Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Published on Raise the Hammer...

(Direct link to well as comments...can be found here


Before last year, I'd never had much interest in 'local politics'. I was a typical disinterested resident. Then the Pan Am Games Stadium Site Selection Process became a local attraction...and then the election...and suddenly, I was interested.
I was watching Council meetings. 
I was talking to Councillors. 
I was reading a ton, I was attending debates. 
I was aware.

Attending the General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting at City Hall yesterday had a profound effect on me, well beyond the fatigue of sitting through a seemingly endless meeting for five-and-a-half hours.

It crystallized what had from the beginning been drifting around in my head.
In fact, I think that the process had a bigger effect on me than the particulars of the velodrome situation unfolding as badly as it did, or even the meeting's capper, the revelations about the stadium.

Even as a fairly 'critical' person, I've tended to flinch at the cynicism and negativity offered up about Councillors. To me it's always seemed too easy a gesture to make, politics too convenient a target. In some of the 'observations', I've easily noted the axe to grind, the grudge being borne. There's always too much an 'us vs them' mentality.

And to be honest, I don't believe the average person grasps what the average Councillor does during any given day, any given week. A lot of the problems in this relationship have to with a lack of engagement, but I'll leave that subject alone for the time being.

However, from the very start of my exposure to the open workings of local governance, I've been stunned. I've been gobsmacked, I've felt incredulous at what I've witnessed in Councillors, what's been revealed about them in meetings, what the culture seems to be, what appears to be the level of professionalism and competency.

Many times I've felt disheartened: This is the best we can do?

I've been dismayed by the lack of comprehension skills having read a simple document.

I've been stunned by the lack of planning that's gone into independent research.

I've been astonished at how little grasp some have had on issues that involve millions of dollars.

Now, I've had it suggested to me that there are some very 'crafty' Councillors who essentially 'play dumb' in order to get certain points on record when questioning a speaker.

Really? Seriously? Those are the kinds of games that are played in Council meetings?
I've also been angered by the apparent 'grandstanding' that some Councillors partake in, going on and on and on in their 'comments', while saying nothing new, nothing insightful, adding little to the discussion - merely lengthening the meetings. (Perhaps the John Cleese management training film 'Meetings, Bloody Meetings' should be required viewing.)

And the repetition I witnessed as several Councillors, including Deputy-Mayor Merulla, repeated themselves not just once, but several times throughout yesterday's marathon session. Um, This stuff is on record as of the first time you speak it. Are you that emotionally attached to the point that you feel you need to reiterate? And then reiterate again?

Any councillor taking offence to my remarks might want to remember that we're talking about a Council (and the previous one) that has managed to generate a tremendous amount of doubt as to its ability to manage the affairs of this city competently. The Pan Am Games Site Selection Process Débacle. The BOE/Mac Downtown Deal. And now the Velodrome Preferred Location/Cost Skyrocket Controversy.

Honestly, I don't know how much of the past fifteen months has been the result of a lack of abilities on the parts of Councillors (both independently and in concert), whether we're talking about machinations by those in the background (City Staff, developers, third-party shadow-players), or pure bad luck.

But I can tell you this, as someone who as worked in the e-learning industry designing training programs for management (in order to get the most out of personnel, to attain excellence from staff, to identify weaknesses in capabilities and find methods to deal with such shortcomings): at the very least, there seems to be a need to address the competency of those executing the roles of Councillors.

What I've witnessed hasn't just been mostly unimpressive (I feel compelled to state that on occasion I've seen flashes of brilliance in some of Council), it's been depressing.

These are our leaders. The original definition of the phrase 'to lead' is to guide someone or a group from one place to another. This requires competency, it requires the generation of trust and of faith.

I'm sorry, but in light of yesterday, I'm just not feelin' it.

Something's wrong, something mighty wrong.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yes, you might think this is a stretch...

"This may be a pie-in-the-sky thing for me, but I'm determined to get these guys to work together. I'm not going to say, 'This is crazy,' and throw my arms up and walk away. I want the relationship to work smoothly. Respect is the word I want. You have to earn it. You give, and you get it in return, that's how I see it.'' Communication was one of Torre's strength as a manager, and he hopes it will help solve this problem.

