Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making Sense of Mental Health; It’s Not ‘Black or White’

Wherever you are right now, take a good look at the people around you. Or, if you’re by yourself, imagine being in a supermarket, a cinema, on a bus, walking through a shopping mall, or even at work. Do a visual tour of those in your immediate vicinity. Got it? Good.  

Now consider this: virtually nobody that you’ve just seen is in absolutely perfect mental health. 

People tend to think in polarities. Black...and white. On...or off. Rich...or not. 

This tends to be the case with mental health, too. Someone has ‘mental illness’...and then there’s someone else, ‘normal’, with ‘not-mental illness’. In other words, there’s ‘Them’...and then there’s ‘Us’. 

But the truth is actually quite different. And quite sobering. 

I bring this up mostly because of the current ‘t-shirt’ campaign in support of the eight patients/clients of Charlton House who are being denied the opportunity to move to 121 Augusta by City Council. The campaign is called ‘S O S Stomp Out The Stigma’. 

Even in the phrasing, and the discussions that have surrounded the effort, there is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ paradigm going on. “Help (Us) stomp out the stigma attached to mental illness (Them).” It’s a paradigm potentially more injurious than ‘Us  vs Them’, the bane of local governance, because it's based on a real dearth of understanding. 

Going back to my initial thought, there is an acknowledged mental health continuum. On which all of us sit. At various points long that continuum, with our location changing all the time. I present it here:
At the one end, ‘Healthy’, with all its familiar attributes. At the other end, including the potential indicators listed under ‘Illness’, are the committed, the institutionalized, those in care. (Even here, there’s a continuum.)

Precisely speaking, everyone possesses varying degrees of mental health. In the same way that everyone possesses varying degrees of physical health. And again, as organic, adaptive creatures, aspects of health are always in flux, always changing. One of the many wonders of being human.

In fact, I’d venture to bet that the number of people who are in no way ‘afflicted’ with the equivalents of ‘sprains’ or ‘bruises’ or temporary ‘headaches’ mental health-wise is infinitesimally small; you may well only have met a handful in your entire life. 

Indeed, most people ‘out there in the world’ would sit to the right of ‘Healthy’. Meaning that almost everyone you come in contact with at any given moment is in fact, dealing with an aspect of ‘mental illness’, no matter how small. So chances are that the average person would be surprised to learn how many of their co-workers, fellow transit users, supermarket shoppers, neighbours are coping with ‘mental illness travails’. 

Taking it one step further, probably the one aspect of this conversation that receives the shortest of short shrifts is not the issue of how to best –and humanely– accommodate those in need of care in our communities, but the fact that so many amongst us actually require attention in this sense, but either aren’t aware of the need, or simply cannot or will not pursue help.

With this in mind, I can’t help but see a certain irony in the t-shirt attempt to embrace ‘Them’, who have supposedly been ostracized or marginalized in this particular Lynwood-Charlton  case.

Because in truth, given what I’ve just presented, nearly the entirety of ‘Us’ is in fact, ‘Them’. 

Kinda puts a different spin on things, doncha think...?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Latest 2012 DFC Award Nominee

"Good try Skippy.....  

Lived in Hamilton before the 1956 one way conversion.....YoungH..All residents of the city matter, that's the point. Motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and scooter drivers from anywhere in the city have equal access to the core and have a voice in how the city operates. The people who want two way streets are mostly residents or business owners from the area. This would be OK if it was a small community or small area of the city that a majority of the population didn't travel to or through but to try to dictate traffic flow in a major downtown for self entitled reasons that don't benefit but the small group pushing the city. The conversion of James and John South cost taxpayers millions and I would welcome anyone with proof on how this benefited the city.          "

Commenter 'DifferentWorld' on my Spec op-ed 'One-way, two-way: little known facts'.

You know, I wrote that piece as a reaction to the intractable, dogma-entrenched view of Those Who Want To See This Grievous Wrong Righted'. To go back once again to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts.'

