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A diamond in the rough.

THE CITY OF HAMILTON is known by a variety of names, none of them flattering. Steel Town, Steel City, Canada's Pittsburg, the Hammer--all are labels that conjure up images of a local environment compromised by a long history of heavy industrial activity.


And so, as a Hamiltonian I've spent more time than I want to admit trying to convince outsiders that my hometown has a kinder, gentler side. Hamilton boasts world-renowned natural areas, an impressive record of success with environmental remediation efforts and a level of citizen involvement that is arguably unmatched by any other Canadian community.

The Niagara Escarpment, a world biosphere reserve, cuts through the heart of the city. Our Hamilton Harbour watershed remedial action plan is the most successful clean-up effort among areas of concern on both the Canadian and US sides within the Great Lakes Basin. And Hamiltonians volunteer more time per capita than any other city in the country.

However, as time goes on it's becoming more and more difficult to promote Hamilton's virtues. Being an eternal optimist is a huge asset--no, a survival tool--when you're a Hamilton activist. But I have to admit that over recent months I have become more cynical.

This is the result of immeasurable environmental losses over the past year. The biggest loss is the recent clear-cutting of over 40 thousand trees from the Red Hill Valley, a once incredible ecosystem running from the Niagara Escarpment through to Lake Ontario. For over 50 years, the city has persisted with plans to run an expressway down the length of this east Hamilton valley. And the community continues to resist to this day. Most recently, activists have worked to raise public awareness about the city's plans to accommodate the expressway by blowing a hole 80 meters deep and 15 meters wide into a section of the Niagara Escarpment that runs through the Red Hill Valley. Activists organized a mock funeral for the escarpment and set up tree sits near the proposed blast area.

The Red Hill Valley, which should have been considered the crown jewel of Hamilton's urban park network, has been sacrificed to accommodate our obsession with the automobile and just-in-time delivery, and to facilitate the sprawl development that is devouring southern Ontario's farmland at an unprecedented rate.

But, in true Hamilton style, I'll muster up the strength to end here on a positive note. While doom and gloom prevail here right now, a glimmer of hope exists in the synergies that may well emerge through new activist collaborations. Collaborations with social activists have led to dynamic discussions about quality of life in the city of Hamilton and realizations that there is plenty of common ground between activist movements. Local artists are keen to work with environmentalists on new ways of communicating ideas and issues to Hamiltonians. These connections are generating new synergies, new energy, new possibilities and deeper understandings of the issues that plague our city. With lots of commitment and despite all of the obstacles in our path, our diamond in the rough might well become a sparkling gem some day still.

Lynda Lukasik holds a PhD in Planning from the University of Waterloo and is currently the executive director of Environment Hamilton, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to community environmental capacity building in the Hamilton area.
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Title Annotation:Letter from Hamilton
Author:Lukasik, Lynda
Publication:Alternatives Journal
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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