Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hamilton - A Space for Imagination

A friend recently recorded a cover of Willy Wonka's "Pure Imagination" song, and for the first time in years, the lyrics meant something to me.  I was wandering out in the city with the tune playing on my ipod and couldn't help but see Hamilton as my own little paradise.

Look and Listen...

Willy Wonka: 
Hold your breath 
Make a wish 
Count to three 

Come with me 
And you'll be 
In a world of 
Pure imagination 
Take a look 
And you'll see 
Into your imagination 

We'll begin 
With a spin 
Traveling in 
The world of my creation 
What we'll see 
Will defy 

If you want to view paradise 
Simply look around and view it 
Anything you want to, do it 
Wanta change the world? 
There's nothing 
To it 

There is no 
Life I know 
To compare with 
Pure imagination 
Living there 
You'll be free 
If you truly wish to be...


Wednesday, April 13, 2011



Here are some note-worthy quotes from this film:

"Perhaps no municipality can lay claim to greater achievements than the health, education and opportunity that it can provide for its future citizens."

"But the people who know and love Hamilton best are those who live there and take an active interest in its civic, its cultural, and its religious life.  Those who call Hamilton home.  For Hamiltonians are proud of their homes and the total absence of slum districts.”

"Here in the fire, smoke and thunder of a thousand moving forces, men toil and sweat for a brighter Canada and a better world.  Yes, Hamilton is a city of industry, for beauty is as beauty does."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Should Art be the New Steel?

Zollverein Coking Plant, modern works swimming-pool in industrial surroundings, Essen.  Photo: Manfred Vollmer

Last month the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany Toronto presented “Cities that Work - The Ruhr Meets Hamilton,” an exhibit featuring the work of Manfred Vollmer and Studio 12, a photographic artists’ collective that started about 2 years ago including works by Shirley Dennis, Mary Gilmour, Todd Murray, John Overmeyer, Martin Renters and Ruth Renters.

The images in the city of Essen, taken by Vollmer, depict the architectural landscapes of former industrial sites that have been transformed into cultural landmarks and centers (examples shown above and below).  These were contrasted against 18 images of Hamilton, produced by Studio 12.

These images really brought to life the phrase I've been seeing reprinted on t-shirts around Hamilton lately, "Art is the New Steel."  What exactly does that mean?  I think it means different things to different people.  To some, it is an attempt to re-package the Hamilton we know as Steel Town.  It offers us a different perspective on the "industrial behemoth" stereotype that has been attached to the city.  It reminds us that there is more to Hamilton than what is recognized by the outside world.  A (thriving) city never inhabits just one type of person.  In this way, I appreciate this new idea as it helps us identify with parts of the city, and people that were once below the radar.  It has given people a fresh glimpse of Hamilton and the creativity and talent and ideas that dwell within.

Having said that...

While I appreciate this idea of "Art is the New Steel" I also reject it as an absolute.  I have two concerns with it, the first being that when a city puts all of its eggs in one basket it risks becoming too dependent on that particular area, as we have just learned with Hamilton's fading dependency on the Steel Industry.  I also caution against this new re-branding because it fails to recognize those who have been displaced by the change in our local economy.  What identity are we forcing people into?  Are steelworkers the new artists?  What about everybody else?  Is this re-branding perhaps too specific, and limiting?

I wonder if the day will ever come when I will swim in a pool surrounded by one of our local factories, as compared to the image above of the Coking Plant in Essen.  How would I feel sun-bathing against the backdrop of an empty industrial site?  On one hand I like how it shows a clever ability to adapt to whatever comes our way, but it should also serve as a reminder that there was/is life in such places.  That life does not distinguish or disappear when a company decides to shut things down.

I believe us Hamiltonians have a strong ability to reclaim whatever mess comes our way.  However, I sincerely hope that there will be a place for everybody in the future of Hamilton.   

Entrance to Ruhr Museum at former coal-mine Zeche Zollverein, reconstructed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, Essen / Photo: Manfred Vollmer

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Recognition for Protesters

Photo Courtesy of Paul Quest
 If you tried driving through the downtown core last Saturday then you'll know what I mean when I say Hamilton showed up.  Over 10,000 people gathered to demonstrate their intolerance toward the practices of US Steal (not Steel).  Among the protesters were the United Steelworkers Local 1005,  Energy and Paperworkers Union members, Canadian Union of Public Employees, McMaster University students and many others.

This was a historical gathering not only for Hamilton but for all those being squeezed by the hands of economic globalization, of which US Steal is inclusive to.  As Mr. Leo Gerard, USW international president said, “These fights are happening across the country now and everywhere on earth... This is a struggle for a sovereign Canada and a diverse economy."  I struggle to accept corporate globalization because it creates universalities.  It forces the local to comply with the global, causing cities and nations to give up their own identity and way of functioning.  Many people cuddle up to the idea of the world becoming one place.  Leave such thoughts for Facebook photo albums and alert yourself to the real damage and real distortion caused by such ideals.

