Hamilton needs an urban oasis - let's build one
An Oasis in the City
Walking across Nathan Phillips Square
today last night, I discovered it’s truly an oasis in the centre of the city. Standing just to the northeast of the skating rink, I paused to take in the sight of the Bay Street towers and enjoy the sounds surrounding me. I took a day trip to Kingston today and returned to the Toronto Coach Terminal just after 2200hrs. Getting of the bus, I turned to walk towards Dundas subway station. My way was blocked by a garbage bin and the door of the bus. I walked to Chestnut Street and then south to Dundas St. Standing at the corner, something possessed me to keep walking south – I think I needed to walk as thoughts bounced around in my head. See, I was at Queen’s University today to speak at a student organized conference: The Queen’s Media and Journalism Conference. I left with more to think about than I contributed to the conversation – the desired result of any conversation.
Back on topic… the oasis
I entered Nathan Phillips Square, like I’ve done many times before. However, I’ve never (to the best of my memories) crossed the square at night and never (again to the best) in the winter.In the shadows of the night, I’m stunned by the contrast of the bright city lights beaming from downtown office towers. As I approached the iconic skating rink, I hear the smooth cuts of blades gliding and the swoosh of a skater stopping on the ice. What a beautiful sound, people out enjoying a crisp calm night in the centre of our country’s largest city. Then the sound of a passing streetcar. Then, the weird clattering of two sounds boxes – clattering noises discourage teens from loitering – in the PATH entry across from The Sheraton Centre and the moment is gone, just a memory that comforts me as I walk underground.
Why don’t we have an oasis in our downtown core, Hamilton?
Each time I walk in or out of the front doors of our City Hall, I wonder why we don’t have proper civic space in front of the seat of civic goverance.Having a five-lane highway there is part of the reason. As a child, however, I remember the water features flowing with jets shooting water into the air. For a boy, this is what made City Hall special. I’m not suggesting we shoot water into the air again – our City is broke. Across the street from City Hall, there is the Art Gallery courtyard. A concrete pad with a few sculptures of supposed artistic merit. People do not flock in large numbers on continuous basis to see the sculptures and the only group they seem popular with is the local graffiti artists who are able to vandalize them often because of the dead nature of the space leaving no witnesses to report the taggers.
An ice rink in the Art Gallery / Hamilton Place Courtyard?
Let’s bring this courtyard to life by building a skating rink in the centre of our downtown that makes us proud to showcase to visitors and put on postcards. Let’s bring people downtown outside of office hours, give the residents of our city an accessible gathering place and have our own iconic winter ice rink.
The challenge of ice skating in the era of climate change
Not only does our city need a vocal point for civic life downtown – Gore Park is not it, nor can it be while sharing the core with our other five lane highway – we need to have a serious discussion about creating artificially cooled skating rinks if we wish our children to enjoy this great winter activity. Open Hamilton created the amazing SkateHamilton web appthis year to help our fellow citizens find skating fun near them. One problem we didn’t expect – Mother Nature kept the temperatures above freezing most of the winter and rarely below 0C for more than 48 hours. None of our volunteer run outdoor rinks could open this year leaving our city with only two skating locations – Pier 8 and Dundas Driving Park. Both are great rinks but neither is easily accessible by public transit and neither is directly on a bus route.
Will we build ice rinks?
I say we should have a civic discussion about building outdoor ice rinks and we start by playing to have our own ice rink in the shadow of City Hall. Who’s with me?