Hamilton Joins the Fight Against the Creative City!

Check out the great new flyer from Hamiltonians Against Neighborhood Displacement (HAND) about how creative city policies are causing displacement in Hamilton, Ontario.  If you are interested in contacting them please let us know.

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10 responses to “Hamilton Joins the Fight Against the Creative City!

  1. So, I’ll bite.

    As a low-wage artist who grew up in Downtown Hamilton in a working class family and has lived under the poverty line consistently for years now, I’d like to know why the pamphlet states that “women of colour” are cleaning my “office” and “making my coffee”. I don’t have an office (unless you count my livingroom which also doubles as a bedroom) and I usually make my own coffee. I work as a freelance graphic designer and musician, and I don’t make much money doing so, but I’m trying to do what I love as a career. I can’t afford kids, but even if I could, I certainly couldn’t afford to pay someone to look after them. I don’t feel that I fit into your sweeping generalization about creative people.

    I’m dedicated to my city- I’ve supported and organized numerous community efforts, both in a creative capacity and not. I’d like to continue to live in a city that affords people of all economic classes and all races the opportunity to make a living wage without leaving their hometown to do so.

    Thing is, I’m not at odds with the core issues your group and the Toronto group are trying to address. I attended the Creative Class Struggle talk at the anarchist book fair today. The speakers seemed well-meaning, and I can empathize with their feelings about gentrification and displacement in a City as dense and over-saturated as Toronto.

    But Toronto and Hamilton have some pretty vast differences between them. Most North Americans live in cities that have more in common with cities like Hamilton as they do with Toronto or New York.

    We live in a city with over 100 vacant buildings and thousands of undeveloped properties, many of them in our Downtown core. We live in a City where many people, myself included, face limited prospects when it comes to finding meaningful employment. Some of us try to take the risk and create our own employment if we can, and that’s not easy either.

    We’re a city in desperate need of sustainable local economic development and employment opportunities. We’re a city in desperate need of good urban planning, to reign in urban sprawl and get away from an emphasis on car-culture- creating liveable neighbourhoods for everyone- not just artists.

    Your pamphlet starts out with cut-and-pasted copy from the Toronto Creative Class Struggle pamphlet- instead of “Toronto is leading the way” it says “James Street North is leading the way” in your version, otherwise using the exact same text as the Toronto group. Are the problems of a sprawling, dense metropolis directly analogous to a community on one street in a city a fifth of Toronto’s size? So much that you can just copy and paste the same text and apply it to our community?

    I feel that your group’s messaging alienates a wide assortment of ‘creative’ people who would otherwise agree with some of the concerns you list on your pamphlet. I fully agree with the need for safe affordable housing, I’m against “policing poverty” and I have my own feelings about surveillance- in 2005 I made a presentation to City council advocating against the initial video surveillance pilot project, the first five cameras in the downtown core.

    I’ll remind you that many people who work in creative industries or as artists do so for low-wages- many artists do not make a full, living wage from their work. Arts administrators also often work for less pay and less benefits than the average employee.

    I think your group is targeting an entire community, and tarring us all with the same brush. I grew up in downtown Hamilton, and I want to stay in downtown Hamilton, and I want to do creative work in downtown Hamilton. I want an affordable place to live, and the opportunity to do fulfilling work in my own home. I feel that I can do so without displacing other groups of people. Apparently your group would seek to have me displaced?

    Hamilton isn’t Toronto. We have a small emerging creative industry, and it can bring about more economic opportunity for all Hamiltonians than it could ever take away.

    You’re confusing larger, more complex economic issues with a small local economy and doing it rather selectively. We’re not responsible for how the police conduct themselves, nor do we have ‘a privileged place in the City’s development’. I really wish we had more of a say in those things. I wish everyone did.

    There’s blood on everyone’s hands in Western Capitalism. If that’s the fight, go at it- take the bull by the horns and fight against Western Capitalism- go after all the culprits, all those terrible greedy capitalists destroying the world. I’m down with some of that.

    But a handful of small art businesses and a couple of arts organizations on one street in an economically-ravaged City are pretty low-lying fruit. Maybe artists are an easy target? We can’t afford to erect a 10-foot fence to keep the activists out like the G8. Some of us are actually artists and activists. Let’s have a real conversation about this.

    Matt Jelly

  2. One more thing- I think it would be a valid point that academic institutions and students are a part of the ‘creative class’ that Richard Florida describes. From what I can tell, Creative Class Struggle and HAND are both organizations comprised primarily of students and academics- correct me if I’m wrong in that assumption. So I suppose it would be equally fair to direct the same criticisms levelled at artists and cultural workers to academics as well, and rather unfair and selective to direct these criticisms to one set of “gentrifiers” and not another, correct?

    As academics living (I would assume) in proximity to the educational institutions you attend, please enlighten me. How have you ensured that your existence and the pursuit of your own passions has not displaced people of the marginalized groups you intend to speak for? Who cleans the universities- low-wage women of colour? Who makes your coffee? Who cares for your children? Who produces the raw materials that make your studies possible? These questions I suppose are valid? Are people who contend with poverty and homelessness welcomed on your campuses, or shooed away by campus security? Are ‘racialized’ and ‘psychiatrized’ populations well-represented and accomodated in the student body? Should I print up a pamphlet to get you started on a broader crusade against your own existence?

    If these questions are so important for artists and small business owners on James Street North to answer, why don’t you start by answering these questions yourselves? It would be helpful to give us examples of ways your groups practice what you preach, and instructive for those of us who want to live up to your shining example. What’s the alternative that you subscribe to? Are you as thoughtful of your impact as you’ve demanded of others?

