Huge public investments haven’t improved outlook for marginalized
By BOB BRATINA
The Spectator’s Code Red series of articles has kindled a fiery discussion of where we are going as a city. It also calls into question where we have been, especially in recent history.
Many of us grew up in less-than-affluent situations, but in the 1950s the city provided our east-end neighbourhood of modest houses with a brand new skating rink and swimming pool. Today, our North End neighbourhood rink, Eastwood, is threatened with closure and the local library is gone.
Huge public investments over the past few decades have had no meaningful effect on reducing life’s hardships for our most marginalized residents. BeasleyPark is the only greenspace for many needy children in the surrounding community and is full of contaminants, at higher than acceptable levels of such things as arsenic.
The city refused to remediate the park to allow for a new Dr. Davey School because, as I was told, cleanup could cost up to $8 million. We are told, however, that the cost of cleaning 20 acres for the stadium will only be about $3 million. Where there’s a will there’s a way, apparently.
Other public expenditures in that neighbourhood included laying decorative bricks down Ferguson Avenue, construction of “Ferguson Station” (its main function is a shelter for birds) for $1 million, and an $8 million dollar bridge on Ferguson across the tracks beside the jail.
No one I talked to saw much use for these projects, which seem to have more to do with creating a path to the waterfront than uplifting the neighbourhood. There is a new community centre being built for Beasley, but financed entirely through a provincial brownfield grant.
When we began to see high levels of lead in drinking water in 2006, I asked for testing in problem areas, mostly poorer inner city neighbourhoods. The answer was: “The more we test, the more we find, so how much do you want to spend on this?”
I then went to public health, who agreed to survey children in the affected areas to determine if lead was present in their bodies.
Sure enough, a high percentage of children were found to have above-acceptable readings of lead in their blood, which impairs brain development, behaviour and scholastic achievement, and damages the nervous system.
The survey will conclude this summer, to determine the sources of the lead in homes and neighbourhoods. What we will do about it remains to be seen. We also created an affordable loan program that allows residents to pay for replacement of old lead service lines over 10 years on their water bill.
Employment lands are all the rage now, but opportunities were squandered 20 and 30 years ago. A regional official plan could have designated areas beside the Linc and Highway 403 for industrial parks. All along the Linc to Stonechurch, and on the 403 in Ancaster, we could have attracted the companies that left Hamilton to go elsewhere. The trucks roll by these lands and through Ancaster on their way to Brantford, Woodstock, London, and other communities wiser than us.
The power centre and the elite residential enclaves provide nothing to those trapped in poverty and ill health. The jobs left and downtown property lost its value, leading to today’s situation — more than 250 agencies and groups providing almost 400 social services in the downtown core.
Our housing and services attract individuals and families from all over the province, the country, and indeed the world, adding to the difficulty for those already here who sit in shelters and on waiting lists in some cases for years.
Within our own residential buildings, dangerous and disruptive individuals are ignored, causing further stress for residents already struggling with many burdens.
Until recently, vacant buildings in the core were left to deteriorate; street cleaning and litter pickup cycles approved and funded by council never materialized.
Yet we found $100 million to renovate City Hall and the Lister block, when less than $50 million would have done to provide ourselves with nice office space. Soon we’ll be approving $20 million for a parking structure at the WestHarbour, perhaps millions more for a sludge incinerator, in a city whose taxes are the most unaffordable in Ontario for the ability of its citizens to pay.
If the Code Red series had been published as a futuristic look ahead in 1965, it would have been discounted as fantasy. All of us, especially decision-makers, have to confront what today is reality for so many of our residents.
Bob Bratina is City of Hamilton Councillor, Ward 2.
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