We are so entrenched in this absence of vision in Hamilton, so clenched, so constipated... fearful of change, even if we're not even sure what the change will bring, no matter what our greatest dreads are...

...that we can't even see straight. 

This is why I believe in town halls. 



M Adrian Brassington

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gobsmacked = Me.

The accompanying graphic is the back cover of this month's issue of urbanicity.

And when I was at Jet this morning for breakfast and finally got to it...

...I sat there and stared.

'Queer juxtaposition' came to mind.

'Hilariously ironic' came to mind.

And, as the title of this post says, 'gobsmacked' came to mind...and I became it.

It's not a biggee, I'm not criticizing Martinus for having Jackson Square (Yale) as an advertiser, nothing like that. It's just...

Well, the tenor of 'some' of its contributors is such that Jackson Square represents the worst mistake the City of Hamilton ever made, development-wise. (Oh, the screeds I could point you to... The funny thing is that almost to a one, none are old enough to remember any of it in-person.) So to have the entire back page paid for by this 'débacle-of-débacles' seemed a bit...well, rich.

All of this got me thinking about how things would have been if one, two or all of the following had happened:

-The overall design of Jackson Square hadn't been so utterly botched. (Best explored by the paper 'The Facelift and The Wrecking Ball'.) Had it cleaved more closely to the original 'Civic Square' design, had it not become a concrete monstrosity, had the streetwall been so arbitrarily and arrogantly enacted (hand-in-hand with the south side of King not having mirrored this approach) so as create an inhospitable environment, one non-conducive to authentic 'downtown' experiences.

-Even if it had been built this way, if the City had possessed the forethought and understanding regarding the implications of Stelco Tower going away and the cumulative impact this (combined with the arrival on the scene of Limeridge, Eastgate, Oakville Place and Mapleview) would have on the downtown. And acted. (Instead of effecting more sprawl.)

-Vic Copps' prophetic words regarding the utter importance of the need to focus on development from James east to Wellington once Jackson Square had been completed had been listened to and afforded the credence they deserved. 

And so here we are, forty years after the mall's Phase One opening...with this ad. 

I believe Jackson Square/Hamilton City Centre needs to be re-imagined. Just as it was re-imagined downwards as its main customers then anchor tenants jumped ship. I believe it needs the kind of makeover that all other area malls have gone through. (And not in the sense of temporarily accommodating the Farmers' Market.) 

I have no idea if Yale possess the kind of chutzpah necessary to do what I'm suggesting, whether or not they've developed a long-term, revitalizing strategy possessed of vision, faith and synergistic thinking incorporating the anticipated potential of the downtown-core,...or merely one that befits Hamilton's inner-city tendencies. ('too little, too late')

But I do know that considering that I made a living in that mall for two different employers and that my mom worked at both ends of the property over the course of twenty years, I have to admit that staring at the ad provided me with at least a little bemusement. Of the head-aslant sort, but still... 

So here's to hoping that Jackson Square has something to celebrate not necessarily in another forty years, but ten. Yeah; I'd settle for that. 

M Adrian Brassington

Nice to hear it on other fronts, from other sources. However...

"We must ensure that we have a broad community conversation about these lands. People from Dundas, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek have just as much at stake in the redevelopment of these lands as people who live in the immediate area. However, before we even talk about what we want on these lands, we need to assert a sense of urgency to make sure they are in public hands, so that uncompromised redevelopment is possible.

We often talk about the potential of Hamilton. At a recent Chamber of Commerce event focused on the city’s renewal, writer Christopher Hume remarked that there is no question that development is going to happen in Hamilton. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we want to be active participants or mere bystanders."

The above are excerpts from the Spec article 'Don't dilute west harbour's potential'. It was written by David Premi and Paul Shaker of RethinkRenewal.

As its title indicates, the piece focuses on West Harbour, the rail lands and (by extension) the recent agreement that was reached with CN, the tail end of an OMB appeal involving Setting Sail. 

I'm not an expert on relocating the rail yards. I've heard some pretty qualified opinions about the practicality and feasibility of it being done, as have I heard and read thoughts about the residents-engineered plan that kicked off this recent phase of interest, which focused on the 2018 date of potential game-changing circumstances. 

