You have to like any city planner who says the best piece of advice he has is to learn to “listen really well”. But Jason Thorne is no ordinary planner~as the City of Hamilton’s general manager of planning and economic development for six years he’s seen the historic downtown revitalized and Hamilton emerge as a “music town” with venues and enthusiastic performers coming to the city.
Located on Lake Ontario with a population on the plus side of 500,000, Hamilton has unique opportunities to reinvent itself with Mr Thorne’s very broad portfolio, which includes “land use planning and economic development, but also tourism and culture, transportation, bylaw enforcement, business licensing and parking” .
The Globe and Mail’s Alex Bozikovic describes how the small stuff like “live music, street festivals, helping cyclists get around creates a sense of place and pride.”
By working directly with community activists, artists, business people and developers , Hamilton has had a design competition for a major public park and a complete renewal on its waterfront with new development. Thorne has also brought in standards for good design in neighbourhoods, and ensured that heritage houses and buildings from Hamilton’s past as part of the steel belt (60 percent of Canadian steel was manufactured here) are recorded and registered by the city.
To reinvent Hamilton as a music place, Thorne has ensured that musical venues cannot be closed by noise complaints, and has worked to improve transportation loading and vehicular parking close by the music venues. Hamilton was an early adapter to Bike Share, and the transit service gives cyclists free rides up the steep escarpment cleaving the city through a program named “Mountain Climber.”
Density has been tied into downtown redevelopment, but instead of being prescriptive about planning requirements, Hamilton will consider development applications on their merit. If proposals fit into the downtown scale and use applications can proceed if heritage status is protected and affordable rental housing goals met.
Mr. Thorne sums up his planning philosophy as “You have to begin with a great plan and great planners. But that’s only the beginning of building a great city.”
Here is a YouTube video of a drive through Hamilton that gives you a sense of the street infrastructure, the amount of heritage brick buildings, and the location on Lake Ontario’s waterfront.
Images: Gteam.ca CBC.ca