I think the difference is that in the case of local governance, nobody's really acknowledged the problem, or taken the time to wonder if things can be better...and that town hall meetings are likely the primary solution. 

Still, here's the article at Sports Illustrated.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Nihilistic Nellies and Nattering Nabobs of Negativity

Joe Btfsplk

If you don't want to do something, say so.

If you don't like something, say so.

If you don't think something is worthwhile, say so.

But I don't get people who are essentially down-in-the-mouth, and when offering an opinion, 'damn with faint praise'. Or worse.

Here's my problem: if I'm going to comment on an issue, a subject, a topic, I'm only going to do so if I'm prepared to step up to the plate, the mic whatever, and actually get my hands dirty.

So I don't get people who fling gentle criticisms, aspects of opinion about something...but then aren't at all prepared to expand on their thoughts or posit their own idea, theory or slant.

Worse off, I can't get my head around people who comment on something...and then when asked to provide their own take...reply 'That's not my job! I'm not the one writing the article!'

*stares at the screen*

This is one of the elements of online communicating (if you can call it that) that really grinds my grits. Because there's no way this would be done in-person. (Mostly because the person wouldn't have the cajones to offer their critique in the first place.)

Now, when you consider that what I'm talking about has to do with the article posted over at The Hamiltonian having to do with town hall meetings, focusing on engagement, on people getting involved, then it takes on a particularly ridiculous bent.

See, there's this commenter over at the article. Who previously has rankled me with an attitude I've seen before in real life...usually coming from someone who's not particularly content with their lot, someone who's often mealy-mouthed, someone who has both longstanding issues and an inability to either process or articulate them. (Contented people or those who have done the work to get to the other side of their issues aren't like this.)

It's not that I take issue with his or her (I'm going to bet it's a 'he') opinion that this town hall meetings effort won't's what he brings to bear as his reasoning...and the fact that he comes across as a Debbie Downer. 

What's additionally depressing is that he typifies Hamilton's 'legacy malaise'. 

So I'll admit that as previously, his comments triggered me. And I responded. And it would be reasonable to declare that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. I guess that this kinda proves how much I want this effort to pan out...and how little I'm willing to suffer asshats gladly. 

For the record...

This is what I'd intended to submit to The Hamiltonian for publication, until I realized that my initial impulse...being interviewed...was best. 

  Town Halls or Bust?
One of my favourite expressions goes something like this: 'Life sends so many things our way that we have no control over that it behooves us to do something about those things we do have some control over.'
Allow me to present the current (and longstanding) default for the average resident regarding their role in local governance: every four years, they vote. 

Well, currently about 40% of eligible voters vote. And roughly 60% of these apparently do so by 'name recognition'. The truth is that the average Hamiltonian casting a ballot puts less time and effort into choosing their candidate than they put into choosing their next entertainment system or vacation destination...if they bother to vote at all. 

Once the ballot is cast...often done with a shaking head and something muttered under the breath...that’s it for the average citizen. Until the next election, that's the extent of their 'involvement' in their local governance. Oh, during the term some might call up their Councillor to complain about this issue, some might email a question about that development, some might even get on the phone to say 'Thanks!' for a kind gesture made or an appearance at a function. But by and large, for the average Hamiltonian, that's their civic responsibility executed.

(As for the Councillors and engagement with their constituents? Well, as this side of the equation isn't the thrust of my endeavours, I'll leave an examination of this to those who have a passion for 'politics', but I'm willing to bet that even the most engaging of elected officials still cling to a construct that was founded in the last century; they have a job to do, and quite frankly, they'd prefer to be left alone, thankyouverymuch. Even though engaging with whom they represent at City Hall is part of their official mandate.)

Now, given the analogy where the resident is the 'employer' (after all, we 'hire' our elected officials to do a set job) and the Councillor or Mayor is the employee (where the election campaign is the 'job interview'), does it make any sense whatsoever...especially in a modern world...that we essentially hand them keys to the business and say 'See you in four years!'?

I can already hear two of the standard responses: "That's what we PAY them for! To look after everything!" and “I don’t have the time to be bothered!”

