Hamilton·Point of View

My name is Kevin and I am a gentrifier

'We've been a part of a lot of good things in this city. The uncomfortable reality is that we've changed it in other ways as well.'

When Kevin Makins and his wife Meg moved downtown, they became part of a wave of change

Kevin Makins, pictured here with wife Meg, reflects on changes in his neighbourhood - intended and unintended - they have been a part of. (Kevin Makins)

My name is Kevin, and I'm a gentrifier.

Nine years ago my wife Meg and I moved into the downtown of our city; an economically challenged place that was facing huge problems, including a life expectancy the same as many developing countries.

I was raised in the suburbs of Hamilton, up on the "Mountain." My dad worked downtown, but we didn't spent much time there.

I suppose there was good reason for that.

The downtown of our city is a complex place. When we were young, people talked about how it was "challenged," "poor," and "dangerous." I had no idea if these descriptors were true or not.

What I do know is that, when I was 16, I spent a summer working at a day-camp in Beasley Park, and I found more words applied: Resilient, creative, authentic, alive.

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When we moved downtown, we threw ourselves into the life of the city: getting to know our neighbours, starting a kids clothing store, campaigning for local bike lanes, and working with our friends to renovate their old homes.

Neighbourhoods change, and cities change; but they are changed by us.- Kevin Makins

We eventually formed the core of a new Christian church, which I pastor to this day.

We've been a part of a lot of good things in this city.

The uncomfortable reality is that we've changed it in other ways as well.

When Meg started a business on Ottawa Street back in 2009, she had no idea it would result in a movement of other businesses, which led to more foot traffic, which played a role in increasing the cost of housing.

Bike lanes and house prices

The real estate market has responded to our beloved bike lanes by jacking up prices, resulting in landlords selling their rental properties, and kicking established families out of their homes.

Kevin Makins and his wife Meg moved to the city centre 9 years ago. (Kevin Makins)

Our values of local food and fair-trade coffee has led to a boom of local coffee shops, but many of these places are too expensive, or intimidating, for those who have lived in the city for a long time.

Gentrification is complicated.

Was the city better when the storefronts were boarded up, and houses were falling apart from neglect, and the streets were impossible to navigate on bike?

But is it "better" because we have fifty new local coffee shops?

Is it "better" because we have nice lawns?

Is it "better" because there are more people walking the streets?

Yes ... and no ... and maybe.

When my wife and I feel really conflicted we double down on one truly Hamiltonian commitment which has always steered us in the right direction: We sit on our front porch and say "hi" to our neighbours.

Kevin Makins (Rick Hughes/CBC)

We wave to the hip couple that moved into the apartment next door, and to the young family that recently renovated the place a few houses over, and the retired couple that live in the luxury condo across the street.

The old days, and even older days

There are a few kids whose parents rent around the corner, and they often come up onto the porch to play with our one-year-old daughter and try to make her laugh.

Maria, an eighty-something-year-old saint has lived in the neighbourhood for over sixty years.

On Mondays she walks by to collect bottles, the proceeds of which she donates to the local Catholic church.

She often tells us about the old days, when the neighbourhood was scary and dangerous and the luxury condos were owned by Mission Services; and the even older days, when the luxury condos were a school packed with the children of Portuguese immigrants.

She has often reminded me that neighbourhoods change.

What role to play 

She may be right, neighbourhoods change, and cities change; but they are changed by us.

Spending time with my neighbours reminds me I have a role to play in shaping Hamilton into a place that is home, not just for people that look like me and my wife, but for everyone.

We have changed this city by our presence, and there is no use in denying that. It's a reality we have to accept.

I suppose the question is: What sort of city will we help shape? Who will we spend time with? Who will we listen to? Who is my neighbour?

I'm not sure. It's complicated. But I know it begins with confession:

My name is Kevin, and I am a gentrifier.

And I know what the next step is:

I'm going to continue to sit on my front porch, and I'm going to try to know my neighbours.

Kevin Makins is the founding pastor of Eucharist Church. He lives, works, plays and prays in downtown Hamilton.

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