Q&A: Meet Jason Thorne, the new architect of Hamilton's revival

Jason Thorne has worked around oil sands and gold mines. Now he's riding a bicycle around Hamilton preparing for his new job as head of planning and economic development.
Hamilton native Jason Thorne will take over as the city's new general manager of planning and economic development in late May. In preparation, he's cycling around Hamilton to get a look at the neighbourhoods. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Jason Thorne has worked around oil sands and gold mines.

He’s helped start a community garden in his neighbourhood in downtown Guelph. He’s worked on waterfront restoration and preserving natural areas. And he’s preparing for his new job as the city's general manager of planning and economic development by touring around Hamilton on his bicycle.

Thorne met CBC Hamilton at Gore Park to talk about his vision for the city. Hamilton is in transition, with a booming real estate market, a downtown on the upswing and a changing economy. And Thorne, a Hamilton native, is now at the heart of that.

“This is where I hung out when I was in high school,” Thorne said, gesturing around the Gore. “We’d come downtown every day after school and I’d go to Cheapies and shop at Jackson Square."

Thorne, a graduate of Sir Allan MacNab high school on the Mountain and later Guelph University, is a decorated figure in the planning field. He’s a principal with rePlan and the affiliated firms planningAlliance and regionalArchitects. His current job includes helping establish a regional development plan around the first gold mine in Senegal. He has also done regional plans for the Athabasca and Cold Lake Oil Sands areas in northern Alberta and Ontario.

He’s worked as director of transportation policy and planning for Metrolinx, and was one of the architects of The Big Move, through which city council hopes to get fully funded Light Rail Transit.

The 40-year old father of two starts at city hall in late May, replacing Tim McCabe, who retired. Here’s what Thorne had to say about his future job:

Why were you interested in coming to Hamilton?

Because it’s Hamilton. When it’s your hometown, you want to come back. It’s a very rare opportunity and a rare privilege to lead a great planning department in a city that’s your hometown, and I just couldn’t pass it up.

Do you have a planning philosophy?

I’m a very strong believer in community involvement and community engagement, and bottom-up planning, and certainly that’s been a big part of the work that I’ve done. Regardless of the issue, that’s the philosophy that underpins how I approach planning.

You worked for Metrolinx. Do you have any thoughts on LRT in Hamilton?

I’ve followed the debate a little bit. I don’t know all of the issues or positions on it. I think great transit is critical to a growing city, but in terms of the details of that, one of my big priorities when I start is going to be to meet with council and understand what council’s vision is and where council is coming from, and to help them realize that.

How do you feel about the recent developments in terms of the city being able to develop Piers 7 and 8 at the waterfront?

The waterfront already is sort of a jewel in the city. I know when I was working on waterfront issues with the Bay Area Restoration Council 15 years ago, a lot of the projects there were just dreams and glints in people’s eyes. To see those projects coming to fruition is exciting. When it comes to something like waterfront development, it’s a generational project. It’s something that happens over many, many years. That’s one of the things I’m excited about with this job, being able to help move those things forward.