And you know what? If those reactions fit, if a hands-off approach floats yer boat, if you're happy surrendering your input to that extent, then be my guest. If you don’t think that contributing to the processes that affect the well-being of you and yours, your overall quality of Life, if that’s not worth spending X-number of minutes per month on, then have at it. That notion makes me sad, but there ya go.

But let me say this: if we want our city to be a better place to raise our children, if we want Hamilton to become the 21st century version of the great place it’s been in the past, then we have to stop hoping for some magical deliverance of superlative Councillor-candidates to deliver us unto this new reality while we sit back and passively spectate. Because not only is it bound not to happen...the circumstances within which it’s bound not to happen are guaranteed to get worse. 

Which brings me back to this article’s initial point: we can change how things are done, we can deliver ourselves unto this new reality, it actually behooves us to do what’s possible because we are in control of these variables...and the means by which it can all be accomplished is right there staring back at us from the proverbial mirror. 
Our world has changed, hasn’t it? Over the past forty years, and especially over the past fifteen. Information is so much more readily available now; open data from governments, 24/7 news, on-the-spot reporting, online streaming of Council meetings, social networking and media impacting how we live our lives, connecting us instantly, whereas before there were always prolonged lag-times... 

Even putting aside our current system’s inherent shortcomings, all of the above lead me to I believe that governance (specifically the local variety) simply has to change. Because it makes no sense to have something in place that's the equivalent of amazingly modern thoroughfares –for space-aged LRT, let’s say– and yet still be using rustic wagons drawn by horses to travel on it, does it? And yet that's what we're doing. 

Each time I look at things with fresh eyes, I'm gobsmacked that this is what we've settled for. A cynical populace that has little sustained trust in those who are charged with managing the present while safe-guarding the future, and elected officials who see ‘engagement’ and ‘consultation’ as The Two-headed Beast Best Avoided. The funny thing is, I don't think anyone is actually happy with the status quo. Especially in Hamilton. Particularly with our ‘legacy malaise’ holding us down. 
So I've begun the 'Town Halls Hamilton' initiative. To help usher in a new era in local governance. To bring about better opportunities for residents who are inclined to participate. To allow them the chance be far more involved than in the past in the decision-making processes affecting their communities. To allow them to engage with their Councillors

I've approached a pretty extensive list of neighbourhood associations, of civic groups, of media elements (such as The Hamiltonian), and of course, the politicians themselves. Because the idea is to have a broad, integrated program within the whole of Hamilton, one in which wards could share experiences and tips and advice, making the best of the format. It might also be possible to have a set production mechanism in place for consistency. 

The goal would be to have regular town hall meetings in each ward. In most instances, these would feature and be hosted by the Councillor. As well, the Mayor would be hosting meetings across the city. Eventually, I'd love to see the events streamed live online, and then uploaded for viewing at peoples' convenience.  

These meetings would allow for actual contact, actual exchanges, promote actual dialogue between residents and their elected officials. The structure and makeup of each town hall would of course be up to those organizing it, hopefully with input from the ward’s residents. 

I should say here that town hall meetings aren't the 'be-all and end-all' in creating more dialogue, distributing more information, opening up channels between all parties. There are a handful of complementary notions that need to be in place as well. But town halls may well be the most important element, the one that might act as catalyst and multiplier for the rest. As someone said to me of the idea recently: 

"This is visionary. If it's possible, this has the potential to transform Hamilton like no other idea I've heard."

As I mentioned in a recent comment here on The Hamiltonian, while nations elsewhere have been marching in the streets, with their revolutions involving blood, injuries and death, our revolution awaits us. It might not be as dramatic, but it’s just as powerful: to gather as neighbours and communities in various 'town halls' and put into action a vital element of democracy: engagement with each other, and with those whom we elected to serve us. 

Even now, you can do your part: contact your Councillor, your local neighbourhood association, your local newspaper, the radio station you listen to, CHCH, contact Teresa here at The Hamiltonian and whatever other civic activism blogs you frequent, and tell them you want town halls in your ward. Tell them you want to help make Hamilton into the city it should be. Tell them you’re interested in engagement.

Addendum: This has been received from Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton at The Spec: 

It seems a worthwhile pursuit. Getting some interest or momentum will be a challenge, but I think The Spec would be happy to sponsor one and help promote the effort.”

Regarding Jack Layton and Canada...

