Big dream­ers con­verge at mid-sized city fo­rum

Con­fer­ence speak­ers say in­no­va­tion, youth keys to suc­cess­ful com­mu­nity

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JON WELLS

Build­ings can’t talk but the set­ting for the Ci­tyAge con­fer­ence this week spoke vol­umes on the topic at hand: how mid-sized cities like Hamil­ton turn the past into a win­ning fu­ture.

The host build­ing was the Cot­ton Fac­tory at Sher­man Av­enue North, a 117-year-old former mill turned into a hip in­dus­trial and event space with its ex­posed gird­ers and pock­marked creaky wooden floors. A panel dis­cus­sion was held in an am­phithe­atre at McMaster Univer­sity’s $84.6-mil­lion down­town health sci­ences cen­tre on Main Street West at Bay Street.

The former is an ex­am­ple of “re­pur­pos­ing” a space into one that in­cu­bates in­no­va­tion; the lat­ter, of the acad­emy ven­tur­ing be­yond its ivory tow­ers to be in­te­grated into the core of a com­mu­nity.

It’s the first time the Ci­tyAge se­ries has come to Hamil­ton. The con­fer­ence has also been held in cities such as San Fran­cisco, Hong Kong and Lon­don.

Thirty speak­ers and 185 con­fer­ence at­ten­dees dis­cussed ideas on the present and fu­ture of mid-sized cities.

One ses­sion kicked off with slam po­etry recita­tions from the Hamil­ton Youth Po­ets, such as Vic­to­ria Wo­j­ciechowska: “I know the Earth spins on the axis of the wheel of for­tune/and the hi­er­ar­chy of tragedy is best left un­spo­ken/its unit of mea­sure­ment a pil­lar of salt/the mir­ror im­age be­tween priv­i­lege and luck.”

Here are a few other no­tions and ideas, if less cere­bral, to emerge from Ci­tyAge: 1) Mid-size looms large

A com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage for cities like Hamil­ton is at­tract­ing tal­ent for the qual­ity of life and op­por­tu­nity.

“This isn’t a big city, you don’t have to com­pete with 50,000 oth­ers for a par­tic­u­lar job,” said Sean Fe­dorko, from a com­pany called Ra­dius CoWork in Erie, Pa.

What else does a city need to sell it­self to new tal­ent? “You need craft brew­eries and Thai food, that’s ob­vi­ous,” he quipped, but also a “smart ground game” to show the en­tire life for a fam­ily avail­able to them. 2) Class is in

Bring­ing uni­ver­si­ties — build­ings and, most of all, stu­dents — into a city’s core of­fers enor­mous ben­e­fits, said Tony Araujo, an as­sis­tant vice-pres­i­dent at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity’s Brant­ford cam­pus. He spoke of the trans­for­ma­tive ef­fects Lau­rier has had on the re­newal of that city’s once-de­crepit core: there are 3,000 stu­dents en­rolled and 225 em­ploy­ees and 12 build­ings adapted for the cam­pus. And a pos­i­tive spinoff, if an un­in­tended one, he said, is a greater sense of safety down­town with all the new “eyes on the street” from stu­dents. 3) Dream on

The word dream was ut­tered per­haps a dozen times at one ses­sion: how crit­i­cal it is to imag­ine, and imag­ine big, when it comes to see­ing your city in new ways, and then chase that vi­sion hard.

“You need to have dream­ers who have such a be­lief in what they are do­ing, you can’t talk them out of it, be­cause a mil­lion road­blocks will come up,” said Glen Nor­ton, Hamil­ton’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment direc­tor. 4) Ex­pand the cir­cle

The mayor of St. Catharines, Wal­ter Sendzik, cau­tioned that as cities in­no­vate, re­new and grow more pros­per­ous, the ris­ing tide will not lift all boats. He sug­gested com­pas­sion must al­ways be in fo­cus.

“If you see the com­mu­nity as a cir­cle, vi­su­al­ize who is in­side and you see fam­ily and friends and co­work­ers — you don’t see the home­less, or those who suf­fer from men­tal ill­ness,” he said. “As we build trans­for­ma­tive economies, we can’t for­get the peo­ple who feel they are be­ing left be­hind.”

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