined it from a layperson's perspective, utilized whatever I've been able to glean about the situation, fed all this into my own set of admittedly biased perceptions (I spent almost most of my formative years growing up right there) and processed it from my equally-biased perspective. In fact, prompted by the 'paid parking imbroglio', last year I took the time to 'put my money where my mouth is' and redesigned the downtown from top-to-bottom, proposing solutions not just for this crux of the problem (something that virtually nobody seems to want to face, at least nobody 'in power') but also ancillary ones. So for those who aren't inclined to take the time to read in toto what I've produced on this topic, here are the salient points of what I've I see the situation...and what I believe are reasonable and rational approaches to bring vitality and vibrancy back to Downtown Stoney Creek. 

1) Downtown Stoney Creek is a fascinating animal. It's remained, to a great extent, unchanged for the better part of fifty years. Preserved in its own bubble. It has not undergone any 'depressed' times, nor has it really gone through any inspirational re-imagining during this time. It's 'survived' the paradigm shift in shopping habits that has seen the encroachment of Eastgate Square, Fiesta Mall, Battlefield Square, Limeridge Mall, Lloyd D Jackson Square, The Centre Mall, The Burlington Mall, Mapleview Mall, The Meadowlands, and myriad other retail choices over the years. (I'm avoiding trying to be didactically precise here with the actual time-frame; nitpickers should email me directly for complaints.) Not to mention online shopping. What I've discovered is that while it lost much to all this competition, it never 'died'. (Although it's a valid argument to say that it's not actually 'alive', either.) 

2) The 'Golden Square Mile', what I refer to as 'Authentic Stoney Creek', from Centennial Parkway to Gray Road, from Hwy #8 to The Niagara Escarpment has, for all intents and purposes, remained consistent over this time. Very little has changed in terms of residences, very little has been lost, very little has been added. And while I don't have access to the breakdown of demographics, I'll certainly venture this: it has been stable for more than five decades, it's not gone through any sort of 'depression', it doesn't require any mission of 'revitalization'. (What's fascinating is that Downtown Stoney Creek...and I'm going to leave this reference ambiguous) has done virtually nothing to mine this incredible market.) Think about that. A portion of The Greater Metropolitan Hamilton Area that has remained virtually unchanged in terms of its residential makeup. (I'm not talking about the social or cultural mix here. Entirely different discussion.) Wouldn't you think this should be indicative of a thriving, vibrant local shopping experience? Hmm...?

3) Downtown Stoney Creek has some of the worst land use approaches at play. Considering the current BIA runs from Elm Street to Lake Avenue on King (more or less; again, I'm trying not to be pedantic here), which is really only two blocks, it's astounding that with the need to use every single bit of streetfront real estate to its best advantage, so much is, not to put to fine a point on it, wasted. The best example? A building for a social group and an attached parkette. What has been lost in not having this land used in a constructive, innovative retail sense can quite easily bring me to tears. 

4) When there's a draw to an area, when people have a desire, a need to visit and shop, parking fees are not a deterrent. (Yes, habit and tradition may seem to be impediments. But most of this is, I'm sorry to say, generational, having nothing to do with the realities of a modern world, and therefore, unless someone comes up with a time machine, or better yet, a time-reversal device to send us back to the 50s or 60s, I believe that adaptation is called for.) The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Sporting Life in Toronto. Though I haven't been there in years, I remember them having parking attendants, I remember there being lineups to get into the parking lot at most hours of the day, etc. The store had what people wanted, so they endured minor hardships. They were worth it. Ditto for The Beaches in Toronto, where you either have to strategically plan your trips, go TTC, or suck it up and scout for a spot. If there's something worth being there for, people will 'suffer through' whatever's required. 

The fact is that there is a dearth of genuine draws to Downtown Stoney Creek to make a trip there worth paying a buck for parking. 

I believe in this notion so much that I ask you to read that statement again. 

There is a dearth of draws to Downtown Stoney Creek to make a trip there worth paying a buck for parking. 

