The city centre of Hamilton, my sweet home town, is dying. Since the 1980s, businesses have progressively moved to the edges of town and two massive malls on the northern fringe have sucked all the retail life out of the city centre.
There’s been a lot of talk about how to revitalise the downtown area. The current solution seems to be fighting the lure of the malls with another mall. The Centre Place mini-malls (part of my life since 1985) is being expanded with another two-storey wing. Farmers is moving in as a key tenant and Ward Street is closing to be part of the outdoor mall experience.
But, ugh, I think the focus is all wrong. Instead of replicating the suburban mall experience – which will never quite work because the central city can never offer free parking – the central city should focus on the cool things it has that the malls could never match. Namely the river, cool old buildings, the atmosphere of places like Ward Street, Alexander Street, a few laneways that are yet to be created, and Garden-sodding-Place. In other words, give people a reason to exit the giant Centre Place megamall. Give them a reason to go outside and walk the city streets and feel elated, not a bit glum.
Above are two artists’ impressions of the mega mall. There aren’t many people, especially compared with the usual bustle of a busy mall. This might seem like a deliberate move, not wanting the ghost people to obscure the buildings, but that’s what Hamilton looks like. There aren’t many people around the city centre any more. It’s all a bit like a ghost town and I’m not sure if the best intentions of a property investment firm can undo that.