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My take: Don’t confuse us with real data on boundary expansion

My take: Don’t confuse us with real data on boundary expansion

We’ve said it here before; whatever you think of developers-they don’t frog-march couples into new homes at the point of a gun. There wouldn’t be one new single detached home built in Hamilton if there was no demand. What is really at stake in the current debate over the urban boundary in Hamilton is whether one generation, (most of whom have settled their housing requirements, and the majority of whom, not all, but most, live in single-family homes); whether they have the right to restrict housing choices for the next generation.

Social media is alive with respondents reacting to the Nanos Poll released Wednesday that said 38 percent of respondents, would be ok with boundary expansion to accommodate Hamilton’s growth over the next 30 years. 32 percent, not 90, would oppose expansion. 22 percent wanted to slow down new growth altogether, and eight percent were unsure. Nanos warned about people trying to add up the various segments to bolster their view of the issue, but that didn’t stop twitterers from declaring the real result was 62 to 38 against expansion, apparently claiming for their side the 8 percent who didn’t have a clue and the 20 percent who don’t want any growth and would presumably object to high-rises as well as expansion–and by the way, that latter description applies to some members of council.

(And a note to staff: You might have chosen better language than Ambitious Density. Ambitious is not a good descriptor for a process that is actually intended to be the least aggressive expansion you think you can get away with.)

Social media had less to say about the fact that 80 percent of same respondents could not remember seeing a questionnaire that city staff were directed to send out in March, complete with stamped addressed envelope. That led to complaints that the survey might be perceived as junk mail and thrown out. Responding to complaints, staff switched to also allowing the form to be filled out on line. But then there were some who worried that the online option would allow people to respond multiple times.

While the survey was out for the public, boundary expansion opponents launched a successful social media and lawn sign campaign urging residents to support the no boundary expansion option. Some 1,300 lawn signs popped up around the city, many on the lawns of single-family homes (because after, all who is most likely to possess a lawn if not a single-family home dweller or perhaps that of a semi-detached?) When it was all over 90.4 percent of the 16,000-odd respondents opposed boundary expansion. But as Nanos pointed out—its not a valid survey if participants are able to self-select. It’s not much more than a write-in campaign disguised as valid research. Probably the only useful data for staff came from the small minority of respondents who actually tried to offer solutions other than a no.

Perhaps the most important stats in the Nanos poll were not ones dealing with whether people favored or opposed boundary expansion, but one’s dealing with choice. When asked what is the preferred type of housing you would want to live in? 75 percent wanted a single-family home –only three percent wanted to live in a high-rise—a ratio of 25 to one. Critically when asked “If your preferred type of housing in Hamilton was not available for the price you could afford, would you consider or not consider moving out of the City Hamilton to a nearby community? —three quarters said they would, almost 84 percent of people with kids would and worst of all– 89 percent of young adults 18-34 would move.

As the dust settles on this attempted manufacturing of public opinion, these facts remain:

  • The province won’t support a no expansion scenario
  • We need to absorb 230,000 people over the next 30 years
  • Much of the proposed expansion will be into lands that are already owned by developers, willingly sold to them long ago by farmers.

Time has been wasted on virtue-signaling exercises that might have been better used to find real solutions to affordability and growth.

John Best

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