But what caught my eye was the the stance taken by Messrs. Premi and Shaker regarding the importance of residents being part of the process to ensure that ideal development is created. This notion isn't anything new to this site. In fact, it's a mantra, and connects directly with the Town Halls Hamilton effort, the Hamilton Neighbourhood Associations effort, and This is Our Hamilton. So it's heartening to hear it on other fronts, from other sources. 

Because the truth is that by-and-large, currently, general resident concern or enquiry is not framed this way. Yes, we email our councillor. Yes, we comment on blogs and newspaper feedback sections. But ultimately, that's not what I'm referring to and I don't believe it's what the gentlemen from RethinkRenewal are talking about, either. 

'You don't ask, you don't get.'

A pretty simple mantra I was presented with decades ago. And in both the development-of-our-city and general governance fronts, I'm not convinced we're programmed to do this. Part of this is simply a legacy mindset; the development of a city is left to the 'powers-that-be', and we as citizens take what we're given. (Understanding of course that our Council and City Staff are there to more-or-less protect the common good, the common interests of common Hamiltonians.) Instead, we react. 

Garbage pickup policy. 

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board headquarter relocation and schools closings. 

Ward boundary review. 


Yes, some of our 'aware-and-energized' residents let their feelings be known. In the creation of civic causes such as 'S.O.S.', of 'We Need 3', the efforts that Environment Hamilton spearhead. And we do get flurries of social commentary online, of delegations to Council, and well-intentioned protest efforts. But –and this is directly connected to our habits at the polls– in the main, we don't marshall sufficient numbers to attain critical mass, so a) we're not taken as seriously as we might be, and b) we're not taken as seriously as we might be. To borrow a phrase from City Hall, we never achieve quorum

For a second, let's go back to the op-ed piece. Within the context of the excerpts, two reference points stand out: 'conversation' and 'active participants or mere bystanders'. 

The former implies a process. Comprised of corralling information, exchanging ideas, developing qualified opinions, debating differences, attaining compromise...reaching consensus. In an 'I want it now!' world, this takes protracted effort. (Here are two wonderful Scott London essays, ones that I've mentioned previously: 'Thinking Together: 'The Power of Deliberative Dialogue' and 'The Power of Dialogue'.)
And when you toss in the fact that we have a culture in Hamilton greatly influenced by 'legacy malaise', seasoned by long-term frustration and cynicism, where distrust and resignation abounds, then even looking at this in theoretical terms is daunting: never mind the tradition of development being one of City officials and developers being in lockstep with residents reacting after-the-fact, we simply aren't inclined towards dealing with issues in rational ways; we tend to want to vent, to rant and to rage. Be it on Facebook pages, on posters, or in the Comments section of The Spec. So we're not feeling empowered en masse, and we're not well-equipped to express any empowerment anyway. 

And in terms of the standard conversation that takes place, of being genuine participants, we complicate the issue by not asserting ownership of the arena. 

What I mean by this is if we as residents, as primary stakeholders in our community don't 'own' the arena of conversation, then we're ceding power. Time and time again. 

So the ARC sessions as put on by the HWDSB? The delegation procedure that exists at Council? Any 'meeting' produced and presented by anyone other than residents? Subtly, unconsciously but inarguably reinforcing the power dynamic. 

Yes, we need to be participants in the conversation regarding anything about how our city is going to be re-imagined, about what changes we're going to see. But my belief is that unless we are the ones holding the events, unless we are the ones setting the stage, inviting the other player at the table into our arena, we're invariably ceding power, and the chances of us being taken seriously –no matter the lip service paid, no matter the polite, patronizing bafflegab being bestowed upon us– are slim and none...and Slim just left town. 

