News / Hamilton

Walkable neighbourhoods key to creative industries

Hamilton should invest in making its neighbourhoods walkable and accessible if it wants the local creative industry to continue to grow.

That’s the conclusion of a Hamilton Chamber of Commerce-sponsored report that found the city’s growing creative industries are clustered in its most walkable neighbourhoods.

“Walkable environments should be viewed as economic infrastructure,” the report concludes.

This can be done many ways, including through pedestrian-friendly urban design, grants, tax incentives and relaxed zoning.

Not surprisingly, lower city neighbourhoods in the core, west end and Dundas are considered the most walkable, said David Adames, the chamber’s CEO.

Those same neighbourhoods have experienced a boom in the creative arts industry. A recent report from the city’s economic development department showed a 19 per cent jump in creative jobs downtown last year.

Walkability is among the indicators of a good quality of life, which the chamber has identified as an important economic driver. The walkability report comes out of recommendations from last year’s Hamilton Economic Summit. This year’s summit on Thursday will include a panel on the creative industry.

The city “needs a mix” of economic drivers, Adames said. “Business parks are still a critical part of economic ecosystem, but what we’re saying here is that walkable communities may have been overlooked in the past.”

The report used mapping software to measure how easily people can walk to amenities in their neighbourhoods.

“It measures how realistically you could live your life within a walkable radius,” said report author Paul Shaker, executive director of the Hamilton-based nonprofit Centre for Community Study.

Creative business provides jobs, can renew neighbourhoods, and attracts young and skilled workers, he said.

The study also measured neighbourhoods by transit availability. While no specific neighbourhood ranked in the top transit category, most in the lower city with high walkability and creative industry growth also ranked high for transit.

It called for further transit infrastructure, including LRT.

“On the whole, creative people are attracted to livable spaces, neighbourhoods that are open and visually diverse,” said Jeremy Freiburger, chief connector and cultural strategist for CoBALT Connects — a nonprofit “connecting element for creative communities.”

When lower city neighbourhoods, such as the communities around James Street North, have a diversity of people and buildings, are affordable, have a good mix of residential and commercial buildings and are walkable, it makes them attractive to artistic communities, he said.

The development of artistic communities happens organically, but can be encouraged by grants and policy decisions, Freiburger said.

He would like to see further investment, but said there is also a “threshold.”

“Ottawa Street’s traditional role of being into textiles — if we said ‘wow that’s great, let’s replicate that and do it everywhere,’ Ottawa Street would clearly want to stand up and say something,” he said, adding that neighbourhood growth should be encouraged, but not controlled.

“Not every neighbourhood can be James Street North, but nor should they want to be.”

Richard Harris, a McMaster University geography professor, agrees there are limits to the creative industry. It can’t be everywhere and it can’t help every city in the same way.

He believes part of the reason it is working in Hamilton is the city has become an affordable, gentrified alternative to Toronto.

And like many other cities, Hamilton is becoming less focused on the car.

“Walkable cities are more vibrant commercially and socially,” Harris said. “It’s probably obvious to any businessman, but it seems to have been forgotten for a good period of time.”

It used to be that cars determined everything. But people have finally realized that didn’t really work, he said.

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