This past Sunday, my wife and I had plans to head to Toronto with a friend. Unfortunately, our friend bailed at the last minute, causing us to get a late start to the day. Ultimately, it was the best thing that ever could have happened. Instead of heading to Toronto, we decided to go to Hamilton, Ont. Instead of a 1.2 hour trip, it was more like 45 minutes. Besides, we had not visited our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the region in a couple of years. Looking back, it was in 2011 when I first posted that Buffalo was in dire need of Ethiopian cuisine… I even brought the owner to Buffalo on a whirlwind trip, which ended up at Roxy’s. But that’s another story for another day.
Getting back to our trip to Hamilton, it is interesting to note that back in 2013 Raise the Hammer posted that Hamilton had a lot to learn from Buffalo when it came to the creation of thriving neighborhoods.
Fast forward five years, and… well, you need to take a trip to Hamilton. This is the first part of a series of articles dedicated to a city that I have come to love over the years. Which is funny, because the other evening I was hanging out at Hearth + Press talking to PJ (co-owner), when a young couple walked in. They were waiting to catch a show at Town Ballroom and had some time to kill. It’s my nature to be inquisitive when I run into people from Canada, especially when they are sitting in the bar stools next to me. Right off the bat, I declared my fondness for Hamilton… which was met by “Why would you ever like Hamilton?” So I went on a tirade about the different things that I liked about Hamilton, much to their amazement.
That said, this most recent trip to Hamilton was a real eye opener. Hamilton is changing… fast. Torontonians are figuring out that Hamilton is a relatively short trip by GO Train, which means that property values are going up and new businesses are opening left and right. Our favorite part of the excursion was a visit to Hess Village. We passed Hess Street as we were on our way to another part of town, and immediately pulled over and parked our butts on a patio… the entire street is one big patio. As we sat, sipping a beer, we talked to a guy across the way who had just moved back after being away for an “extended stay”. We asked him about the changes, and he said, “drastic in every way”.
As we talked and watched, I was immediately taken with the way that the street was designed. There were cobbles. It was narrow. The roadway was only accessible for local cars and deliveries. The patios were never ending. The street blended into the sidewalk, and vice versa. The curbs were little ramps, so that bikes could effortlessly go from street to sidewalk. People were walking in the street, left and right. The occasional vehicle accessed the street (slowly and cautiously) , which was not a big deal. There were no accidents. The world did not end. It was glorious.
There is no place like Hess Village in Buffalo, but there could be. Allentown has “Hess” written all over it. But unfortunately, I don’t believe that Buffalo City planners have the guts to even do something that is remotely similar. And that is unfortunate, because as it stands, two cars can’t even pass by each other without one “taking charge” and going for the gusto.
Not to mention the poor cyclists that take their lives in their hands just trying to get from Wadsworth to Main Street. There have been talks about doing something of the “Hess” nature on Allen Street – a seamless transition from street to sidewalk, but that sentiment mostly comes from progressive people who work and live in the neighborhood, who have actually studied and traveled to other cities.
It would behoove anyone at City Hall to take a day trip to Hamilton, to see that a European streetscape of this nature is not scary. It’s not a headache. It’s not going to get anyone in trouble. Yes, it will take some cojones to say, “OK, we can do this.” It’s probably too late for Allentown because of the “does not compute” nature of City Hall. But maybe on Chandler Street, with a progressive developer at the helm. A forward thinking developer might actually say, “… this neighborhood deserves better. We deserve this!”. This Hess Village streetscape design is not new – it’s as old as time. But it could be new to Buffalo. We need to get more progressive planners at City Hall that actually want to bring progressive streetscapes to Buffalo. Instead, we are settling for this, and this.
It’s almost as if the only time that we get anything progressive is when the community protests (ie. the DOT with Scajaquada). And we don’t even have that yet. It would be great to see some young blood “planners” in local government, instead of always being dealt the same old cards form the same decks that have been passed along for generations. When will Buffalo start to “wake up” and not be satisfied with the occasional bike lane that is bestowed upon us so that we might grovel for another one? Let alone start to design our city so that people come first, not just streets and cars. We are missing opportunities left and right to build an even greater Buffalo. Instead of creating livable neighborhoods, we’re being handed a pile of dung, time after time.