Chedoke Browlands: The Bigger Picture
By Barry Cobert
When considering proposals for development of the Chedoke Browlands, or any property within greater Hamilton, our civic leaders should be thinking and acting strategically in the context of a sustainable vision for the city.
Because of the projected rise in Ontario population, intensification in new developments (putting more people per square kilometer) must happen, since the only alternative is to sprawl out and pave the greenbelt farmland.
However, as a sustainable city, we should strategically choose where that intensification happens. It makes much more sense to rehabilitate old vacant sites on existing heavy transit lines, than it does to leave those sites alone and to give over our greenspace to new development.
Would we rather have a city that has a large number of abandoned, decaying buildings and little green space, or one that has new development on old sites, and vibrant parks and cultural centres located on and integrated into our most beautiful natural geography?
A Strategy for Hamilton: Most of the heavy industry on which Hamilton was built has moved out. That is not good news economically for the city, but it is good news environmentally and socially.
Hamilton is a city in the process of shaking off its industrial past, and is looking to re-invent its economic base and lose its dirty industrial reputation. What differentiates Hamilton strategically from other cities in the same position (i.e. many in the dying rust belt of the US) is its gift of geographic advantages: it is centrally located in the economic hub of Canada, and it has some of the most beautiful natural attributes in the region the escarpment, the Dundas valley, and Lake Ontario form a setting for the city that is like nowhere else in the Southern Ontario.
Looking at Hamilton in terms of its natural geographic advantages, this is a city that, with good leadership and management, should thrive and prosper.
Triple Bottom Line: Tradeoffs or Integration? Strategic re-invention of the city depends on integration of the three components of the triple bottom line: environmental care, a positive social fabric, and economic prosperity. This combination does not work if we see these three elements as things to be traded off. It only succeeds if we see these things as dependent on each other, and as feeding each other. For example: If we pave our parks to build condos so that we have money to fund hospitals, we deprive ourselves of green common areas and make the city less livable (socially), we take out the green canopy of trees that cleans our air and the diverse wildlife that supports our ecosystem (environmentally), and we make the city less attractive to new residents, and hurt the local economy (economically). Seeing these three elements as integrated requires a big-picture, long-term view. If we strategically create desirable urban greenspace on our unique geography (e.g. escarpment parks), we make the city more livable and attractive, thereby raising economic activity and preserving the ecosystem simultaneously. Triple-bottom line arguments are made with both tradeoff thinking and integration thinking. Tradeoffs form a negative vicious cycle, integration forms a positive virtuous cycle.
A Role for the Browlands in a Re-vitalized Hamilton: In every proposed urban development project there are battles at the ground level among competing interests and constituent groups. In this case:
- Hamilton Health Sciences needs money, so it is looking to sell off land that is not required for its future plans
- The Mississauga-based developer sees an opportunity to make a bundle of money and would like to maximize his return by putting as many buildings and residents on the site as possible, including high-rises
- Local residents see long-valued Bruce Trail greenspace and trees at the edge of the escarpment disappearing, and the prospect of greater congestion and environmental degradation, and are understandably upset
- City planners have to evaluate every proposal in accordance with municipal and provincial planning principles
- City leaders must manage a multitude of demands and issues facing a large complex city like Hamilton, and will be concerned about serving all of their constituents well the measure for which is whether or not they are re-elected, should they choose to run again
The really important job of city leaders is to create a long term vision for Hamilton, in the context of a growing Ontario, which is consistent with the principles of a sustainable city in a sustainable province. What city leaders need to do in the Browlands case is to rise above the particular issues and competing interests, and reflect on what role the Browlands plays in the larger city, and more importantly what role the Browlands could play in a re-vitalized Hamilton.
Envision a Hamilton in 20 years that has a new economic base, perhaps health care leadership (centered at the new initiative downtown), and advanced capability in technological research (centered at the McMaster Innovation Park). The success of both of these depends on our ability to attract the human capital to a livable city – people with the education, knowledge and skills to help these initiatives succeed, people who would have a choice over what kind of city they chose to live in. A livable city is environmentally sustainable and attractive, and has a rich cultural life to nourish people socially. Planning decisions taken by the city to build a sustainable Hamilton should answer these four longer-term questions:
- How does this fit with our economic vision, strategy and plan for the city?
- How does this preserve and develop our environmental vision for the city?
- How does it add to the cultural and social fabric of the city?
- Are we considering these factors as tradeoffs, or as integrated and mutually supporting?
Re-invention of Hamilton over the next 20 years needs strong visionary leadership, and integrated sustainable management practices. Are our civic leaders up to that challenge?