You could fit half the crowd at Woodstock up there on the vast plains of the plaza level at Jackson Square. But the free summer music series just underway doesn’t draw the masses, and that’s a shame.
Don’t blame the performers. It’s great talent on that stage, but the mall’s rooftop — which stretches right from James to Bay, King to York — is one of the loneliest places in town.
"I don’t really tell people I’m playing here," says Terra Lightfoot, "because it’s dramatically under attended."
She started a week-long lunchtime gig on the rooftop yesterday. She’s 25, she’s from Waterdown and she’s good — even though she’s not related to Gordie. Her influences include Etta James, Wilco and Loretta Lynn.
There are maybe 30 people scattered about as she starts her first set. The sound carries to all the towers on SuperBlock. A few songs in, there are some more sitting out there. But this space is way too big. Terra would need binoculars to see who’s listening.The plaza level of Jackson Square has lots of room, but few venture there. (Paul Wilson/CBC)
There was that older guy, however, who came by every day last year. "He seemed like the saddest man, but he was so happy whenever I played a Hank Williams song. People like that make it worthwhile."
The rooftop concept is the folly of planners some 40 years ago. It was the Plus 15 school, as in 15 feet above the sidewalk. The idea was that in a new and perfect world, cars would be down there on the street and people would be strolling about in a quiet and pleasant world above.
In Calgary, they really went to town with Plus 15, which opened there in 1970. Since then, they’ve built it into a network 16 kilometres long, with 59 bridges. Now they’re wondering whether Plus 15 is to blame for a decline in activity at the sidewalk level.
In Hamilton, beyond the rooftop of Jackson Square, Plus 15 got nowhere. They did build the pedestrian bridge across King to the Convention Centre. But apart from a link to a parking garage on York, other bridges stayed on the drawing board —including one that was to be built across Main to City Hall.
You used to be able to access that King bridge from the Jackson Square rooftop. Now they’ve stripped the handles off the doors for good. Surely a sign of surrender. The city fathers’ Plus 15 scheme was a perfect flop.
Jocelyne Mainville is leasing manager for Yale Properties, which has owned Jackson Square since the beginning, 40 years ago. She explains that while Yale owns and operates the mall on land leased from the city, that entire rooftop area is designated a city park.
City police do patrol it. But so does mall security. And it’s the mall that does video surveillance. And grass cutting and maintenance.
Mainville says the mall isn’t exactly sure where things would stand if it wanted to make some changes to the rooftop. (Nothing to announce on that yet.) "But would we have to jump through hoops?" she asks. "We’re trying to get some clarification."
Jackson Square pays for the summer music series. Mainville knows the rooftop needs a bigger fix than that, but isn’t sure exactly what that might be. "It’s a beautiful space, but it’s so underutilized."
Now till Friday, noon to 2 p.m., Terra Lightfoot is doing her very best to change that.
You can read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.