OPINION: The future of Hamilton can be found on the outside

All around us the city is changing. New condos are being built, apartments are filling up, store fronts that were once vacant are now welcoming new businesses. Even the familiar skyline that was once dotted with only four or five tall skyscrapers is destined to change as more and more developers start to wake up to the Hamilton market.

Soon, LRT construction will begin and while some may fear the disruption and politics that come with it, others see it for the many benefits that it will bring.

The story is playing out like other Canadian cities who have recently found themselves growing up.

If you want a glimpse into our future, one must only turn to our frequently forgotten cousin to the west — to the city of Winnipeg.

It may come as a surprise to you, but there are several similarities between Hamilton and Winnipeg. From population sizes, to politics, to sports teams, and a vibrant music and arts scene.

Like Hamilton, Winnipeg faced its own challenge. A downtown that would empty out at the end of workdays, a dated transit system, gridlock during peak hours, a rocky relationship with its provincial parents. Sound familiar?

A few years ago, a movement started, and with it came momentum that would seemingly knock one off their seats. Like the Linc and the Redhill, Winnipeg expanded their Chief Peguis Trail to extend to the suburbs to free up transit and open up gridlock. A long-debated form of rapid transit was approved and built — first as Bus Rapid Transit — with alternative plans to convert to LRT when the time came. An aging airport that lacked options and did not appeal to travellers suddenly became one of the most beautiful airports in Canada and opened up paths to new destinations.

It should be pointed out that this was all before the return of the Winnipeg Jets.

Soon after the triumphant return of their beloved Jets hockey team, downtown exploded. New towers such as the Manitoba Public Insurance headquarters, and the soon to be opened towers of True North Square rose like a phoenix. Old theatres, such as the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre and Burton Cummings Theatre were restored and renovated, bringing back pieces of the Vaudeville era, while also driving more traffic downtown. The empty exchange district became a cultural hub to a vibrant downtown, with free concerts and shows being put on at Old Market Square.

While Hamilton may not have an NHL team (yet…), we are certainly in the midst of change. Like Winnipeg, we are seeing new venues open up, with events taking place along James Street and in Gore Park. A once struggling downtown is now home to new restaurants, condos, apartments and cafes. The oft-debated LRT system will be built and will one day easily connect one end of the city to the other (and later the Upper Mountain to Downtown).

As someone who was there for Winnipeg’s successful growth, I too see the same level of momentum here in our own fair city. While we may all want to grow at a faster pace, it’s patience, hard work, and determination that will get us there.

If we make the right moves now, one day, someone in another city outside of Ontario will turn to this chapter of our city’s history and use our learnings and blueprints to help shape their future.

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