I'm not stating anything revolutionary here. I'm not claiming to have discovered something heretofore wholly unrealized. This is no different than being called into the Boss's office to 'discuss' something. That power dynamic is entrenched. It's almost impossible to change it. But ours? There is nothing preventing us from framing things in our favour. Nobody has ever said 'You can't have community meetings that aren't 'guided' or 'presented' by your councillor.' (In that instance, we have a tendency to be grateful when they step up and 'guide' proceedings, as if some act of beneficence has been bestowed upon us. I've been to councillor-generated, presented-by meetings. And the ones I've been to have been well-run, well-intentioned events. But they do nothing to ameliorate the power structure. Which is odd, considering that we're the employers and they're our employees.)

The other thing I have to point out that the event referenced by the gentlemen was not, at its core, intended for 'regular Hamiltonians'. Not at the advertised ticket price. (An event that Christopher Hume was a focal point of, the same Toronto Star writer/commentaryist who gave a free talk for we, the people, last autumn at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame auditorium.) And other events that have taken place say, over the past year, have not targeted residents. They have been constructed and executed for what I suppose you could refer to as 'professionals'. Or, if that label doesn't apply, then 'urban planning aficionados', those 'aware-and-energized' amongst us who are perhaps leaders in their fields, or who can afford (and are inclined) to attend such events. 

So in order for us to have Hamiltonians who are authentic participants taking part in the vital conversations about how our city is going to be reinventing itself, we need to be especially mindful what the goal is: Is it to provide more opportunities for our forward-thinkers within our professional community to rub shoulders, reinforce commonly-held beliefs about what needs to be done and allow for more networking to be done...or is it to impact the skill-sets and awareness of those from the streets, the neighbourhoods, the communities and wards, to inform and inspire them so that they choose to become participants in the conversation?

Both of these factors contributed to me initiating the Town Halls Hamilton effort last year. Because I saw a need for us to own the conversations that should be driving the re-envisioning of our city, and that they be accessible and open to all. What's required for this initiative to blossom is for various groups...The Hamilton Civic League, the Chamber of Commerce, RethinkRenewal, neighbourhood associations across the city, The Spec, CHCH, the potential list is work together, to collaborate to maximize efforts, and in doing so, provide credence to the underlying effort, that of better equipping our residents to take their rightful places at the governance table. 

M Adrian Brassington

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Regarding 'Our Duty as Elected Officials'

Mayor Bratina has a post on his blog. 'Our Duty as Elected Officials'.

It's pretty straightforward stuff.

In it, he says "People sometimes ask about the roles and responsibilities of the Mayor and Council." I won't deny that there are some who want the kinds of answers he's provided in quoting from the Municipal Act. But I'd bet a fair amount of moolah people aren't actually asking about remit and purview and limitations of power, job duties and performance expectations. My guess is that they're trying to ask a pair of pretty uncomfortable questions. (Uncomfortable to ask as well as to answer.)

"Why doesn't anyone actually lead at City Hall?"


"Why is there so little vision?"

Granted, most Hamiltonians possess only small amounts of understanding and comprehension of what goes on at City Hall. (In fairness, in terms our 'civics' in our education system, it's apparently limited to a Grade 10 course. Never mind the fact that most of us can't ) Such small amounts, that when something happens that seems an 'issue', when something blows up good, the existing cynicism and general distrust gets magnified by this ignorance. (Or vice-versa) Because we don't have a deep, working understanding and appreciation of the ins-and-outs, we tend to overreact. This isn't extraordinary, or peculiar to 71 Main Street West; it tends to unfold in all aspects of Life. What's that philosopher's belief? 'Knowing is half the battle.'

So it's good for all of us to have resources at hand so we can properly contextualize things. To appreciate what's reasonable, what's not, to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. But I'd pay an additional pile of moolah to hear what Mayor Bratina has to say about leadership and vision.

M Adrian Brassington

Remembering that 'leadership' isn't just a City Hall issue...

"With all the efforts over the last 30 years to revive the downtown we have yet to see a payoff. Even with the so called resurgence of James North which is minimal at best the downtown is still sliding backwards. I think it's time to step back and let the downtown stew for a bit."

