tv Witness LINKTV May 18, 2022 3:00am-3:31am PDT
every city has been through a phase or phases of transformation. for millennia, if we discount war or natural disaster, change was often gradual. things are different now. we've seen, over the past few decades, that urban change can be fast and even brutal. the city of hamilton, ontario is a city with proud, working-class roots. for generations, it's been known as "steel town." but this city has suffered from economic decline and deindustrialization, like so many cities in the region and across north america. hamilton is desperately trying to figure out how to adapt, and how, perhaps, to reinvent itself.
this is also a medium-sized city, one living in the shadow of a loud, noisy neighbor. that's toronto in the distance, across the lake. is there a greater sense of community, cohesion and urbanism in a city this size? we all know where steel town came from, but man, i want to figure out where steel town is headed. until now, the life-sized city has focussed on major urban centres: paris, tokyo, mexico city, bangkok.
but that raised a question: what about all the mid-sized cities around the world? what about their reality? well, like in many places, hamilton's steel and manufacturing industry boomed between the industrial revolution and the late 20th century. and i mean really boomed. from appliances to cars to houses, hamilton had built it all. it was known as "the ambitious city." today, naturally, the place is undergoing the long and challenging process of redefining itself. let's just say it's an interesting moment. how do you avoid losing the local population seeking "bigger" opportunities? beyond economic reasons, how do you attract people and make them want to live here? if there's one thing hamiltonians all agree on, it's the refusal to become part of ontario's "rust belt." i'm here to find out how this city will emerge, despite
and perhaps in spite of the many challenges it faces. we were hit with a triple-whammy of urban renewal, suburbanization that happened over decades everywhere, not just here, and the third thing was the loss of industry. and it was a very prosperous city, and was sort of pulled out from under us when the industry started to decline. those three things happened generally around the same time, and it was just like three body blows that we're still recovering from. award winning architect david premi was born and raised in hamilton. after years working in toronto, he felt the need to help his hometown in its revival effort. he's now launched a local architecture firm focusing on human-scale design and community building. for david and his team, revitalizing the local library and the farmers' market represents a larger vision for hamilton. they've restored the old,
concrete structure that was originally built in the 1970s to create a multifunctional space that hosts concerts, workshops, conferences and exhibitions. instead of tearing down the old, they reinvented it for the better. the farmers' market and the library are probably the two most important public institutions that we have in this city, and we had an opportunity here to connect those institutions. so the library has sort of reinvented itself for the modern age? absolutely. that's great to hear. absolutely, the traditional library was sort of a repository of information. this is a place of creation, where people who would otherwise not have the means to access these kinds of resources can all come here and learn about this stuff. libraries, if you think about it, truly embody the concept of public space; they're a form of social infrastructure open to all, at no cost. by bringing people together under one roof to share and learn, citizens from different backgrounds
can begin to feel that they're part of a wider community. that was what was to be the parking garage. they opened the floor up when they decided to put the farmers' market, so you get the maximum view between the library and the market. we're trying to make visual and interactive connections. yeah, i mean, this is totally open, right? you can see the life in the market. this is one physical space - how do you translate that to the rest of the city? well, i think there's a lot of lessons that can be learned from this process. we get less-than-perfect infrastructure, that was built at a time when they thought this was a good idea, and now we have to look really hard and find the positives, and find the opportunities, and celebrate those, while we reinvent the fabric around it. and i think you can translate that process to a much larger scale, like the downtown core of the city. and there is much work to be done in the downtown core:
giant, indoor malls that feel deserted, concrete "public space" that is invisible from street level - not exactly what an urban landscape should look like. this street is king street. you see that it's about five lanes of traffic, all in one direction. this was probably a fourth body-blow we took. i think it was 1952 - they just, overnight, changed all the streets to one-way, because they thought that was a great way to renew a city: facilitate the automobile traffic and the rest will follow. there's been a lot initiative and lobbying over the past few years to change main street in hamilton back to two-way. it would really help to slow down traffic and create an environment where people might feel comfortable again. when you live in a european city, this is what we call a highway, right? it's really bizarre how wide it is, and the traffic is just flying along, man. and that's not all. no detail was overlooked in order to optimize the flow of cars on main street.
