Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Moving forward in this city...

Where we start from -and how we proceed- determine how we get to where we're going. So why cart around extra baggage?

What do you know about 'regret'? I know that those who are discontented with their current circumstances tend look back on their lives with more of it, feel the retrospective more negatively. While those who are generally more satisfied than not can view their travails and shrug. Even if we're talking equal Life experiences. So their 'default' state impacts how they reminisce. 

It's not a leap to say that something similar can be said about how people see the future. How they move forward. 

After all, if you begin a project from a positive place, doesn't it make sense that the result will be more likely to be infused with these energies? Especially when compared to those efforts that are infused with energies resulting from, say, 'a chip on the shoulder'?

As someone who was born in Hamilton, raised in its outer environs and –despite having moving away on a few occasions– has still spent the vast majority of his life within city limits, I can speak to the truth in the notion of a 'legacy malaise'. The collective 'chip'. The 'something in the water' that affects how we see things, how we contextualize things, our abilities to formulate a better future. Even those who move here take on its afflictions. Chalk it up to the problems of a city reinventing itself after its primary purposes (steelmaking and manufacturing) have withered away, blame it on not enough authentic responsible, energetic cultivation of its core for the better part of three decades, but however you frame it, I'm on-board with the notion that we're chronically creating the wrong trajectory...because of the profile of our starting point.  

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In Hamilton, not only do we consistently seem bent on 'snatching Defeat from the jaws of Victory', but we're also seemingly desperate to get something going, anything.  In other words, how little regard we have for what we have every right to aspire to. Not just 'functionality', the filling in of fallow spaces, but the prospect of greatness.

Now in some instances, for example regarding LRT and the vertical limits of buildings, development height restrictions, this desperation shows itself in a sad tendency of overreaching. In attaching ourselves to notions that are fashioned out of ambition shot-through more with anguished keening than with calm consideration and reason. 

How differently would things be approached had our downtown's stewardship by the City not been so abandoned for the past two+ decades? Without the anger and frustration at 'things-past' and 'things-lost', would we cling in so needful a fashion to the presumed benefits of projects such as the HWDSB/Mac one if desperation wasn't so forceful an underlying current? If more of us viewed the processes of 'renewal' and 'revitalization' and 'rejuvenation' with greater patience, with faith in the notion of organic growth rather than the questionable realities of 'self-centred deal-making' brokered by third and fourth parties, if we had more innate confidence in things unfolding well, how differently would we view the re-imagining of our city, specifically its downtown core?

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Is it possible that Hamiltonians need the equivalent of therapy? To re-jig the zeitgeist? I've pondered the idea of having a series of town halls towards this end. As a 'primer' of sorts, to both exorcise 'legacy malaise' demons and provide perspective, to correct long-held misconceptions about 'what happened and how we got here'. To re-configure our starting-point. 

Listening to so many 'urban development evangelists', you would think that reflecting on the last half-century, Hamilton has been run by a continuous series of evil-doers. By completely and utterly dysfunctional Councils. When that's hardly the case. But revisionist history makes for-

Well, it makes for your starting point being one sustained, ever-burdensome 'chip on the shoulder'. 

Because it's not enough to point out what's wrong and constantly make a circus out how either the process or the people involved have screwed-up. Yes, we need 'transparency and accountability'. But we also need creativity, inventiveness... We need visionary leadership. At City Hall, but also in our communities. Visionary leadership that moves us forward with acknowledgement of our past, understanding of our present, and a positive take on our future. 

Otherwise, we're going to keep infusing our tomorrows with the kind of energies that will only lead to more desperation...and in retrospect, more regret. 

As a Hamiltonian, I believe we can do better than that. 

M Adrian Brassington

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.