Commenter 'sonofagun' on The Spec downtown grocery store article

Compelled to Muzzle?

muz·zle  (mzl)
1. The forward, projecting part of the head of certain animals, such as dogs, including the mouth, nose, and jaws; the snout.
2. A leather or wire restraining appliance that, when fitted over an animal's snout, prevents biting and eating.
3. The forward, discharging end of the barrel of a firearm.
4. A restraint on free movement or expression: had a muzzle put on their high spirits.
tr.v. muz·zledmuz·zlingmuz·zles
1. To put a muzzle on (an animal).
2. To restrain from expression: tried to muzzle the opposition.

[Middle English mosel, from Old French musel, from Medieval Latin msellum, diminutive of msussnout, from Latin msum.]

muzzler n.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

muzzle [ˈmʌzəl]
1. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Zoology) the projecting part of the face, usually the jaws and nose, of animals such as the dog and horse
2. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Zoology) a guard or strap fitted over an animal's nose and jaws to prevent it biting or eating
3. (Military / Firearms, Gunnery, Ordnance & Artillery) the front end of a gun barrel
vb (tr)
1. to prevent from being heard or noticed to muzzle the press
2. (Life Sciences & Allied Applications / Zoology) to put a muzzle on (an animal)
3. (Transport / Nautical Terms) to take in (a sail)
[C15 mosel, from Old French musel, diminutive of muse snout, from Medieval Latin mūsus, of unknown origin]

Out of a city of just over half-a-million people,  we have roughly 400,000 people available for 'activism'. By this I mean within the ages of 14-65. 

To my recollection, we had two 'protests' this year. One was the Hamilton Civic League's garbage rally on March 10th, the other, the S.O.S. protest at the HWDSB headquarters on June 19th. Though both were about undeniably valid issues, neither required crowd control. 

And yet there is a consistent reaction to sites such as Raise the Hammer, the havens of online activism, a reaction of resentment and dismissiveness. What strikes me as a desire to muzzle. Witness this excerpt of a comment regarding RTH Editor Ryan McGreal's Spec article on Council's reluctance to follow its stated downtown-core vision: 

"I have no use for the blinkered view that ignores 3/4 of the city's interests in favour of a special interest group. Thats not city building behaviour its city destroying behaviour"

Now, my initial, gut reaction is 'Wow; you're ascribing a lot of power to the site and its commenters.'

Then: 'Why does an arguably 'fringe' element expressing itself so much bother you?'

And finally 'Is it jealousy? Is it anger that this person's view isn't being represented? Is it frustrating them to no end to have to put up with the 'activist-clatter'?'

Taking into consideration the fact that there is such a relatively small number of people who are willing to voice their contrary opinions, why would someone bear such...such disdain for a site, or a group of people, or a mindset? It's not like that in the RTH adherents having their say, the person's ability to express their own opinions is denied its fullness. 

Or is it...?

The other side of this coin is that- Well, I've previously referred to Raise the Hammer as a 'endless-loop, echo-chamber'. And part of the hazard of being a devotée of such a mechanism is that a) you begin believing your own press, b) you get an overinflated sense of 'informedness' and c) in a self-validating way, you assume that most others are informed to the same extent and in the same ways...or believe that they should be. 

Let me clarify that last sentence: There are some wildly intelligent people who contribute to the site, who read the site and who comment on the site. But what I've witnessed for as long as I've been frequenting RTH (which has go be going on seven years now) is the tendency to vilify those who have disparate opinions as well as -seemingly- believing that the party-line is unassailable...and moreover, that what's declared as 'consensus' isn't just plain old common sense, but the majority opinion. 

And often, it's not. 

Granted, for many issues, this disparity is a manifestation of ignorance. That the majority of Hamiltonians really don't possess a 'qualified opinion' on fundamental issues, that they're simply not sufficiently informed to craft one. Disinclination and non-investment tend to result in this state. Now, whether or not they'd serry up on the RTH parade square if they were shown the light, it's hard to say. Most of them will never read RTH, and even more will never even be aware of it. 