the traffic lights are timed for the major street crossings in the center of town, making it possible to go from one end of the city to the other in mere minutes without even having to stop. and sure, that's great road engineering for vehicles. but here's the thing about cities: they're also home to the people living in them. and while cars can go 55km/hour without stopping, pedestrians are simply unable to navigate the streets safely. over the last few years, there's been an annual average of 415 car collisions involving a pedestrian or a cyclist. any questions? i didn't think so. people wonder why there's no retail activity on this street, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. no, you can't shop at 50 kilometres per hour on your way to the suburbs, do you? the italian traffic planners call them parasites. right? they just use the host organism's
streets and don't contribute anything to the host. in 1999, we became one mega-city. in hamilton, the urban dwellers are in a minority. there's only five wards down here, and there's ten wards out there. oh yeah, that's tricky. it makes decisions like this, which seem to me to be a no-brainer, very difficult. that was the fifth body-blow, the amalgamation. geez, you've been getting beaten up here. yeah, we've been taking it left and right. fortunately, these "body blows" didn't knock hamilton to the ground. the people here are fighters. despite adversity, they've managed to hold on to their identity and their pride. we're also a very innovative city; that's probably part of the reason we became an industrial town, and steel became the biggest of those industries. can you still hold on to that "steel city" brand? we're called "the hammer" now. our nickname is the hammer. oh, you get a new brand then! the hammer! we're the hammer because we make things,
and we're resilient and we're not going to give up. but we've still got that sort of grass-roots, industrious nature to us. we want to find a way to move forward; we're not afraid of progress; we're not afraid of innovation, because that's our legacy here, that's our history. but we want to find a way of doing it and maintaining that authenticity and that sense of pride and community. and as hamilton is facing a new era of transformation, rethinking its urban landscape will be essential. as we've seen in many cities around the world, cut back on cars, create public space, and suddenly people gather, the sense of community is strengthened. the good news: an increasing number of people in hamilton are demanding such a place. and what could be a good starting point to achieve a more life-sized city: yup, more bikes. after this light, the bike lane will gradually end,
and then we're going to have to merge to your left, into the traffic lane, so that we can continue going on our path. obviously this is hugely problematic. they're mocking us with that sign, right? this is elise, a member of cycle hamilton, a non-profit organization that works hard to ensure that citizens of all ages and abilities can safely get around by bike. eventually... one of the unique challenges in hamilton is the fact that you have sprawl, and you have a lot more political wards, as you call it, out in the suburbs compared to downtown. do you find that there's a lot of pushback from people who don't even really live in or use the downtown here? oh absolutely. there are some who feel like bike lanes inhibit them from getting to their destinations, because they see downtown as just this space that you can travel through, but the downtown streets belong to the entire city, and they don't recognize
that people who live and work downtown want to get around by bike, or they want to walk, and they don't want so much traffic and so many cars. what is the network here, or is there even a network, when you measure how many kilometres of bicycle infrastructure you have? we have lots of different types of infrastructure, but the main challenge currently is that the cycling network isn't complete. you're navigating different types of infrastructure along your route. this is herkimer, and herkimer has a really unique design in that the bike lane is actually right by the sidewalk and the bike lane is protected by parked cars. i really enjoy biking on this street, because i like that extra separation and protection from moving vehicles. i can tell you this is the best practice, or as close as we can get, i think, in hamilton. bike lanes that are uni-directional, separated and protected are superior to those that, well, aren't. it's that simple. we've just arrived at an intersection, where the party ends, basically. we're going to have to go diagonally across
queen street here, and it's always a bit of a challenge. this has actually been the location of several accidents. when you put up all those warning signs, it's because your design sucks, you know? and signs aren't going to fix your design. that was only in response because there were so many accidents, and so it wasn't a natural way of designing or planning. it came because people said "enough is enough." you really have to move up well into the traffic lane, to see if you can make a break for it. even the motorists, too - they have to be able to encroach on the pedestrian crossing just to have visibility. yeah, so sight lines don't really work for anyone, and that's an ongoing challenge when you're riding a bike in this area: you really have to be aware of cars on all sides. it has to be more - it has to be convenient and it has to be intuitive, and connected, connected is key. we make our way to cannon street , the main east-west cycling corridor, and the first protected bike lane in the city. it's under construction for the time being, as you can see,
