Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What Hamilton Means to Me

When I moved to Hamilton Ontario from London Ontario, I was unsure of what to expect. Living in London was your basic WASP environment, with a clear distinction of the upper and lower classes eloquently stated through the famed geographical EOA tagline. EOA stood for "East of Adelaide". Adelaide is the north/south street which became the marker for dividing the haves from the have-nots. While there is no definitive historical event, or hard-set data which dictates the EOA status, there certainly is an impression that there are more single-parent homes and social housing residents in EOA than any other area in London. Clearly, this is London's version of the "wrong side of the tracks", and I was a product of living in EOA. Our large family (8 kids) were raised in the most eastern neighbourhood (at the time…there is now a whole new set of subdivisions east of where I grew up…they hated the EOA tag so much, they adopted the "west of 100" tag to distance themselves from the poorer residences of EOA).

Hamilton has some similarities to London; spare the London only EOA tag…Hamilton carries its customary 'North-end' or 'East-end' tags, depending on who you speak to as to where the bad-ass part of town is. For my part, choosing where to live in Hamilton became solely reliant on a work associates recommendation of "Don't live below the mountain." So we embarked on finding a place on the mountain…which for clarity is the top of the Niagara Escarpment. In hindsight, we should have looked more closely. While I won't argue that the 'lower' city has its challenges, it does have something that the 'mountain' doesn't: community identity. Through no fault of its own, neighbourhoods built on the mountain were constructed primarily for commuters. Through growth commencing some 40-50 years ago, it's relatively young by comparison to the lower city, and as such lacks the cohesiveness garnered from long-standing families who were able to pass their home on to their children. While there are some active neighbourhoods on the mountain, the numbers pale in comparison to those in the lower city, despite the higher population on the mountain.

It's been 13 years since the decision was made to move to Hamilton, and I'd have to say that the decision to stay was made within 6 months of arriving here. Hamilton's proximity to Toronto, Niagara Falls, and London makes any trip manageable within an hour's drive. The fact that Hamilton is home to a number of waterfalls is something that continues to amaze family and friends still trapped in flat London. I'm not going to say how many waterfalls there are here, as the number seems to vary depending on the source. Sufficed to say, I'd recommend that you check out www.cityofwaterfalls.ca to get a good idea of how many waterfalls there really are. Whenever family or friends pay a visit, I make sure I spend a good couple of hours giving them the tour of some of the key sightlines of Hamilton, including those smokestacks which are a part of Hamilton's heritage.

Hamilton is poised to be something greater than it currently is, and through some innovative concepts, could actually become an envied City. In a little less than a year from now, residents will be heading to the polls to elect their municipal leaders. There remains some angst on whether the current leadership has not only the vision, but the fortitude to implement the change required to move Hamilton from 'potential' to a 'potent' community. It is often said of any community that the voter only cares about the issues that impact them directly (road needs paving, sidewalk is cracked, etc.). And, it's often said of any community that the incumbent politician only cares about the boundaries in which they represent. And, it's often said of any community that the current politician holding office is re-elected more often than not, regardless of their ability to be a true community leader.

While Hamilton certainly does have these obstacles before them, they also have some true visionaries who are working with city staff and politicians on what can and needs to be done to move Hamilton forward. One of the largest obstacles that may impede any progress would be the tax rate. Not unlike any other municipality, the economy has sapped resources while increasing the strain on the social services and programs – cuts to both are unavoidable, we'd be foolish to expect anything less. I'm looking forward to the coming years, but will steal a phrase from Albert Einstein who quipped, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten."

In keeping with the current flu-isms: The challenge now will be to see if we can look past ails us, in order to administer the vaccine required to provide future protection should we encounter another viral economical downturn.

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