So it's not like the site actually has that much 'power'. Ryan is unquestionably respected by many in the city. He has a certain amount of cachet as a respected community commentator. But as deserving as he is for acclaim, RTH is hardly the hotbed of activism that someone like the aforementioned Spec commenter seems to resent it being. Resentment that to me, points to a wish that its strategic views be muzzled. For the common good, of course. According to how this person defines that. 

But this runs both ways: the 'downvoting' tool on RTH Comments sections is inarguably muzzling. 'Non-aligned' comments are immediately downvoted. In fact, a contrarian's post is rendered invisible if the reader's preferences dictate a threshold of negative votes provides this ultimate 'censuring'. So in the end, a forum that purports to be searching for answers for a beleaguered city wraps distasteful dissent in the 'troll' flag, and merely adds to the preponderance of muzzling. 

And of course, there's the more covert, seemingly benign brand of muzzling. The psychological kind that's regularly imparted by some on Council. I've seen it in general comments during a session, I've seen it during citizen delegation presentations, and I've read it in The Spec. (Regarding the middle reference, here's what a commenter on The Hamiltonian had to say about what happens during them: "A delegation. That's where you show up after having done a whole bunch of work, get only 5 minutes and be in shock as the counselors play with their blackberries, whisper to each other about other things and generally try to look as though they give a care.")

In the same way that subtly demeaning your spouse, jabbing them with tiny barbs, lobbing the tiniest of emotional shite-bombs might not be considered 'abuse' but still defines behaviour in a 'destructive relationship', the patronizing, the condescension, the well-couched belittling offered by certain councillors is nonetheless a form of muzzling. As witnessed in the engagement surrounding the HWT. 

And I have to wonder if this goes on in a thriving community. Or is it just something you find in one that's not particularly aware-and-energized?  

Since I began writing this post, the referenced commenter has added to their initial offering: 

"I'm talking about consistently dishonest debate, consistent casual dismissal of all opinion that doesn't match theirs, consistent dismissal of any studies that don't back up their theories, consistent shooting of the messenger, consistent lack of dismissing all information even when its correct if it comes from certain people. In short, I don't believe they want to change the city for the better by engaging people but rather brow beating them. Thats destructive not constructive to the process. The amount of cynicism on that site is beyond healthy porportions. The may want to talk but they aren't prepared to listen. Thats not communication thats dictating. No use for them at all"

I don't think that what they've said here is debatable. (Ryan and I have actually had conversations and correspondences about all of this.) So my label 'muzzling' takes on a more picante meaning. 

The one thing I have continually yammered-on about in almost everything I've posted on my sites or within The Spec's 'Opinion' section is the need for genuine dialogue in Hamilton. And so far, though intriguing thoughts and concepts are regularly published and commented on, I don't believe we've moved all that closer to creating that dialogue, to raising the bar for debate. 

And because of this, because of our self-imposed 'miredness', I can't help but think that what's really going on is some bizarre form of 'self-muzzling'. 

Clearly, we've got some difficult work ahead of us. 

M Adrian Brassington

Friday, July 6, 2012

Not banking on the right things, clearly

Jeff Mahoney has an article in today's edition. 'You can bank on a fight in Stoney Creek' deals with the TD Bank branch closing this autumn. And some residents' reactions. 

If you check out the Comments that follow the article, you'll get some idea of the general response to the piece. 

If you do a search on 'The Downtown Issue' for this site, you'll see way more than a handful of articles dealing with Stoney Creek's downtown. The common theme is the less-than-stellar use of land. 

So the TD leaving should be seen as more a tremendous opportunity than as the loss of a local institution. 

That corner has amazing strategic potential. (So does McDougall's Garage, but that's another situation entirely.)

Though small, the location could provide the setting for a key business. Given there's barely more than two blocks' worth of authentic contiguous downtown, making better use of this land than its current use well be a pivotal shift for this long-beleaguered core. 

But instead of pondering 'I wonder what stunning development we could see there!', the people mentioned in the article would prefer that time stand still. 

A pity, really. 