and surprise, surprise: there are no alternative routes for cyclists. hi chelsea! how are you? good, how are you? how are you doing? chelsea is the co-chair of cycle hamilton. i'm doing a truck count, trying to capture how many trucks are coming up, especially around this corner onto cannon. on average, there's usually, every 90 seconds, a truck at this intersection, turning. most of the trucks that are coming along this way are coming from the port, getting a delivery, and rather than directing their routes to one of the highways around the city, they're taking a shortcut through the city. there have been 11 car-bike collisions here over the course of just a few years. and that's 11 too many in my book, or anyone else's. it was time to prove a point. we've conducted a simple experiment called "ur-banana-ism": we placed bananas and ketchup
on the outer edge of the bike lane to see where trucks encroach. and the result was scary - massive trucks swerving into the bike lane. but here's an encouraging side note: as we were filming, i joined the community of cyclists already exchanging on twitter about dangerous intersections in hamilton. i posted a few photos. sure enough, a few weeks later, the city voted to add concrete curbs to protect the bike lanes. sometimes, ketchup, bananas, and a tweet are all it takes. this is just one intersection of many that needs immediate attention in this city. don't get me wrong: staging interventions to protect cyclists is a great first step. but as a mid-sized city, hamilton should have zero excuses for not being 100% bikeable. let's not forget that building better bike infrastructure is not just for cyclists.
reducing car and truck traffic creates more livable communities for everyone. the niagara escarpment runs east-west all the way from ontario to illinois. it's a beautiful and unique green space right in the middle of hamilton. but as i understand it, it divides the city in more ways than just geographically. some call it the "mountain-downtown divide" separating the suburbs and the city down below. and even within the core of the city, below the escarpment, there are neighbourhoods that have been brutally cut off from each other by the wide roads built to get people up and down the mountain. until the transport planning in this city is modernized, and they're able to tackle that elephant in the room, there is a simple, human approach for bringing neighbourhoods together.
there's a crooked one there. sorry! hi, christina! hi, mikael. nice to see you. and you! this looks incredibly impressive already. that's several hundred metres of - bags and sand and cups and candles. we call it "fireflies in the forest" and it was really about just bringing a bit of light to the darker spaces in the city, bringing vibrancy to it. when husband and wife ben and christina babcock were challenged by 100in1day hamilton to do something for their city in 2015, they met with their neighbours to think up an idea that would unite citizens. founded in bogotá in 2012, 100in1day encourages citizens to collectively make 100 or more actions - called urban interventions - in 24 hours. these interventions can be on any scale but have
to be implemented on the same day to maximize impact. 100in1day is now a global movement that is transforming cities around the world. as part of this initiative, the babcocks and their friends came up with "fireflies in the forest" - a now-annual event lighting up the escarpment trail at dusk with paper lanterns. the event has grown to become part of a city-wide project called surprise hamilton. one of the things that you're trying to do here is to bring neighbourhoods together, because of the infrastructure that has cut them off. and like the escarpment - what is separating the two neighbourhoods is the claremont access, which is an overpass that goes up along victoria street and it takes you up the hill. and that has literally cut the neighbourhood in half. the rail trail really joins the two, so we want to sort of focus on the east-west axis of the city, as opposed to the north-south. right. it also seems like a transport corridor, this probably gets you from a to b somewhere, right?
yes, it does, it does, because if you continue on the other end, you end up on the mountain, so it's one of the few easy accesses for bicycles. so, you ready to help us? let's do it! to put the bags down? yep! so what do we do? we take a bag, and you want to fill the tub - put the candle in a cup, and then you sink it in the sand. then you put it in there - right on. one thing i noticed: you're really particular about making it look nice. yes! know what i mean? you don't just sort of slap it down. and actually, we're going to have to turn it around... oh my god! i know! what did i do? the seam has to be facing east. okay, so mikael, this is my husband, ben. oh, you're the other team. hello, michael. cool, so you guys have been coming this way, we've been coming this way. and we meet. we meet in the middle. we meet under the overpass! for both ben and surprise hamilton, connecting different neighbourhoods is pivotal, as is proving that public space matters in a city that hasn't understood that yet.
