Hamilton’s Future and the Problem of Suburbs

Hamilton is a giant city. It’s geographic range is expansive; filling in this area are endless suburbs and new community developments. The rise of housing in Hamilton has been notable and positive. Many people are choosing to live in Hamilton for a multitude of reasons and rediscovering the rich beauty, culture, and opportunity the city has to offer. Especially with the rising costs in the GTA, Hamilton is proving to be an affordable and enjoyable city to settle down in. The problem is how Hamilton’s demographics are spread.

Suburbs following the Second World War became the staple for success and modernity. Each family owning a home and lawn became the integral aspiration into adulthood. This movement outwards from the city centre and into suburban neighbourhoods has created two massive problems for the city.

First, the Downtown was abandoned. The middle and upper classes continued to spread outward and into the corners of communities such as Ancaster. Wealth, necessary to stimulate Downtown businesses, was shuffled away and placed into suburban mazes where the main source of consumption was now “Power Centres” and shopping plazas. This Power Centre based suburban living has been expanding year after year in Hamilton and has caused the Downtown core to be abandoned and neglected. Entire swaths of Downtown are little more than abandoned relics of thriving communities that once filled the city. Many efforts are placed to revitalize communities surrounding Downtown, such as the Barton Village, however the essential energy is slow to return. The collapse of Hamilton’s powerful manufacturing industry also contributed to the departure of wealth and stimulation. Industry left the city, and the population moved further outward.

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The second problem created by expansive suburbanization, and really this is a problem for many North American cities, is that many suburban communities are now aging and declining. Suburbs grew around Downtown and especially on the Hamilton Mountain throughout the mid-century. Almost the entire area from East to West between the Linc and the Mountain Brow is in a period of decline. Homes are aging, apartments are falling apart, and infrastructure is in need of a serious over haul. Many of the highschools in the city are in need of significant restoration or need to be torn down. The new highschools and facilities, as expected, are on the outer reaches of the city in the newer suburbs. As the years progress and many suburban communities continue to age we will likely see more crime, poverty, and decline grip vast areas of Hamilton’s geography.

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By continually suburbanizing and expanding, the city has shifted wealth and the middle/upper classes further away from the city’s centre and in the process has been left with aging and declining suburban communities in between. What is desperately needed in Hamilton is a shift back towards its centre. Focus on Downtown living, condo development, and infrastructure overhauls are crucial.

Fortunately Hamilton has a path to achieve these goals. The Downtown is currently in the midst of a cultural and housing revitalization with many new developments flourishing. I believe the city recognizes the neglect it has placed in Downtown. Public policy and funding is beginning to reflect this. This trend is a must if the city is to pursue a fruitful future.

Hamilton’s growth can not depend on the wasteful and culturally inept developments of ever expanding cheaply made suburban “Power Centre” communities eating up the Greenbelt.

Hamilton needs to continue to invest in its Downtown, to pursue modern businesses, and to stimulate both cultural and economic adventures. Gentrification is a necessary and complicated consequence of this that we will need to both accept and properly prepare for. We need new buildings, businesses, restaurants, and cultural hubs to be created. Hamilton must also continue to push away from manufacturing and into domains such as high-technology and medicine.

The construction of the Hamilton LRT is also essential to the reconstituting of Hamilton’s centre. If Hamiltonians are to live Downtown, especially with limited parking, they need quick and modern transit that unites the entire region. Most major cities in Canada are moving ahead with LRT, Hamilton must as well.

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Hamilton’s suburbanization caused numerous problems for the city, but the revitalization of Downtown can help prevent future problems from occurring. What we don’t want are endless suburbs being constructed with cheap materials taking up more Greenspace while the suburbs right beside them are aging and the Downtown is being neglected. If Hamilton puts a halt on endless suburban sprawl and continues its successful trend of growth in the Downtown core, the city is poised to become a Canadian hotspot for business, growth, culture, and living.

The city has the capabilities and opportunities to flourish, it is up to our current decisions that will determine whether Hamilton has a small blip in an inflated housing market, or whether Hamilton grows and expands further into the city that we all know that it can be.

After all, this is the Ambitious City.

By Daniel Govedar (Jan 2017)

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