On my way to the protest I was asked by someone if I thought we were really making a difference.  I didn't know how to answer that.  I think it won't make a difference in the minds of certain individuals.  It seems corporate conscience has been seared beyond repair.  Protesting reflects what is happening on the ground.   I do not agree with US Steal robbing 9,000 retirees of their pensions.  Whether or not this situation is made right, there must be resistance.  Being a mere spectator of such events is inadequate.

In recognizing the struggle of others, we recognize ourselves.  As Charles Taylor writes in The Politics of Recognition, "Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people.  It is a vital human need."  We are shaped by the recognition, or its absence, that we receive from others.  US Steal has been shameless in failing to recognize the local practices of Canadian workers.  Instead, workers are being conditioned to accept the poor standards of an ever-emerging global economy.

I think of US Steal like I think of Pacman.  It's comparative to a round, yellow blob that floats through a maze gobbling up the local blinky's.  What will Pacman do when he is all alone but remains hungry?  Will he eat himself?  That could be a challenge as he has no hands of his own, or feet, or body for that matter.

My point is, where do we draw the line with over-empowerment that depends on under-empowerment? Peggy McIntosh writes in her essay White Prvilege and Male Privilege that privilege may confer power, but it doesn't confer moral strength.  Those who are underprivileged have traits and qualities that never develop in those who's jobs require otherwise.  In this way, the US Steal company is robbing itself of richness it cannot afford. Poor US Steal - they are at best, thoughtless.

Here's to local life in the midst of global strife. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Place-Based Policy - Prescription for Healthy Neighbourhoods?

Dr. Jim Dunn spoke last night at the Hamilton Spec to further discussions stemming from the Code Red report of April 2010.  Since then, many groups and individuals have taken notice of poverty within the city, looking for ways to act upon and make Hamilton, “the best place to raise a child.”  We were reminded that poverty in Hamilton has a ripple effect on all of us, no matter where we live.  It inhibits economic growth (if nothing else is of concern), and its self-perpetuating effects are devastating. It is one thing to be poor, it is quite another thing to be poor in a poor neighbourhood with no resources or exposure to networks or careers etc.  This is why we, as Hamiltonians, must care.

It was unfamiliar to hear someone say that poverty in Hamilton is not only unnecessary, unfair and unjust, but also avoidable.  That was a new idea for me.  I’ve always relied on phrases that suggest, “the poor will always be with us.”  Such ideals have taught me to accept my partly impoverished city as such.  This must change. 

So how do we address concentrated neighbourhood poverty?  One suggestion made last night by Dr Dunn (of whose ideas I am paraphrasing entirely) was to introduce Place-Based Policy.  This means approaching the city from the bottom up, beginning with area-based initiatives.  It means delegating responsibility to the neighbourhood level, and focusing on community empowerment.  Thus, one could look within their neighbourhood to address the following:
Physical Capital - When you look around do you see any land, buildings, architecture, streets, heritage, or natural features that are worthy of our attention and seen as valuable? 
Economic Capital - How does business look? Employment opportunities? Disposable income?  Amenities?  Transportation? 
Human Capital - What skills, knowledge, credentials and capacity do you see within yourself and others? 
Social Capital - What are relationships like with each other in our neighbourhood or chosen community?  Can these groups organize themselves?
Cultural Capital - What symbolic goods and knowledge are people associating themselves with?  What place identity and image are people internalizing within their sphere?

As a city, we need to align ourselves with a clear focus.  We need to be more concerned with participation.  We need to challenge our government to be less functional and more holistic.  We need to be willing to evaluate and correct ourselves.  Let’s take stock of the possibilities for Hamilton because,  “Together, we can create a made-in-Hamilton action plan.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Food Service Workers Serve Up Some Justice

This past Friday members of the SEIU Local 2 ratified a new contract along side McMaster's administration with over 90% approval.  The service employees will be going back to work, knowing that job security threats and the potential to 'casualize' their jobs have been distinguished.  The union's chief negotiator, Ted Mansell, said "It’s inspiring to see the community coming together to protect good jobs for Hamilton’s working families."  Truly, it was encouraging to know many students, faculty and members of the community recognized the importance of making this situation right.
I'm thankful that McMaster, one of the community's largest employers, is following through with their mission to "... serve the social, cultural, and economic needs of our community and society."  I will be going back to class on Monday with a little more trust in the administration's decision making skills.  I will also have much earned respect for the people who keep us nourished everyday on campus.  They are teachers in their own right, as this has been a lesson learned.  Let's hope future 'food fights' stay inside the cafeteria.