The other evening I was talking with a friend about Jack Layton's death. I remember Jack all the way back to local politics in Toronto, remember his consistent voice. I respected the man.

But I haven't been affected by his death; I'll chalk that up to current personal circumstances. As I related to this friend, what's struck me more than his passing is the outpouring of emotion by Canadians. It's heartening to realize that you live in a country where someone can be acknowledged in the ways that Canada is expressing.

And then I read this Letter to the Editor in The Spec:

Canadians praise Jack, then lean right

Re: Jack Layton
I can’t quite get it. An electorate that this week has so clearly demonstrated its love and respect for Jack Layton, and, seven years ago, so resoundingly praised one of his predecessors, Tommy Douglas, calling him Canada’s Greatest Canadian in the CBC contest, is the same electorate that, faced with another scary ballot box in two months in this province, will once again forget the work these men did to bring about social justice for all of us.
The outpouring of affection we feel, at times, for the best Canada has to offer will be overmatched, as always, by the gusto with which we will once again embrace the negative politics of the next incarnation of Mike Harris, Stephen Harper and Rob Ford. We will buy into the rants of the Mammolitis, who rail against social democrats, calling them socialist nutbars and commies, with rabid enthusiasm. We will choose, again, to turn our backs on Jack and Tommy, having been convinced that leaning left is just not practical.
Why we Canadians insist on kicking ourselves in the head on election days is difficult to understand.
I wish I had Layton’s optimism.

Gord Dupuis, Dundas

Friday, August 26, 2011

Meanwhile, over at The Hamiltonian...

Teresa DiFalco, Publisher over at The Hamiltonian has been gracious enough to publish an 'article' by me. It can be found here. Give it a read, it's all about my favourite subject.

And once again, thanks, Teresa.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Seeing as I don't like being told who gets 'the last word'...


Here's the progression:

1) This is the original Spectator article by Danielle Wong in which Festival of Friends Overlord Loren Lieberman was asked how much he personally earns from the festival. Lieberman refused to disclose a figure. “That’s a disgusting question and the answer to it is: extremely little,” he said, adding staff salaries account for less than 5 per cent of the operating budget.

2) This is the subsequent editorial by Paul Berton entitled 'Sometimes, a salary is our -and your- business'.

3) This is followup The Hamiltonian article asking its readers if Mr. Lieberman's comment was reasonable, entitled 'Disgusting?', along with all the responses. (Including no small number of mine.)

4) This is the 'Final Word' from Mr. Lieberman, entitled 'Lieberman and the Last Word'.



And then some. 

Read his long-form response. Go on; it won't take you long. I'll wait. 

*taps foot patiently*

Done? Good. 

Clearly the man feels defensive about so much of the stuff that's been bandied about regarding the Festival. 

Now, I wasn't there. So I can't comment on how it went off. 

However, I have a pretty good idea of how much effort it used to take to pull it all together years ago because a) my best friend was involved back in the 80s, and b) in 1986, I did pre-production on a documentary about the Festival, so I don't need convincing that an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears were surrendered in bringing off the 2011 edition in Ancaster. 

But very little of what Mr. Lieberman chose to use his soapbox time for is germane to the brouhaha. 

For my two cents, he shouldn't have to defend what he's being paid. It's ludicrous to suggest that an event such as the Festival of Friends shouldn't have personnel such as Mr. Lieberman drawing a salary. This isn't 1976 and we're not in Gage Park anymore, Toto. Professionalism costs, and I'm sure Mr. Lieberman is worth every penny he was paid. 

But my opinion about the issue remains the same: a simple 'That's not a relevant question' would have sufficed. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Hamilton Farmers' Market Revisited: Ugh.

 These are shots taken today at the Market.

I was walking around dumbfounded. I didn't pick up most of the items I'd intended to.

I couldn't believe what they'd done to the place. To the shopping experience.

This is what it used to look like. It was open, it was bright,it was the indoor version of the old outdoor Market.

I forget the number of stalls they've taken out, but it's really, really noticeable.

Maybe I caught it on a slow day, maybe I'll have to go back on a Saturday...but as the Brits are wont to say, "I'm gutted."

