Graphic by Sabrina Lin

The relationship between humans and the harbour has defined generations of Hamilton’s history. Now, alongside Hamilton’s wave of modernization comes a brand new type of development aimed at making the waterfront a destination in and of itself.

[spacer height=”20px”]HISTORY OF THE HARBOUR

In the 1800s, the Hamilton Harbour was an engine for economic and urban growth. The proximity to fresh water made the area ideal for industry.

The harbour was a popular swimming place for many Hamiltonians, especially working-class families in the North End. However, pollution resulting from industrial development, sewage and garbage resulted in heavy contamination.

Even after the factories closed, the waterfront land remained closed off to the public due to high levels of pollution.

Citizen-led movements beginning in the 1960s lobbied to clean up the harbour, reduce pollution and make the shore publicly accessible.

In 1992, a Remedial Action Plan was introduced to restore the health of the bay. The RAP has guided numerous restoration projects over the past 30 years, leading to the gradual improvement of water quality and wildlife health.

The environmental cleanup opened up possibilities for further development. In 2013, the city of Hamilton gained control of the Pier 7 and 8 lands and began implementing long-awaited development plans.

[spacer height=”20px”]PLANNED DEVELOPMENT

The Waterfront development is a multi-level project to redevelop the West Harbour area bounded by Hamilton Harbour, York Boulevard, Cannon Street and Wellington Street North.

The city of Hamilton website states, “This $140 million redevelopment project will transform the West Harbour into a vibrant, mixed-use, transit supportive and pedestrian-friendly community that is the jewel on Hamilton’s waterfront.”

One pillar of the development plan is a transformation of Pier 8. The 5.24-hectare site currently houses the Discovery Centre, skating rink and Williams Café.

The redevelopment plan will transform the area into a mixed-use commercial, residential and institutional neighbourhood at the edge of the waterfront.

According to Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner of KPMB Architects, “we are […] creating the kind of dense, compact, diverse, and walkable neighbourhood that is the future of urban living.”

The design for Pier 8 aims to reflect Hamilton’s unique identity as a city. Having grown up in the North End, it is important to Kuwabara that the design is representative of Hamilton.

For example, the brick and steel design of the buildings aims to celebrate Hamilton’s industrial roots.

Additionally, buildings will not exceed eight stories tall. According to Kuwabara, this is because low rise housing is characteristic of the North End and allows neighbours to cultivate a sense of community.

[spacer height=”20px”]PUBLIC SPACE

According to Chris Phillips, senior advisor of the West Harbour redevelopment project, a main goal of the redevelopment is to improve public access to the Waterfront.

“The stage we’re at right now is to implement the plan to enhance public spaces that are already there and to create new public spaces,” he stated.

For decades, citizen advocacy groups have been campaigning to improve public access to the waterfront.

Forty per cent of the Pier 8 land will be open to the public. Public amenities in the design include two parks, a beach area, and a cultural plaza. There will also be 1.6 km of additional walkable space added to the waterfront.

According to Chris McLaughlin, executive director of Bay Area Restoration Council, improving public access to the waterfront will have positive benefits for people’s mental and social well-being. Additionally, if people are able to enjoy the waterfront for themselves, they will have more of an interest in protecting it.

“People care about things that they experience,” he stated. “By developing a sense of place you create that critical relationship between people and the Bay.”

[spacer height=”20px”]WHO IS DEVELOPMENT FOR?

The development plan includes 1292 new residential units, five per cent of which will be affordable. Affordable housing units administered by Habitat for Humanity will be dispersed throughout every block.

However, according to Mike Wood, chair of Hamilton Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the affordable housing offered in the new developments is not enough to meet the demand in the city.

Wood stated that the Waterfront development would better meet Hamilton’s needs if 10 to 20 per cent of the units were affordable. Currently, the waiting list for affordable housing in Hamilton is almost 7000, and it continues to grow.

“We’ve talked to many residents that are needing affordable housing,” said Wood. “A lot of these residents are also in an unhealthy and unsafe conditions while they’re waiting […] We have individuals and families that are living in tents.”

There are also questions about what development will mean for people currently living in the nearby North End neighbourhoods.

North End residents have raised concerns about aspects of the development that may harm quality of life and alter the neighbourhood’s character.

Issues raised include amplified noise, increased density and grain dust pollution.

One major concern about the Pier 8 developments is the impact that increased traffic and parking will have on the residential neighbourhoods near the waterfront.

In a written statement submitted as part of a public hearing in May 2017, lawyer and North End resident Herman Turkstra highlighted that, as developments bring more people to the waterfront, traffic through the North End will increase.

Turkstra points out that high levels of traffic in residential areas can seriously impact accessibility and quality of life.

“The North End has been seen for decades by city hall and much of the broader community as a corridor from the gore to the shore,” wrote Turkstra. “We see it as a place where people live, and more importantly, a major civic asset.”

For the past hundred years, the waterfront and surrounding areas have been the subject of city planning, community activism, and economic development.

As this wave of development redefines yet again the relationship between people and the bay, the same questions remain central: who benefits from urban development? And at what cost?

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