As I've said, I've redesigned the downtown on paper already. (It's not a 'perfect' plan. It's not without flaws. But it's also something I put a great deal of thought into, something that was informed by decades' worth of experience in the retail sector, informed by my connection to Stoney Creek, something that is also the result of decades' worth of engagement...and nobody else has put anything out there for consideration.) This design provides the draws that Downtown Stoney Creek requires to thrive. For it to be vibrant. And were some manifestation of redesign to take place, having paid parking would be no impediment at all to business. In fact, this notion makes me do what an erstwhile pal refers to as a 'spit-laugh'. Currently, at the risk of getting into a tussle with whomever, there's only one valid 'draw', and that's The Village Restaurant. 

5) For some time now, there has been a handful of 'Major Players' who in effect, control the redevelopment of Downtown Stoney Creek. They own what's there, land-wise. Some own what amount to entire blocks. And in a nutshell, for whatever reasons, based on whatever priorities, they've simply not made a re-imagining of the downtown a priority. Apparently there's been no vision at play, no sense of urgency, no passion to make things better. And so things remain as they are. 

I do not believe that anything will change while these Major Players are controlling things. 

6) Many employees who work for businesses in the downtown have, for the longest time, had to shuttle their vehicles around available spaces during the workday. This is because there has only been time-limited parking, and that a small number of parking permits have been made available to them. As for the idea that people should be looking at public transit to prevent these predicaments... Puhlease

7) Never having done a scientific study...though I've consistently pushed and prodded certain parties to entertain the notion...I'm nevertheless willing to bet that the vast majority of the hundred and forty-ish free parking spaces in Municipal Lot #3 are most often taken up by patrons of The Health Sciences Building on Mountain Avenue South. The fact is that this building...and I should add here that I've been a patient of doctors here going back to its construction...has never provided sufficient parking for its patrons. So if we want to look at why parking is such a problem in Downtown Stoney Creek, really, the discussion should begin here. And yet in all the articles I've read, in all the discussions I've been part of, I've never heard this subject broached. 

To me, the sooner this complex finds a new home, the better the future looks for Downtown Stoney Creek and the people who should -and would- be shopping there. 

8) As an adjunct to my Downtown Stoney Creek redesign, I also proposed solutions to creating more parking. It's not some pointless longing, some Holy Grail adventure. It could be done. Solutions could be effected. But not under the current 'administration'. (Oh, and before the usual salvos are fired regarding the evils of parking and of cars and of our car-centric culture, let me just say this: Puhlease...) 

So; should there be paid parking in Downtown Stoney Creek? No. (But then, I could point out some inconsistencies in the application of paid parking currently that I've never, ever gotten responses to, despite having tried...) 

Would going back to free parking cure what ails Downtown Stoney Creek? Nope. Not by a long shot. 

But then nobody...including The Stoney Creek News...wants to have that discussion. 

Funny, that...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Apropos of everything I yammer-on about...

Christopher Hume has a column addressing civic engagement in Toronto...and how it's being 'mitigated' by Mayor Rob Ford's administration. 

His final comments are most chilling:

"Most disturbing, however, is that Harper, like Ford, truly doesn’t understand what the fuss is about.

Opposition party members or citizen committee members, it makes no difference; all are enemies who must be thwarted at every chance. Indeed, the very idea of opposition is foreign to Ford and Harper. These self-styled avenging angels serve the cause, not the people.

For Ford and Harper, democracy ends when the election ends. The winner takes all the marbles and everyone else is expected to go home.

As Canadians are discovering, once the processes of governance have been discredited —by those who control these processes— (those being governed) can be safely ignored, and as we have seen in Toronto and Ottawa, even treated with contempt."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I love the final bit.

Stupid gets the government stupid elects.

"We're living in an plutocracy/oligarchy.

Unfortunately, literally 50%+ of the population doesn't know what that means.

Everyone not rich (ie the bottom 97%) is running around in circles because 1/3 to 1/2 of the population will never vote with their economic interests.

The world has gotten increasingly complex over the past fifty years. The scientific/political/educational/economic literacy of the population hasn't kept up."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yes, it's about the federal election...

...but this story addresses some interesting aspects of civic responsibility and the ultimate role of citizenry in their governance. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cal DiFalco nearing entrance to political arena?

Note the change to The Hamiltonian's masthead? No more front-and-center shot of Cal (always a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as the site was never really coming from 'the mouth of Cal') and his wife Teresa is now the 'publisher'. 

Does this clear the way for him to finally put his money where his mouth is, removing a practical obstacle to running for office? (Conflict of interest.)

Time will tell...