Monday, August 15, 2011

For the record, this was said to me... regards to my 'A Proposal: Out of Necessity, Bolstering Our Future' email gambit as noted here:

"This is visionary. If it's possible, this has the potential to transform Hamilton like no other idea I've heard."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Serendipity Reaches Out?

Jay Robb is a writer. His blog 'Jay Robb reviews business books' has posts that are regularly used by The Spec, such as this one, which is the reason I'm mentioning him after chancing upon him while perusing online. 

As I was reading his latest offering, I couldn't help but realize the correlations between what I've been writing about recently and what he says about 'good work environments'. 

In that a lot of the principles of good management...are principles of good governance as they relate to the relationship of engagement between residents and their elected officials...and of leadership.  

Funny, that. 

Here are some very-liberally-paraphrased-and-rejigged sections, wherein I've made the transposition from the business world to 'politics'. (N.B. Permission was very much not given for this little exercise in self-indulgence; apologies to Mr. Robb as required.)

“Where you invest your time and attention as a leader serves as a powerful model for what residents see as important and meaningful,” say authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin.

“When a leader focuses time and attention on their constituents' needs, residents respond with even greater energy and commitment.”

Recognition demonstrates respect. And respect, together with credibility, fairness, pride and camaraderie, are the key dimensions that make up the institute’s tried, true and tested Great Places to Live model.   

People who reside in Great Places to Live believe five things to be true. They believe in their leaders. They believe they are valued members of the community. They believe that everyone plays by the same rules. They believe that they contribute something meaningful. And they believe their fellow citizens are great.

Trust underpins the Great Places to Live model. Open and honest two-way communications is the place to start for leaders looking to build buy-in.  

“If you were to work on one single aspect of a great community, you’d likely make far-reaching improvements by strengthening two-way communications,” recommend Burchell and Robin. “Two-way communication is arguably the most important dimension of the Great Place to Live model. It is foundational to citizen perceptions of credibility, respect, fairness, pride and camaraderie. How can you believe your leaders are competent in the first place if you have no idea what they’re up to?

Communication is about more than setting expectations and giving residents the information they need. It’s also about giving straight answers to tough questions, being accessible and approachable and actually listening to what residents have to say.

A great city is built by great leaders. “In the best cities, leaders at all levels have a strong commitment to creating strong ties between the resident and City Hall. Indeed, enhancing trust, pride and camaraderie in the community is the central task of effective leadership in today’s Great Places to Live.”

Great leaders also understand the need to balance the tensions between responsibility and humility, passion and patience, relationships and results.

“As a leader, you must accept responsibility for your role in the culture,” say Burchell and Robin.  “You are the chief role model and trust builder, and people look to your behaviour and decisions for guidance on their own behaviour and decision making. But you also need some degree of humility that allows you to reach out and enlist people. Your responsibility needs to become everyone’s responsibility if you want to create a great city.”

If your city is less than great, there’s still time and hope for a turnaround. Burchell and Robin offer a proven game plan for shoring up your constituents' relationships with you, their community and their neighbours.

Could It Be?

Could it be that the very notion of actual 'engagement' frightens the Hell out of elected officials?

Could it be that the existing paradigm...especially for the Mayor...of having both a figurative and real bulwark between them and those whom they serve, whom they work for, whose greater good they are paid to strive towards, isn't something they want to change?

Could it be that election campaigns with all their 'public forum' appearances, all the glad-handing and question-answering provide sufficient trials and tribulations for Councillors and our Mayor, that the notion of having more of these challenges and travails, worse, of having them at regular intervals throughout their term is enough to make them blanch?

Could it be that as much as the public sees their role in local governance as being 'vote every four years and hope for the best between elections', Councillors and the Mayor want the same thing, only their phrasing is 'vote me in and then leave me to do my job, thankyouverymuch'?

I think that most people, when considering who the most effective manager, supervisor or teacher has been in their lives, will offer up someone who was involved. Who interacted. Who enquired, who listened, who responded. Yes, great decisions were undoubtedly part of the package. But I doubt that 'great decision maker' would be the predominant factor in place them in the Hall of Fame. It would more likely be fairness, someone who was inspiring, someone who empowered them. And these qualities are delivered by contact

People endemically want to be led. They want to feel the security of placing confidence in someone, and having that confidence justified on the journey that the leader is...well, leading

The funny thing is that despite modern life having injected so much cynicism and negativity and distrust that the word is now bordering on a pejorative,  we do refer to politicians as our 'leaders'. Regularly. 