Downtown Stoney Creek has long been mired in economic doldrums primarily of its own making. (And yes, I'm directly connecting the small handful of extant land and business owners with the 'downtown'.) So maybe it's not surprising to find its 'supporters' trapped in a time-bubble themselves. 

Not surprising, but sad nonetheless. 

(I'm compelled to point out that I grew up a stone's throw from the bank, and I have a memory that goes back almost fifty years. I've seen a lot in Old Towne Stoney Creek...and most of it's been the same sight, over and over and over again.)

M Adrian Brassington

Seeing With Other Eyes

Last night, I took a trip down to Pier 8. You know, Williams' Coffee Pub, a big-band concert on the grass, the odd roller-skater making use of the rink, etc. I went there with Mahesh P. Butani. Who is, beyond the contention he's known to create within the Comments sections of articles on sites such as Raise the Hammer, is an amazing resource when it comes to urban development. Possessor of a Masters degree of Arts and a Bachelors degree in Architecture, he's a licensed architect elsewhere.

Recently, Mahesh published an article on The Hamiltonian about a Pier 8 project he was involved in a few years back. So to go on an informal tour of what's there now with him was an illuminating experience. 

As he was pointing out various aspects of the buildings...especially the former Discovery Centre...I think my consistent question was 'How could they have done all this?!?"

He's also offered some insight into two 'proposed' downtown projects highlighted this week in The Spec and at Raise the Hammer, on the realities of James Street North's ongoing resurgence...and of the merits of a slice of Hawaiian pizza versus pepperoni. (Kidding. Sorta, kinda.)

Although I fervently believe in the idea that in order to genuinely contribute to discussion and discourse about the city, you have to develop informed opinions, it's becoming clearer that to get to the point where informed opinions are being developed, there has to be better awareness of issues and there have to be opportunities where residents can see what these issues involve. (Which is why I began the Town Halls Hamilton initiative.)

So I'd be curious to hear the reactions if someone like Mahesh were to provide a guided tour for residents of a Hamilton fixture such as Pier 8 or the downtown-core.

And I'd pay to have councillors in attendance, especially were things unfolding under 'Liar, Liar' circumstances. 

M Adrian Brassington

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More babble...and more head-shaking

This morning I had coffee with a nascent community organizer. We'd met last year, after the inaugural Town Halls Hamilton event. He's in the process of getting something started that ties in enormously with my beliefs about the importance of neighbourhood associations. 

We began our conversation talking about education. Mostly because that's his calling; he's a teacher. And in wanting to find out his take on school closings in Hamilton, I broached the subject. Especially as public discussion is concerned. 

Very quickly, I was compelled to reinforce the importance I place on agreeing on facts before getting creative about how to deal with those facts...and this was prompted by something I saw online yesterday. 

It was a post/comment. Not dealing with education, but rather with LRT. 

"Just been thinking lately alot about the LRT for Hamilton. Well,it has been about 25 yrs in proposals and YET STILL I see only posters on the buses in Hamilton about it. What gives City Council????Hunh??? Really, it should be budgeted for, way past the proposal and prototype stage and up and running . A City that has amalgamated many different cities to save money and reduce infrastructure and overlapping should DEFINITELY have this already . What gives City Council???Hey..Poor planning I think ,yes."

Awaiting coffee at Tim's, I said to my friend 'It pains me to hear people going off on something that they clearly aren't grasping the basics of.' Additionally, I reiterated the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's words: "You're entitled to your own opinion. You're not entitled to your own facts."

In a way, I was aghast when I read the Facebook post. 

Yes, I know that many of us are -ahem- 'disappointed' in what generally passes for leadership at 71 Main Street West these days. But I'm more disappointed in what passes for comprehension of the realities of some pretty basic Hamilton situations. I shudder to think that someone who feels the need to comment on an issue (most don't) and in an ostensibly 'politically dissident' group is so far out in left-field. And to me it indicates how far away we are as a city from rightfully being able to take our place at the governance table. (That's not to say our elected officials are supremely competent. But they're not required to be. Clearly.)

