[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he time for diagnosis of Hamilton’s sick neighbourhoods appears to have passed, as the patient, in this case 4 core area neighbourhoods—got off the table and took action last month. Hamilton City Council has endorsed a series of neighborhood action plans that are aimed at getting some “quick wins” in neighbourhoods that have historically struggled with crime and poverty. The first four Action plans were presented by Beasley and Stinson neighbourhoods in Ward 2, Keith in Ward 3 and Mc Questen in Ward 4.The initiative was in part prompted by the Hamilton Spectator’s “Code Red” series of articles that revealed lower life expectancy and poorer states of health and education in inner city neighbourhoods. In response, Council set up a neighbourhood initiative program aimed at developing solutions that would be put forward by the communities.
As speakers revealed their neighbourhood plans, the common theme that emerged was that a small number of relatively inexpensive and achievable actions could bring about a fundamental difference in the neighbourhoods. Most presenters talked about better lighting, cleaning up parks and alleyways, and loans to allow people to fix up their homes. All expressed a need for more parks.
Another universal theme that came through in the presentations was one of pride in, and optimism about their neighbourhoods. The Beasley Neighborhood, which is bounded by the downtown to the CNR between James Street and Wellington, has adopted as its mascot the Beasley Badger.” One major initiative the Beasley plan recommended is measures to calm traffic on Cannon Street, which was described as a “highway running through the neighbourhood.
Project Manager Paul Johnson says people in the selected neighbourhoods take as much pride in where they live as any other Hamiltonian. “They realize it’s not helpful to talk about negatives all the time, a big part of what we are doing with the neighbourhood initiatives is re-imaging.” Part of the pride-building exercise was to have each neighbourhood make up an ‘Asset Map’ showing anything—church, playground, community centre, drop in centre—anything that improves the quality of community life. The Neighbourhood initiative differs from other community processes in that residents will remain part of the process right through to completion. “This isn’t a project where we consult and then turn the project over to the professionals,” said Johnson. There will be citizens involved from beginning to end.”
More than 4100 residents have participated in the initiative thus far, which means the organizers got a good cross-section of views from people who are not professional meeting attenders. “We didn’t cherry-pick people who only had good things to say about the neighbourhoods,” said Johnsdon we heard from everybody.”
Somewhat surprising in the exercise was the practicality and relative simplicity of the grass roots proposals. Suggestions included making residents aware of the best ways of maintaining their property and who to contact if they see trash being dumped in the neighbourhood. There were also proposals to assist those who can no longer look after their properties because of age or illness. “These people are not interested in 25-year master plans said Johnson, ”for us, a long term plan is 25 years.” People want to work on projects that they will see fulfilled while they are still in the neighbourhood and able to enjoy them.”
The four plans are at various stages of completion, Beasly is the most detailed because grass-roots work was started even before the Neighbourhood office was established. “ Each neighbourhood is approaching the task in its own way and at its own pace,” says Johnson. “We will not be imposing artificial deadlines.” The project seeks to make use of existing neighbourhood organizations where they active and to start organizations where they are not. The key says Johnson,…”we are working towards DOING things, not studying them.”