Ambitious City

Written by: Clarissa Huffman
Sociology Level III
Anthropology ’14

What comes to mind when you think about your city? Or any city? Most people think about the bustling streets, busy urban centres, and suburban residential areas. When most people think of urban planning they think of infrastructure and design; city hall professionals working to make our city run smoothly, with cost and (hopefully!) the environment playing large roles in the decisions made.

Since my interests lie in urban development, environmental assessment, and sustainability, listening to the Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, speak on his triumphs in transforming his city was absolutely enlightening. His open conversation with Jennifer Keesmaat, the Chief City Planner of Toronto, was equally as fascinating, bringing together two different parts of the country to talk about the strengths and weaknesses from both cities, and how they can learn from each other to grow into the strong, sustainable cities we hope to see in our country’s future. 

However, Nenshi’s words stood out to me (and everyone else in the room), for more than just his strength and compassion as a city leader, and for more than his ability to plan a city to be sustainable, but for his reasons WHY. He spoke a lot about the Calgary flood of last year, and I won’t lie to you, during that conversation I was brought to tears. Right there in the cathedral. The reason is simple. Nenshi is not your typical leader. His biggest interest does not lie in building the biggest, strongest, most powerful Canadian city. Or maybe it does, I’ve never had a personal conversation with him so I can’t fully attest to that. But the reason Nenshi stands out at what he does is because his heart lies in building a strong COMMUNITY, rather than a strong city. Nenshi’s words proved that a city can accomplish so much when it stands united against the troubles it encounters. This powerful sentiment echoed with the residents of Hamilton, who are faced with economic turmoil and the restructuring of our downtown core. There is a lot of talk about Hamilton being the ‘Ambitious City’ once more, with a resurgence of young professionals. But what I took from Nenshi’s words is that if we are to truly reach that turning point, we must stand together as a community. Not only to come to sustainable (both economically and environmentally) solutions to our transit, housing, and employment problems, but to use this unique opportunity we have here in Hamilton to rebuild our city as one with a strong community base for those refurbished solutions to flourish on.

How does this relate to EE and the Hamilton Matters Fund? Do I have anything to gain from listening to Nenshi talk about Calgary? I relate this back to my very first post: take EVERY opportunity. I was not expecting to be so moved by the lecture that night. I was expecting to be interested in the talk because of my interest in urban planning, but it turned out to be much, much more. So yes, even though Nenshi’s talk was about Calgary, it was also about Hamilton. About Toronto. About Montreal. Nenshi’s sentiments echoed as valuable across all Canadian cities. He gave us hope that as Hamiltonians, we have the potential for a great future with a strong community holding together a sustainable urban infrastructure. We can’t have one without the other.

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