Now, I'm not suggesting that 'back in the day', politicians were trusted emphatically; I don't believe that state of affairs has ever existed, in toto. But in a strange way, there was more transparency 'back then'. Or, maybe what I'm referring to was actual physical contact. You could look someone in the eye, shake their hand and you knew. You just...knew. And maybe because the only real means of electronic dissemination was radio and newspaper, it wasn't such a leap to have 'appearances' whereby the residents and the elected official had chances to have contact. (Let's not suggest in counter-argument modern fund-raisers. People with money don't need more opportunities to 'get to know their public servants'. They've already gotten their lobbying energies focused.) 

In this segmented, detached world of ours, we've lost that genuine, in-person contact. (No, I don't see Facebook posts and Tweets as being 'engagement'. Mostly, they're pretentious, soul-eating b.s. The really sad part is the value -seemingly- placed on them.)  So in the middle of all this cynicism and negativity and mistrust, we also have this lack of connection. (Despite being so 'connected' by the Internet.)

And the complicating factors are painful to consider: Councillors and the Mayor don't want to make time for the contact, they don't want to risk having a 'bad experience', and the residents for whom they work don't want to spend their valuable time engaging. (Unless they've got a bone to pick...and then you end up with a perverted situation akin to a marriage that needed counselling long before it's finally implemented.) 

But here's my foundational belief: there is no other path to better local governance than increased contact, increased interaction, involvement...'an increased relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors and Mayor.' 

How else can anyone hope to bring about a situation where people feel more invested in their futures? By hoping for 'better' candidates to arrive, and that these candidates are going to do what, exactly? By hoping that Councillors have more mailouts and emailed newsletters? Really?!?

How else can anyone hope to utilize the energies of the very people whom the governance is intended to benefit? By hoping that putting up a blog or a site will empower their constituents, or that editorials and articles posted by civic activism sites that depend on comments for their vitality will bring about such a development? Really?!?

Situations between people only genuinely improve when there's actual contact. Engagement. 

Leadership is only possible when there's actual contact. Engagement. 

If we all sincerely want to move past the 'legacy malaise' Hamilton has had as its ongoing burden, if we sincerely want to forge a better future, then some basic truths need to be acknowledged, some core elements of our local governance construct need to be changed. 

We have an opportunity to re-create, to re-invent our city, our local governance, the lives we live in Hamilton. And that opportunity is simple: town hall meetings. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

From Hamilton's Past: Our Champion Mayors

Recently, Adrian Duyzer over at Raise the Hammer asked 'Where is Our Champion?'

I believe it was written (mainly) in reaction to Mayor Bratina's less-than-enthusiastic response to the current brouhaha over the possibility of LRT coming to Hamilton. 

Even by today's standards, that's a generation and a half. And for those urbanists out there, even this association is problematic...which I'll get to in a second. 

I got to thinking about just how detached many of us have gotten from even the whisper of the suggestion of the idea of leadership, of  true 'visionary leadership' coming from our mayor. And so I wanted to provide some context by relating two giants from a previous time, to frame these monumental figures in the city's history so that we can better appreciate that once upon a time, inspired leadership wasn't just a pipedream. 

However, I didn't want for it to be a retelling of their accomplishments. Each was a firebrand unto themselves, and deserve to be properly delved into, their stories properly told. (I may just end up doing this myself.) But for now...

Lloyd D. Jackson and Victor K. Copps. Our two greatest 'Mayoral Champions' of the 20th century. The two mayors who changed Hamilton more than any other, and in doing so, are often vilified by those who address the past with a perfunctory examination, fixating on what they perceive was lost in the first attempt to 'revitalize' Downtown Hamilton in modern times as well as on the namesake constructions that resulted, two of the core's perilously easy targets for such ilk: Jackson Square and Copps Coliseum. 

These two men oversaw Hamilton and its future for more than a quarter-century, Jackson from '50-'62, and Copps from '63-'76. (Interestingly, neither were the most-enduring: Bob Morrow, Mayor from 1982-2000 served the longest. But considering it was on his watch during which our current state of affairs unfolded, let's leave him out of the discussion, shall we?)