but hey, that's beginning to change. the municipal government has recently invested time and money into bringing life back to the city. of course, building new parks and green spaces never happens overnight. but while we wait, man, why not reclaim and reuse what's already there? this is the claremont access, which is a pretty big structure, as you can see. there's more than a few metres of concrete in here. and we just want to populate the area with light and life, and have people thinking positively about the space, and using it. as i understood, you guys are going to do a concert. but i'm thinking like, right in-between, you know, they should just build a super simple wooden stage, right there. oh, that would be something else. a little proscenium. because this big thing frames the stage, so it's a low-budget public space, where admission is free. it's pretty accessible!
while we're waiting to have this monster infrastructure, this fossil fuel infrastructure, removed from our cities, we create life beneath it. and what's amazing about this story here, in hamilton, is it's just two regular citizens who crave better public space. these initiatives are crucial in building and maintaining a strong sense of community. bringing people together to share and enjoy their city can spark new kinds of conversations that will undoubtedly break through unnecessary divides.
hi! hi, mikael! how are you? good! so here we are! this is called the music hall, and it's one of hamilton's mid-sized venues that hosts about 700 to 1,000. it's not a church anymore? it's not a church anymore, not at all. there's no church service in here; it's concerts, events, all sorts of things. professionally trained musician and former record executive astrid hepner has worked with music legends like norah jones, keith jarrett and al green. and as an adoptive hamiltonian, she founded the hamilton music collective in 2008 with a group of supporters who all share in the belief that music has the power to change lives, and empower youth. on the last saturday of every month, musicians and singers, aged 16 and under, take to the stage to showcase their talent. jammers are welcome to perform a song. hi, my name is olivia webster. this first song is called "lonely on the walkway."
♪♪♪ we're not trying to turn this into a talent show, where everything is "zoom, zoom, next one." it's really casual: come up, play, have fun, and try things out. get the kid out of the basement and put him on a stage, and give them the opportunity to shine. that's what it's about. before the open jam, astrid started with a very cool program called an instrument for every child, a grass-roots funded program in which professional musicians give lessons to kids, at their school, during school hours, for free. yup. we're talking private lessons on an instrument of their choice.
talk about an opportunity! so far, the program covers 13 schools and two community centres in the city, and has benefited over 5,000 children since it began in 2010. we want music to be accessible to all children. a lot of the kids we work with come from very challenging backgrounds, and it just makes them feel appreciated and makes them feel respected, because they know that this is something really special. i want to believe that we are changing some lives through music. i really do. hamilton suffers from being a so-called "donut" city: a struggling and empty downtown core surrounded by wealthy suburbs. it also struggles with poverty. the average poverty rate here is 16.7%, which is well above both the national and provincial averages. in this neighbourhood i'm in now, mcquesten, the child poverty rate alone is 35%.
this city has a lot of work to do, and i'm going to meet some good citizens who are trying to do their city a solid by using urban farming to tackle poverty. adam! hey, mikael! thanks for joining us. welcome to mcquesten urban farm. thank you very much! wow, man! it's massive. not bad, eh? everyone thinks this is a garden - no, actually, it's a farm. haha, okay. cool! this was previously just a vacant piece of land, and this was supposed to be a roadway it was never built, so it just sat as grass for 60 years. and so the neighbours said, "why can't we use this? why can't we grow food here?" adam watson is a seasoned project manager for neighbourhood development - a city-wide initiative hoping to improve food security and livelihood in more vulnerable communities. the latest project is located in the mcquesten neighbourhood, where residents have put together a three-acre urban farm.
