Hamilton·Point of View

Waterfront sellout: Lots of condos but where's the vision?

Has a "Culture of Average" set in at city hall and caused councillors to settle for a waterfront plan that doesn't give offer much for the public? Retired management consultant, Hamilton's Graham Crawford thinks so. Here's why.

Piers 7 & 8 are a big opportunity so why are the city's plans so average?

(City of Hamilton)
Graham Crawford is a retired management consultant who worked internationally with Fortune 500 corporations for 25 years. After selling his business, he moved back to Hamilton and is now an engaged resident who lives in downtown.
Graham Crawford is a retired management consultant. (Laura Babcock)
  Does the City of Hamilton have a vision for all of the lands we're developing/redeveloping in the North End/West Harbour? 

  You'd like to think so since, together, they represent many hectares of important, publicly-owned land.

Included are the Barton-Tiffany lands assembled for the Pan Am stadium, Piers 7 & 8 to the east of Sarcoa on the waterfront, the 17-storey, and now half empty, Ken Soble Tower across from Bayfront Park, the townhouse complex on the west side of James Street North, north of LiUNA Station, and even more lands to the east.

If there is an integrated and detailed master vision for the North End/West Harbour, the City hasn't shared it. Instead, they've adopted a piecemeal approach to planning and to resident engagement. The risk (or benefit, depending on whose agenda you support) is that we'll end up making isolated decisions on each parcel of land, rather than imagining them as a part of a grander vision. Planning isn't the vision. Planning is a necessary component of implementing a vision.

But can you see the water?

The only public 'waterfront' space left would be a walkway on the perimeter of the site along the water's edge.- Graham Crawford

Case in point, the proposed design for Piers 7 & 8 which was presented at the last public meeting at the storefront location on James Street North created with money from Evergreen/CityWorks (creators of the Brickworks in Toronto), the Hamilton Community Foundation and the City of Hamilton.

The plan calls for 100% of the land we own on the waterfront being sold to developers to build 6-8 storey residential buildings on 9 blocks in a traditional grid pattern. At its centre, would be a multi storey parking garage. The only public 'waterfront' space left would be a walkway on the perimeter of the site along the water's edge. 

  There's been plenty of breathless descriptions from staff of shops and cafés. You have to wonder why you'd want to go sit in a café at the waterfront where you couldn't see the water. 

Why on earth would we sell 100% of the land we own and receive a pathway with some trees in return? Where is the public space? Where is the sightline(s) to the water's edge? Where is the important public statement about what we stand for as a City, today and into the future? You know, the kind of public statement our very own Thomas McQuesten might have proposed? He of the High Level Bridge, Gage Park and its fountain, the RBG, etc. Something your grandchildren's children would thank you for having helped create. 

An opportunity to add an important legacy: Crawford

Where is the important public statement about what we stand for as a City, today and into the future.- Graham Crawford

We have an opportunity to add to an important legacy here. Instead, we're proposing a 9-block grid that could be built anywhere in Hamilton. But this isn't anywhere in Hamilton.

It's our one, and only, waterfront.

  My concern is the Culture of Average so evident at City Hall is resulting in a very average solution for our waterfront. Or, is this really just about receiving a one-time cash infusion from the sale of the lands to developers and new taxes from the resulting development? We're being told the proceeds could help build more affordable housing - a noble outcome. I'm not opposed to adding residential units on Piers 7 & 8, but I am opposed to filling the entire space with 8 storey buildings with no meaningful public space. Public space that could be funded by the sale of and development of other lands we own in the area.

  Rather than treating the Pier 7 & 8 parcel of land in isolation, we need to take a more integrated look at all of our North End/West Harbour assets and our aspirations, including more affordable housing. The piecemeal approach being promoted by the City is simply not good enough for Hamilton. 

  We've already done great work with Bayfront Park and Pier 4. We thought big and delivered big. For all Hamiltonians. 

  Now is not the time to settle for average.