More than twenty-five years of combined stewardship. 

It's hard to imagine someone attaining such longevity today; our last five mayors were voted in during hardly more than just one solitary decade.

But I suspect that it's much, much harder for the average reader to appreciate just what it was these two true 'Champions' of Hamilton presided over. Especially the newby critics weaned on Jane Jacobs, who seem more interested in trawling through SkyscraperPage photo albums bemoaning 'what we lost' than really taking the time to do any research or develop any context. I guess demonizing's just too tempting. (As I posited here.)

(I do want to note that I'm making my declarations in full knowledge of what's relayed in Margaret T. Rockwell's 'The Facelift and the Wrecking Ball'. I'm very aware that some of the decisions made when 'Civic Square' was being planned were, in hindsight, 'questionable'. And that given the vantage point of fifty years' worth of passage, it might be possible to retroactively re-jig what was put in motion to create a better timeline. But these luxury-exercises are well as performing a huge disservice to the intentions of the time and the subsequent efforts expended.)

Mayor Jackson took office shortly after WWII had ended. The Cold War had already begun. The Korean War was about to begin. He had personally seen two world wars and the Great Depression, and Mayor Copps, while born much later, had lived through the Depression and WWII. Jackson took the helm of a city whose engines were revving from the war effort, a city requiring both stability and direction in an uncertain world. Copps took office as the 60s were taking flight, when putting a man on the moon was the impossible goal that everyone was breathless about, when each day brought something new and improved, yet more incredible changes, yet more fantastic possibilities being realized, a brand-spanking-new, sparkling tomorrow arriving each and every minute. The quarter-century+ they were mayors was a time of adjustment and change...and they each executed their responsibilities with their own style. Regardless of how contrasting these styles were, they had one thing in common: they managed with conviction and vision, and the people of Hamilton had faith in them...proven by the fact that they kept re-electing them. 

The consistent theme during their tenures?

'Leaving the Past Behind'. 

Or: 'Forging an Amazing Future'. 

It most certainly wasn't 'Let's stick with the past: it's safer and more familiar.' Hence the explanation of why so many jewels disappeared on their watch. 

So during this era, Hamilton's downtown changed enormously. No doubt, we lost some treasures. True gems were knocked down. (As were blocks and blocks of 'seedy' buildings; I shudder to think of the land bounded by King, Bay, York and James containing these same residences and businesses today. But of course the advent of 'shopping malls' and the resulting sea change in shopping habits would eventually have mandated some degree of adaptation, so again, this discussion is utter indulgence.) Yet this wasn't something peculiar to Hamilton; it was happening all the world over, and I'm sure there are worse stories than the ones some of us could regale each other with.

But it's important to remember the tenor of the times. As easy as it is to lambaste those who were responsible for such actions, those who oversaw such shifts, to forget what the tone of society was, what the general view was regarding 'progress', is pure folly. Because today, when each week brings new product releases, when we've become blasé about innovation and invention mostly because we expect them, we expect them constantly and we expect them now, we don't really think in terms of 'the future'. Unless it's with dread. But back then, leaving the past behind (as opposed to today, when 'going retro' is de rigeur) was the goal. Searching out and redefining the future was far more pressing a pursuit than preserving the past or protecting our heritage. 

In a world where 'the cult of personality' reigns supreme, it may seem bizarre that we're in need a champion in Hamilton. It's perhaps even more ironic that the champion we need should be seen in our mayor, given that our current one seems to want nothing to do with the notion. (And yet he won by relying on name-recognition and longstanding public perception while presenting a platformless-platform. Funny, that. Not.) 

But we do need a champion of our own. 

And that champion should be found in our Mayor.

We also need champions in our Councillors. 

Moreover, we need champions in our communities. 

By raising the level of our behaviour, we raise our aspirations at the same time that we raise our expectations. 

This is, obviously, how cities become great. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Was Sent

Today I sent out an email to a long list of recipients. 

It was a proposal for a concerted, across-the-city, ongoing series of 'town hall meetings'. 

It was an invitation to make something happen, something very doable, something that has the potential to create 'real change' in Hamilton on some very basic levels, addressing aspects of life in the city that to me, are in dire need of addressing. 

