5 things downtown Hamilton could do without

From absentee landlords to intense negativity - here are five things that downtown Hamilton could do without.
Downtown Hamilton is on the cusp of a comeback, advocates say. (Terry Asma/CBC)

The face of downtown Hamilton has changed plenty in the last decade. One way streets became two way, James Street became a bustling cultural hub and more people than ever are coming downtown for events like Supercrawl and Locke Street Festival.

Now, with expansions like the Royal Connaught development and the opening of a full-service grocery store, more and more people are turning their attention to the core.

Last week, CBC Hamilton asked the question "What else does downtown Hamilton need?" and got answers ranging from more places to live to an overall facelift.

Now, it's time for the flipside — what does downtown Hamilton need less of?

We asked business owners and downtown community members to chime in and narrowed it down to five things we could do without to keep the heart of the city on the right track.

Less negativity

Sgt. Jay Turner walks the downtown beat almost every day as a member of the ACTION Team — a group of officers tasked with keeping the streets safe.

"Downtown Hamilton now isn't the downtown of years ago," Turner told CBC Hamilton. "Three years ago we couldn't turn a corner without arresting someone. Now we can go days."

But you wouldn't know that things have changed downtown by listening to many people talk about it. Turner says the biggest thing keeping downtown down is negativity — bred by the city itself, about itself.

He says there's a perception held by some that if they head downtown, they're going to be "stabbed by a crack head."

"That's not going to happen," he said. "It drives me crazy to hear those things. There's so much beauty down here. A city can change, and people can change."

That change is palpable at an Art Crawl when thousands of people line James Street, but a lot of those people are coming from out of town, Turner says. So downtown Hamilton has to be promoted to the rest of the city.

"It's just a matter of getting the locals out. We have everything down there," Turner said. "Take those former negatives out and come look again."

Fewer buildings knocked down without firm development plans

Business owner Sean Burak says private individuals taking on small projects have built positive momentum downtown with owner-occupied commercial spaces and small storefronts.

"They've drawn new businesspeople and residents to the core," sad Burak, who owns the Downtown Bike Hounds cycle shop.

What he does take issue with is larger developments that linger without calculated planning and forward-moving progress. "When buildings are torn down, the lost opportunity is permanent and irreversible," he said.

In particular, Burak has been fighting to save 24 and 28 King St. E, which were built in 1876 and 1877, respectively. They'll be demolished this week as part of a compromise between the city and developer Wilson-Blanchard who now owns them. The properties at 18, 20 and 22 King St. E are to be restored as part of the agreement.

But Burak says the decision is shortsighted. "There is no time left to waffle. We can't afford a vacant lot at our most important corner — on our civic square. This affects every Hamiltonian."

Fewer absentee landlords

Landlords who let their properties in downtown Hamilton linger without taking care of them are a blight on the city's overall image, says Sylvia Nickerson, the past president of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association.

"There are a lot of people who own property downtown that aren't part of the civic spirit," Nickerson said, adding that often, these people rent their properties out and live elsewhere, letting garbage and problems pile up. Homes fall into disrepair, damaging the image of the downtown as a whole.

"When someone from Vancouver or Toronto owns a building in Hamilton and just doesn't care … that's holding the city back," she said. "It's demoralizing."

She points to businesses like the reborn Treble Hall on John Street between King and King William and Mixed Media on James Street North as businesses that should be held as an example of people who care about the core.

"Those people are definitely putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making Hamilton better."

Less lane capacity

Hamilton needs less lane capacity and more two-way streets to foster safety and community on downtown streets, says Ryan McGreal, editor of local blog Raise the Hammer.

"We have a street system designed for an economy that doesn't exist anymore," McGreal told CBC Hamilton. "We need to catch up."

And now that hordes of cars aren't traveling to and from the north end everyday for work, the city has far more lane capacity downtown than it needs for what's actually on the road, McGreal says. More than anything, it's speed he takes issue with.

"You have children walking down Cannon Street with transport trucks barreling towards them as they're going to school. It's dangerous to drive through a neighbourhood at 60 kilometres an hour," McGreal said. "You wouldn't want people to blast down a street at that speed with your family around."

According to a survey of 400 Hamiltonians conducted by the CAA, there is a 50/50 divide in the city between people who support and do not support street conversions. "The majority of reasons for not supporting changes are emotional, not safety or financially founded," the 2013 report on the survey results read.

According to the report, the overwhelming reason people didn't want one-way streets converted to two-way is because they're simply used to one-way streets. The next most common answers were the conversion would cause too much confusion and one-way streets make for faster traffic flow.

"The argument of 'I should be able to get where I'm going two minutes faster' is simply shortsighted," McGreal said.

Less income segregation in the housing market

Sara Mayo from the Social Planning and Research Council told CBC Hamilton that as more people move into downtown Hamilton and housing prices rise, affordable housing needs to be at the forefront of people's minds.

"We have to make sure to avoid income segregation whereby only the most affluent families can live in Hamilton's most central and walkable neighbourhoods," Mayo said. "The city needs a strategy to protect affordable housing, like an inclusionary housing policy, that would ensure not all new housing is priced at luxury levels, and instead require that 20 per cent of new housing units be affordable."

The city has bucked the national housing trend by seeing 7.4-per cent growth in 2012, the highest of the urban centres studied, according to the Teranet-National Bank House Price Index. These rising prices are great for current owners, but less so for renters and new families, Mayo says.

Affordable housing in Hamilton has been a big attraction in recent years — according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the difference between a single detached home in Toronto versus Hamilton is over $150,000.

"And if we lose that, we're in a terrible situation," Mayo said.

What other amenities or services do you think Hamilton's downtown needs less of? Take the poll below post on Twitter or Facebook.