That was a year; this is another (in Hamilton)

I took a vacation over New Years, and in British Columbia I set my sights on flora.  There’s a lot of moss.  I was enamoured by the hardy winter crops in rows on folks’ front lawns, gardens that have bunkered down for winter but hold onto some fierce kinda life force.  That kind of pungent resolve lingers in a way that reminds me of author Barbara Kingsolver.  If prodigal summer is “the season of extravagant procreation,”  January in BC smells like menopausal interlude.  The musk of decomposition lingers in a way that elides the finality of winter I’m accustomed to in Ontario.

Like winter crops and sunsets, my holidays were suitably hiatal. In other words, I’ve held onto enough of the past year to recognize its difficulties, but I’m moving on!  I feel compelled to establish new routines – posting being one of them.

Living well in Hamilton is another.  I started by unpacking more of the boxes sitting under my desk since September, but have since taken steps to remedy my broken oven and unequivocally decide that Ya Man‘s rotis are better than Island Cream’s in Peterborough (though admittedly it’s a close call.)  I’m being a little facetious, of course: living well somewhere doesn’t mean giving up one’s histories.  What I mean is I want a better sense of how Hamilton functions, its contours, and its inequities.  This desire to deepen Hamilton’s hold on me was the most profound thing I took away from the holidays and from BC.

This also means – perhaps more than anything – taking responsibility to fight the insularity and corporatization of McMaster University.  I can’t shirk the struggle to which I’m most intimately connected, though it’s a tall order.  Students traverse from campus to home and back blinkered by a perverse edu-economic tunnel vision that seems impermeable, though the problem is much broader and systemic.  In the new training module for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (an important document), the university emphasized ‘customer service’ language to describe the relationships between teachers, administrators, and students.  Accessibility is a matter of justice, not good ‘customer service!’  Not to mention, they do a darn good job of obscuring the other forms of labour that make McMaster function.  This institutional order is naturalized and I’d hazard a guess that most students (amongst others) buy it.  More on this soon.

A old building in gentrifying Corktown, slated for redevelopment

The problems are hardly ones of McMaster alone.  Just yesterday the Hamilton Spectator published a story documenting how some Corktown residents (Corktown being a downtown neighbourhood in Hamilton, where I formerly lived) have lobbied to keep a residential care facility for young women out of the neighbourhood, arguing that the neighbourhood is becoming oversaturated with ‘undesirables.’  You can read the story here.

Apparently the ‘flood’ of residential facilities and their ‘undesirable’ residents are making it difficult for ‘people’ to move downtown, according to one councillor. What utter bullshit.  This is another instance of vilifying poverty and individualizing structural violence (these young women aren’t ‘people,’ apparently), and a prime example of how the city machinery bends and sways to the sound of property owners crying about threats to their property value and narrow sense of community.

2012 and its challenges, welcome!  You’re a sight for sore 2011 eyes.

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2 Comments

Filed under Academia, Dans Ontario, On Agriculture & the Environment, On Human Connections, Politicking, Travel

2 responses to “That was a year; this is another (in Hamilton)

  1. Chris Shannon

    Living in Corktown is a mixed blessing. It’s close to the pubs, downtown, restaurants the library and the farmers market. I like the old homes (mine was built in 1890) and most of the residents are pretty friendly. The neighborhood association leaves alot to be desired though. We’ve gone to a few meetings and the prevailing attitude is how to keep property values up and such. Usually these meetings are attended by our councilor Jason Farr (who by the way supported keeping the home for girls out) and the police.

    I find it kind of ironic that some people here want to keep so called “undesirables” out. The Irish, who first settled this neighborhood were just such “undesirables” coming to Hamilton to escape the famine. I fail to see how 8 girls with various troubles can do any damage to this area of town. This is just a misguided perception. As our local newsletter so bluntly put it “property values should be a concern on this issue”. Whatever. Kathryn, my wife, wrote an angry letter to the neighborhood association but we never received a reply.

    There is some form of gentrification happening here, housing prices are rising faster in Corktown than in most places in the city. When we bought the house our lawyer actually congratulated us for buying in an area that was gentrifying. He used a upward motion with his hand to illustrate how our area would do better than most in the next twenty years. It was the first time we had ever heard someone try and use the term gentrification in a positive way.

    I would be willing to bet that alot of the people opposed to the girls home go to church on Sunday are supporters of the NDP and consider themselves quite liberal, but as Phil Ochs said about liberals “10 degrees to the left of centre at the best of times. 10 degrees to the right of centre when it effects them personally”

    Love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

  2. Thanks Chris for showing how there are fissures in the resistance to the pro-gentrification lobby in the neighbourhood. I lived in Corktown previously, though I wasn’t there long enough to really get a feel for the debates and perspectives of its residents. As someone who advocates a much broader and flexible approach to democratic control than the idea of electoral politics, I have a lot of hope for things like neighbourhood assemblies and associations (though they’re not necessarily the same). That said, I am dismayed and cautious when so many can consolidate and entrench such divisive and discriminatory opinions. Maybe Corktown needs an alternate neighbourhood assembly to wrestle some control back.

    And I think it’s especially important to note the history of the area, not because places are unchanging, but because gentrification has a startling ability to obscure and romanticize what were usually very difficult and tenuous livelihoods in particular places, and even worse, suggest that those times are now over. The Junction neighbourhood in Toronto, where I’m from, is another case in point. Across from the former site of the Toronto Stockyards, the country’s biggest stockyard and abbatoir complex until its demolition in the mid-1990s, is now the site of a growing retail complex. One such area romanticizes what were awful labour practices and animal conditions by co-opting the name ‘The Stockyards’ while simultaneously erasing any other indications that this is (and was) a site and landscape of poverty.

    Keep up the good fight. 🙂

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