Here is the email in its entirety:

A Proposal: Out of Necessity, Bolstering Our Future

Hello, All;





There's always a fair amount of talk about these notions in media, both in the main-stream and alternative arenas. I believe that part of this has to do with the 'legacy-malaise' that seems to come with all the other fun stuff that being a Hamiltonian gifts us with, part of it has to do with what seem to some to be serial frustrations in the progress of the city towards a better future, and part of this is what I see as an endemic desire to be led
to that better place...and constantly being disappointed when this leadership fails to present itself.

But as anyone who has read my material on my site 'My Stoney Creek' as well as my regular comments on sites such as Raise the Hammer and The Hamiltonian will know, though I fervently believe in visionary leadership (and the fact that *all* communities deserve it) and accountability and transparency, it's the other half of the equation that most concerns and interests me.

The half that has to do with the residents of Hamilton. Its citizens...its voters.

I'm wary of producing a treatise here, so bear with me while I break it all down to something easily digestible: I believe that we need a wholesale shift in how we see our places in local governance. I'm not one who believes in our longstanding construct, the political equivalent of 'handing the new employees the keys to the business, leaving them alone, only to be checked in on every four years.'

I believe in the notion of 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors and their mayor'.

And so I believe we need to begin a shift in how local governance is executed in Hamilton so that there is more consistent dialogue between Hamiltonians and City Hall. (And not just in times of crisis.) 

That we need to begin re-framing what we expect from our Councillors as we re-frame what we expect from ourselves. (Oh yes, I'm talking changes.)

And that we need to begin to construct a new paradigm wherein we don't have a 40% voter turnout rate, where 60% of these votes cast according to 'name recognition', where so many seem to feel that voting is the only responsibility they have as citizens...while quickly reverting to a default of an abundance of cynicism and a dearth of faith and confidence in the very people they've voted into office.

In order to really effect change, I believe we need to wholly reconsider where participation and involvement in determining aspects of our quality of Life are concerned. Otherwise, it's fairly safe to say that aside from getting lucky with this brilliant candidate or that set of circumstances, we're going to be stuck in this endless loop...which of course begs the question 'How's that working out for you...?'

To this end, my proposal:

'Town Halls Hamilton'

An integrated, co-ordinated, ongoing series of 'open meetings' across the city.

Where each ward would have regular town halls meetings. 

Where town halls featuring the Mayor would be presented across the city. Regularly.

Naturally, the main thrust would be for the residents of each ward to have a chance to engage with their Councillor or with the Mayor.

But a town hall could also be an information session where a particular issue is examined and discussed, sometimes with a special guest, an expert,

Or it could have a 'seminar' spin to it.

Or it could be a general 'get it off your chest' affair.

The town halls would be promoted and presented by a series of sponsor-organizers the likes of:

-Neighbourhood associations
-Chambers of Commerce
-Raise the Hammer
-The Hamiltonian
-Hamilton Civic League
-Open Hamilton
-The Spec

Naturally, there would be a website where all of this would be initiated: (Already secured.)

As we live in a social-media age, it only makes sense that we consider the possibility of streaming these events online as well as subsequently posting them as YouTube-type videos. With the addition of message boards and chat-rooms, creating a groundswell of both interest and participation seems like an obtainable goal. Never mind the concomitant news coverage and presence on the sites of the associated organizations and individuals. 

Town halls are only part of what I believe needs to unfold for us to see a substantive, sustained type of change, but they may just be the most critical development.

Canada has a rich history of civic activism and engagement. Establishing new traditions in our own neighbourhoods and communities seems a reasonable way to begin providing what's required from our half of the equation.

In the end, let me put it this way: we have long been mired in a system where special interests and lobby groups have managed to push forward their agenda, despite the fact that our elected officials work for *us*. Referencing Mayor Bratina's trepidation towards 'advocacy groups', I think it's clear we need to become our own lobby effort in order to secure better leverage in our own futures. After all, we are, in the end, the city's biggest stakeholders. I can assure you that were this town hall effort to unfold as I envision it, the critical mass achieved would allow for something far better than what we currently see before us.

Your feedback is of course, greatly encouraged.

Looking forward to hearing from you,