adam has extensive experience in planning and implementing waste diversion, food security and environmental programs for the city. the closest grocery store to the neighbourhood is about two kilometres away, at least a half-hour walk. a lot of people don't have vehicles in the neighbourhood; a lot of people have mobility issues. it is definitely a food desert, so really the only source of food in the comnity is that 7-eleven up there. local lore: i believe that's the most profitable 7-eleven in canada, we were told at some point in time. you're dealing with chicken fingers, and that type of stuff, so there's really just no way to get fresh food. how does this urban farm help the child poverty problem? the child poverty rate? we're playing the long-game here. these are issues - when you talk about poverty, when you talk about social determinants of health, life expectancies - these are not things that you change overnight. you don't build a farm and all of a sudden everyone lives five years longer. right? these are problems that developed over the course of several decades; they're going to take a while to fix.
i mean, now kids are going to get a better education. they're hopefully going to have more regular access to fresh food. they're going to have the better things in their life, and so, over time, you're going to see some changes. mcquesten farm employs a handful of people from the neighbourhood, but it also relies heavily on volunteers coming from all over the city. citizen participation is key, so is corporate involvement. big companies working in and around hamilton organize volunteer days periodically. the farm produces almost 50,000 pounds of produce per year, which are harvested, distributed and sold on site at affordable prices. and if all this isn't enough, the farm also runs food-based workshops for people of the community who want to learn how to cook and preserve food. one of the positive changes was the level of mischief and how it's gone down. a lot of those kids that were the ones here
on top of the building, graffitiing stuff - they've adopted the place as their own. we get so little graffiti here now, because the kids who would've been the ones doing it now feel like it's their place. welcome. hi, i'm mikael. here's kelly and laurie. i'm kelly, nice to meet you. hi - mikael - hi. hi, how are you? good, thanks. okay, so we're going to make bruschetta. it's very simple. everything we're using today is from our garden, and it is nice that everyone is willing to try the food, even if they're maybe hesitant, because it looks green, but we're changing people's mind about vegetables. we'll show them thathey can be turned into soups, they can be turned into appetizers. we're always having different workshops on what's growing. if we can teach people what to do with the whole foods that we're growing, and let them discover ways to enjoy it, then it's sort of a win-win for the neighbourhood. in the summer, there's also an urban farming camp for kids, and a weekly "weed & feed" program, where people can help out with tasks, and simply stick around for a collective dinner.
mcquesten farm is so much more than an urban farm and market; it truly is a community hub. bruschetta for the people! we're going back out. everyone's ready to eat. and is it free? yes. i mean, really, to feed 40 or 50 people, when you've got a farm like this - it's actually not that costly. please come eat! it's like pizza. it's basically pizza. got any room for a tray of bruschetta? there's always room. come and get it! let's start a lineup over there! please and thank you! kids first, always. long before adam and the municipality got involved, the idea of this urban farm made sense to a few
of the neighbourhood's residents. patricia reid is one of them. she's basically the kind of neighbour we all wish we had. i've been told by everybody that i have to talk to you. yep. this is your show? it's my project, yeah. it took ten years to get it the way we have it. zoning bylaw changes, and all sorts of things. you know, these urban farms around the world - it's often maybe somebody from... some idealistic student or some university people who know about urban agriculture, food deserts, food insecurity and all that, and they come to a neighbourhood and say, "hey, do you want this?" and generally it's an easy sell. people are intuitive to this, right? but here it was the other way around. it's you guys who went, "hey, we want this. make it happen." it was a slow struggle to get people to buy on, because a lot of the neighbours - even though they have food insecurity - they wanted food today. they couldn't see ten years down the road. and we have this happening once a week, people coming and learning how to prepare local food, and eating. it's great.
a place like this really takes the phrase "locally sourced" to a whole new level. an entire community has gathered around this, and it has changed the community in so many positive ways. like adam said, the sky's the limit. but really, the soil here, this earth, and this community are limitless. the issue of poverty in hamilton is sometimes overshadowed by a narrative of urban revival and wishful economic growth. and hey, the housing market is in fact growing. but therein lies part of the problem: hamilton has become part of what is known as the greater toronto and hamilton area - the gtha. and that's because toronto has become unaffordable. there's a trickle-down effect: people leaving the "big" city for mid-sized hamilton. as a result, housing costs in hamilton, although lower than toronto, have risen.