Hamilton, city of the future

28 August 2014

City of the future

City of the future: Professor Iain White, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Alister Jones, Mayor Julie Hardaker, Professor Natalie Jackson and Andrew Yeoman, director of Yeoman Developments.

Citizens of Hamilton, listen up. We live in a fast growing city, with the youngest population in the country; what we’ve got to do now is plan well for a healthy and wealthy future.

At the final of Waikato University’s Winter Lecture Series for 2014 there were plenty of ideas about how the city might handle growth over the next half century. Mostly, the advice was to play to our strengths – agriculture, business and families.

Mayor Julie Hardaker opened the night saying the City Council will deliver its River Plan next month which will include 16kms of river enhancement and a major redevelopment of the Ferrybank area.

Professor of environmental planning Iain White was MC for the night and he said one of the few decisions people can make is how to manage space for the public good. He said the city should be a place where people wanted to spend time and money and where good investment decisions were made. “You cannot use other city examples as blue prints,” he said. “Change needs to be rooted in a place.”

But he also asked his audience to think about this: Hamilton is a city of 150,000 people. Paris has 2.5 million and covers roughly the same land area.

High density housing

Waikato alumnus and property developer Andrew Yeoman said the city did not have to keep spreading and that high-density housing can be done well. He said suburbs become like ghost towns during the day, but a mix of business, retail and residential ensured lively spaces. He cited his development in Frankton – the Village Quarter – as a good example, and Queens Park near the lake as an attractive but compact housing development.

Professor Natalie Jackson covered population change and said the city’s population would likely reach 221,000 by 2050, mostly coming from regions close by. And while the average age of people is currently 32, that will go up as the number of over 65s increases. “So while we need to plan for growth, we also need to plan for the end of population growth, which will happen in the next 50 years, and for the needs of older people,” she said.

Lessons from Hamilton, Ontario

Beaming in from Hamilton in Ontario, Canada, Neil Everson talked about how that city went from boom to bust and back to boom. Mr Everson is general manager of the city’s planning and economic department and he told a full theatre In Hamilton New Zealand via Skype that the town “built on steel” thought it was too big to fail, but it went from best town to worst.  

Bringing it back to best took serious planning, he said.

The first thing the city did was get rid of all its municipalities to form one united council then focussed on developing an integrated model for economic development, growth management, city planning, tourism and culture. They spent nearly a year developing their growth strategy. “It was essential to get people on board from day one and keep them informed,” Mr Everson said.

“We stopped all the silos and streamlined permits and proposals. And rather than attracting different types of industries, we decided to work with what we had and make ourselves cost competitive,” said Mr Everson. It helped that the city, with a population of 500,000, sits on Lake Ontario and is close to Toronto with a population of 2.7 million and more than 6 million in the greater Toronto Area.

Hamilton Ontario has recently been named top investment city in Canada, and top North American city. “It’s still a work in progress. Change isn’t easy but is necessary,” said Mr Everson. “Focus on economic fundamentals, make it easy for people to invest, work on your strengths and develop those sectors.”

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