I won't belabour the point about the person's rant, save to say a) We're properly engaged in the preliminary processes required to get LRT, and b) The funding is beyond both our abilities and remit; look to Queen's Park if you have any complaints about why we're still taking buses, the financials are not a City of Hamilton responsibility.

My friend and I discussed the education issue thoroughly. We produced no answers, save for the notion that we need to come up with better means of providing those who are interested, ie the 'aware -and-energized' what they have clearly been denied...even though there's no dearth of access: information. And that from there, better discourse will result, undoubtedly with a higher level of debate. 

The issue-at-play isn't what's important to me. (In fact, in most cases, we're either behind the 8-ball or the curve to such an extent that it's almost a masochistic exercise to try to turn things around.) What's important is having better engagement unfold. 

So I guess I have to thank the poster for reminding me that 'You don't play sports to get in shape, you get in shape to play sports.' Or the analogous equivalent for civic participation. 

M Adrian Brassington 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Opinion: We need to move away from this paradigm

1) "I can only serve the hard working people of Hamilton from Council and or Committee."

2) "Therefore I urge you to be a public delegation and to attend a meeting or send a delegation so I can serve the thousands of residents in Ward 4 that do not have access to a computer."

3) "Until then please feel free to ask council for permission to be a delegation to present your case so we can conscientiously serve our constituents globally."  

Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla regarding responding to the HWT queries as directed to him by The Hamiltonian. 

The attachment to this 'access to the throne' process has to stop. (Never mind the bizarre interpretation of responsibilities, the hyperbole and the general condescension.)

Especially with an issue in-play. (As opposed to a planned process, or where sensitive deliberations shouldn't be risked.)

I may have been born at night, but not last night, and I'm no dumb-bunny. I get how there has to be structure, that things can't be dealt with (all the time) on-the-fly. Otherwise...

However, I'm going to go back to my last post and reference that 'The times, they are a-changin'.'

I'm beginning to think that we have a real paradigm problem on our hands.

One where City Hall is stuck in the past, constantly working within what used to be the norm, a paradigm going back decades. That is, that information pertaining to governance is meted out 'as required'. 

A paradigm that's conflicted by electronic interconnectivity. By the wonders the Internet. By smartphones. By Twitter and Facebook and open data...

So you have all this 'modern' stuff going on against the backdrop of what amounts to parochial, paternalistic control. 

Hence you have what could kindly be referred to as 'Sam's Barley Rant'. (I have no idea if he'd been imbibing and I don't know the councillor well enough to make any comment as to whether the content of his -shared- emails were out-of-character. I will say that at the least, they were ill-advised. Seriously.)

This conflict of 'old' and 'new' is actually more of a problem than is probably –and properly– acknowledged. 

We focus on 'transparency and accountability', but really, those catchwords are aspects that are affected in wholesale ways by what I'm talking about here. 

Our world has changed. Our expectations have changed. And as a result, governance has to change. But it won't change unless we guide the mechanisms, because Lord knows that Council isn't going to be the driving force behind it. They're a little too conflicted and seemingly cannot see the forest for the trees. 

M Adrian Brassington

And on Canada Day, too: Stepping back a little...

(Reprinted from last autumn, right here at MSC)

The Bay Observer.

The Hamiltonian.

Raise the Hammer.

During the month of June, beginning with the Bay Observer and ending with Ryan's publication last night, spotlights (searchlights?) were aimed at the Hamilton Waterfront Trust.

In fact, I'll break that down a little:

The Bay Observer began asking questions about possible fiduciary improprieties concerning the HWT. The Hamiltonian linked to this coverage, and then began asking questions of all named participants. This quickly became a series, with lots of reader comments. Finally, there was an exchange with Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla on Friday night (while he was at a Ti-Cat game), and this was blogged about by Ryan late last night.

Councillor Merulla's of ripe (if entertainingly cheeky) dismissiveness...was summed up in this bit:

"Let me tell you what it is going to be! Stop breaking our balls until you have media credentials to request what you are requesting. Until then please feel free to ask council for permission to be a delegation to present your case so we can conscientiously serve our constituents globally."