This article was originally published on December 14, 2016 in The Hamilton Spectator.
What were the highlights of 2016?
Hamilton opened its heart, mind and doors to Syrian refugees looking to rebuild their lives and call this city “home.” Just as a single image of the drowned Syrian boy prompted a rapid response, we reacted strongly to the accidental death of kindergarten teacher and cyclist Jay Keddy on the Claremont access and called for better road safety for cyclists and pedestrians. A majority of Hamilton councillors also backed Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s proposal to invest $50 million to tackle homelessness and poverty in the city, although a plan hasn’t been solidified yet.
As 2016 comes to an end, what civic issues should young professionals keep in mind for next year?
Here are a few:
Affordable housing and West Harbour redevelopment
Redevelopment plans for the waterfront set sail in 2015. How would the bay be developed to enhance the city? At monthly community conversation meetings hosted by the city’s planning and economic development division, residents have voiced concerns about affordable housing in the neighbourhoods surrounding the waterfront. Moving forward, residents and investors need to work together to enrich rather than harm the city’s natural assets.
Ward boundaries and 2018 municipal elections
The ward boundary review accounts for population growth and to balance out the number of residents in each ward. Hamilton’s population grew by 7 per cent, from 510,000 in 2001 to about 548,000 in 2015. Through an independent study, the city proposed to redraw the 15 wards or add a 16th ward on the Mountain. Council is going back to the drawing board to make its own suggestions. Will rural residents lose out in the ward redistribution? The outcome could influence the 2018 municipal elections as it may change the number of residents in each ward.
Infrastructure and transit
Hamilton is falling behind in strengthening its building blocks. The city faces a backlog of infrastructure repairs worth $3.3 billion. That is not including deteriorating water and wastewater infrastructure. With more frequent extreme weather (every six years instead of every 40), can Hamilton literally weather these conditions? This growing problem could stifle development, harm the environment and damage our quality of life. There is a clear need for multi-sectoral partnerships to develop sustainable solutions.
The way we move people and goods in Hamilton will also have an impact on its growth. The city must remain focused on LRT and transit development. Healthy debates and public input on the $1-billion LRT project continue to be necessary, despite how messy this may get, as we need to understand the full potential and implications of LRT. As a community, we must draw on our resources and networks to support businesses and residents directly affected by LRT construction.
In 2017, let’s continue to build the city collectively, not just to make Hamilton the best place to raise a child and to age successfully, but to make it a world-class city known for its boldness, compassion and wisdom.