Glowering down on James North

Given that I woke up this morning musing on what I might find to blog about today (lest I suffer further admonishments from the big brother in Whitby), I should have been pleased to see a big shiny Spectator article laid open on the dining room table. Perhaps the problem was getting hit at my sourest point of the day with no coffee in my system to dull the blow, but my reaction was more one of gut-twisting revulsion.

themotherfuckingcondo.jpg

Now, I like to think that whatever vitriol I may tend to spew in this forum comes with at least some degree of even-handed explanation, even a small attempt to glimpse the other side of an argument, but this won’t be one of those times. The coffee didn’t do the trick and I’m already craving something stronger, so I have no choice but to fully own up to my arts-supporting agenda and lay this out there.

The idea of a seven-story condo springing up on James North a scarce 18 months from now sickens me to the point where I can’t pretend to care about the positive economic impact of such a thing. Its scale and aesthetic is callously out of step with the rest of the street’s heritage such that no amount of trendy loft stylings or rooftop garden is going to mitigate the fact that this venture has no interest in the cultural life of James North except as a means to a monetary end.

The planned condo units, purportedly “priced for Hamilton’s market” are explicitly targeted at a demographic that runs counter to much of the street’s present population: “young professionals, urban lovers and transplants from larger cities” to quote architect John Mokrycke. I don’t think it’s a stretch to sum up that audience in one word – Toronto – and am therefore not sure whether to laugh or weep at the prospect of such a deliberate head-start on the same gentrification that made Queen West and similar arts-driven Toronto communities inaccessible to the artists and young professionals now looking to Hamilton for an affordable place to live and work.

This brazen exploitation of our emerging cultural core, so highly valued by our creative people because it had been so deeply neglected, is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that this apple isn’t nearly ripe for the picking. Many storefronts remain vacant, the businesses with open doors are intimate in scale and ambition, and I still frequently encounter people who would hesitate to walk James North at night, no matter how much I snort derisively at their paranoia. In short, this revolution is too young to fast-forward to the finite gentrification of the street, and if this development backfires no amount of vindicated spite is going to ease the fact that this generic, one-size-fits-all monolith would be a terrible blight on the street should those units not sell in timely fashion.

Fuming over this development has put me in mind of something a former professor of mine, John Calcutt, wrote in an article for MAP Magazine in which he converses with three Glasgow-based artists on the state of their art scene – one which stands as a prime model for Hamilton’s own cultural evolution. I’ll let the great JC bring it on home:

We also raised the fact that most of the art made – or, perhaps more precisely, exhibited – in this city is not made by native Glaswegians (of the four of us, only Karla [Black] is Scottish). The latter does not seem to be an issue: the key factor is a willingness to participate, to contribute to, rather than exploit the potentialities of the city’s grassroots art scene. It’s maintaining and developing the conditions for producing good art, rather than a concern for ‘authentic Scottishness’, or naked careerism, which is at stake here.
(John Calcutt, ‘Made in Glasgow’ in Map Magazine Issue 4/Winter 2005, p.32. Emphasis mine.)

Actually, thinking about this has put me in a right pissy mood. And this entry needs more art. To ease the snarkiness, here’s a funnier take on snarkiness by Ali Jersey, linked from the Art 21 blog, showing exactly what happens when brazen commercialism impinges on art. And in case there’s any doubt, yes, this is a total spoof:

Ali Jersey Art 21 from Jamtron on Vimeo.

That’s much better. Reckon it’s time to crack open a Bud Light. Kidding, of course – Bud Light isn’t real beer, and I could probably do with something a lot stronger. And Scottish.


COMMENTS / 3 COMMENTS

Man are you way off base……

This is a blessing to James North not a curse and quite frankly would be quite surprised to see it even come to fruition.

Adding a hundred units would mean adding essentially 200 permanent residents to James North and said people would go along way to fill all the vacant stoefronts in that area.

I surmise that you are viewing this strictly from the art scene point of view and to that I would say you reaaly need to look at the big picture…..i.e. life

John added these pithy words on Jul 24 09 at 4:16 pm

Interesting point about the revolution being too young. However, a catalyst is sometimes needed to change conventional images about this area. Return of our train service to James N is needed for gentrification to occur. I disagree that this development is for a Toronto audience. I’m happy to see an influx of out positive minded artists, but This is Hamilton for Hamiltonians, to borrow From Morrissey’s ‘England for the English’ Lets hope it works!

Joseph added these pithy words on Aug 14 09 at 4:19 pm

I think the re-landscape of James Street North is what Hamilton needs. People need an artsy place to venture out to,

Richard added these pithy words on Nov 10 10 at 3:20 am
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