POINT OF VIEW
First we polluted it, then we cleaned it up:
Two paths to prosperity
Lynda Lukasic looks at how undoing Hamilton's legacy of industrial pollution is helping create a new city
Lynda Lukasik · Posted: Sep 30, 2017 7:35 AM ET | Last Updated: September 30, 2017 | CBC
While Industry and steel helped provide jobs and security for generations of Hamiltonians, now, a cleaner city is playing a role in the city's emerging identity. (John Rieti/CBC)
I am a Hamiltonian born and raised - part of a family that depended on steel to put food on the table.
Both of my grandfathers and my father worked in the mills – effectively setting the stage for me and my siblings to be able to pursue an education and careers outside of industry.
I am forever grateful for the opportunities I have had and the subsequent luxury of being able to choose to pursue 'meaningful work' that, for me, is environmental activism.
When I was a kid, I experienced a community affected by both the legacy of destruction that Hamilton, the ambitious city, inflicted on the air, land and water and the on-going impacts of a city still very much dependent on industry for its bread and butter.
It meant that there were no harbourfront parks to enjoy and, even if you managed to get to the water's edge, you definitely did not want to swim in it!
It also meant that blue skies on a nice summer day were never a guarantee – unless you were somewhere far away from Hamilton.
For too long, not enough people challenged the trade-offs. I think it was partly a pragmatic 'don't bite the hand that feeds you' mentality combined with a lack of full understanding of the profound harm that environmental degradation can inflict on human communities.
Despite the stereotypical outsider's perception of Hamilton as a tough, gritty place, we are a community with a heart of gold – not to mention guts, passion and persistence.
Push for a greener city
I benefited from this reality right from my earliest days as an activist – learning from the examples set by inspirational community leaders willing to question the status quo and to push hard to secure a greener, healthier future for our city.
A summertime sunset from Pier 8, near Williams Fresh Cafe on Hamilton's waterfront. (Rick Hughes/CBC)
The pioneering efforts of these activists helped to trigger much of the transformative environmental change that has emerged over the past few decades.
And it is that ever-present tension between the impacts we humans have inflicted on this place coupled with a gut sense of what this city has the potential to become that continues to fuel the desire of so many of us to take action.
Fresh eyes on fallout
Our city's renaissance has included an influx of new community members, many motivated by the sense of community and passion for place that exists here.
Some of these new residents have no qualms about pointing out to their neighbours that industrial impacts like particulate fallout or bad odours are not the norm in communities outside of Hamilton.
Their 'we don't have to take this' approach has helped to reinforce existing neighbourhood activist efforts and to convince a few life-long Hamiltonians that we no longer have to live with the trade-offs of the past.
Today it is almost impossible to remember when there was no harbourfront to enjoy.
Quality of life is where it's at with Hamilton now becoming better known as the 'city of waterfalls' where 'art is the new steel'. And who can imagine Hamilton without our incredible network of recreational trails, or the Cannon bike lanes and our blue SoBi bikes?
All have played a part in Hamilton's new-found image as an attractive, vibrant pace to live.
Work in progress
Hamilton's waterfront is now home to many community events, such as this Dragon boat festival in 2012. (CBC)
But it should be just as hard to imagine the sky over the industrial core smeared black and grey with pollution; no doubt our air is cleaner today but that blue sky dream is still a work in progress that needs our attention!
We are also facing daunting new challenges because of the climate crisis – challenges that will test us like never before while, at the same time, presenting compelling reasons for us to evolve into a modern, post-carbon city.
Think of local food security, sustainable mobility, green infrastructure, compact urban form and the resilience these approaches bring.
We need to view these approaches not just as aspirational goals but as critical ingredients for our city and everyone in it to flourish.
I am excited about where and how we might take Hamilton into the future!
|Lynda Lukasik was born and raised in Hamilton and currently lives in the east end. She is a co-founder and the executive director of the not-for-profit organization Environment Hamilton.