    I apologize if I come off as snarky- but this is a natural reaction to the kind of incendiary messaging contained in the pamphlet; I feel unfairly alienated by the material. You may have some very good insights into these issues, and you may be very good people just trying to do the right thing, but I question the basis of the argument and how you’ve decided to go about starting this much-needed conversation.

  3. Pingback: Creative Class Struggle |

  4. Michelle Hruschk

    Matt: I think that you taking this a little too personally.

    You are right that many artists live below the poverty line but I think that you are neglecting the possible process that could emerge.

    Richard Florida is the client of many of the instituions that have caused the current economic melieu, we are finding ourselves in, so I would not take his thoughts actually as THE TRUTH. He represents the elite.

    It is a fact the affordable housing stocks in the city are decreasing, the waiting lists are long and people wait years.

    The conversion to condos is another issue, as this lowers the tax liability for the landlords, as they are now taxed at resident opposed to commercial. It also takes away the liability from the landlord in regards to repairs and maintenance, as fees are collected from condo owners.

    How are those who are low income going to able to get a mortgage.

    Are those who are low income given a chance to even give their opinion as to the changes in their neighbourhoods.

    The poor are managed, one only has to look at the current structure of Ontario Works, which not all people who are on social assistance want to be there. You are failing to acknowledge that many vast hoops people have to go through in trying to access work and school.

    I went to a local not for profit who was pushing minimum wage call center jobs, I spoke up that they were not paying a living wage, the facilator , very nastily chasticed me, trying to say that minimum wage is living wage. When I complained, I was told I was banned.

    It is an injustice that the very agencies that are supposed to be looking out for people are part of a process that denies people, workers their rights.

    Just because someone is a small business owner, does not necessarily mean that they are good employers or that they follow labour standards.

    Those who struggle deserve to have their voices heard.

    Maybe you could deliver some of that angst you have toward people like the president of Mac, who decided that jobs that were good paying jobs were to be contracted out, where workers are paid low wages, no access to benefits, where enforcing your rights is a struggle.

  5. You’re missing the point I’m making to a large degree.

    This pamphlet vilifies a large segment of people- some who suffer from the same problems you’re bringing up.

    Of course this is going to be the response to anyone who critically engages with this group and the way they make their points- that I don’t believe in the inequalities and marginalization that the group seeks to address. Because I’m one of these evil gentrifying artists and I apparently don’t care about those issues, right?

    The pamphlet doesn’t even go into the problems with Richard Florida or his theories- it makes accusations of the group which Florida has applied those theories. To single out artists and not students (both part of the Creative Class as Richard Florida describes it) is dishonest. Especially when this sentiment seems to be coming from a group of students who very much belong to that group, and contribute to those same problems to a large degree. To omit that is dishonest.

    I’m going to take it personally when the entire sector I work in (for very little money, I might add) is being lumped in one pile and accused of being the sole contributor to some of these problems. Especially when I try every day to live a life that doesn’t negatively impact others, and I’ve worked like a dog to contribute to my City.

    “You are failing to acknowledge that many vast hoops people have to go through in trying to access work and school.” I’m really not- I jump through those same hoops myself. That’s why this entire crusade to label the creative class as “the elite” is entirely absurd. Wanna see my bank balance?

    “Just because someone is a small business owner, does not necessarily mean that they are good employers or that they follow labour standards.”

    This is quite an assumption- does the group have any information to suggest that any of the small businesses on James Street engage in bad employer practices? Don’t any of you realize that most of the Galleries are sole-proprietors, and can’t afford to hire employees? Does anyone behind this cause have a true understanding of the alleged ‘gentrifiers’ they’re accusing?

    Maybe some of these questions should be addressed before anyone starts printing up badly researched propaganda on the matter.

  6. Matt, quick response just to say we’re in the process of writing a response to your first set of concerns. We don’t want to give a superficial treatment therefore are taking a couple of days to think it through.
    Regards, Claire (for Creative Class Struggle)

  7. Michelle Hruschka

    Matt: I feel that you are an important voice in the community, you are truly amazing in the dedication that you have given.

    Please do not think I am personally attacking you because I am not.

    I never said that the whole creative class is the elite, I said the Mr Florida is a client of the elites who have caused much of the problems we see today, which affects many small business owners.

    You write: This is quite an assumption- does the group have any information to suggest that any of the small businesses on James Street engage in bad employer practices?

    First off, I never accused any small business owner of james St of bad employer practises, I was speaking in general terms, that employers of small business do not always follow good practises.

    To offer some other input, I was speaking to a university grad, who works in the social services sector, who stated that those who are on welfare should be thankful for what they get, considering, people in other countries get nothing. To add insult ot injury, this person, who can afford market rent, has their butt in social housing. Let be realistic here, a single person on welfare is lucky if they get the 585.00 per month, which is not sustainable for people trying to find work, never mind all the oppressive rules.

  8. Will someone from HAND still be responding at some point? It’s been almost two weeks.

  9. I was a business owner on James North. I owned Worth Works Studio, an art gallery promoting soley the work of artists with disabilities at 241 James North. I got so tired of being trapped in my gallery at night by dealers selling crack in my doorway – before the cameras – and then the place was overrun by cockroaches when some of the dealers moved in to the apts upstairs, that I moved down the street. We closed shortly after when our daughter died on the opening night. That was 3 yrs ago on Aug 11th and the place has been cleaned up GREATLY since the cameras and the push to support the galleries on the street. It’s actually worth doing business there again, but my health has taken a turn for the worse and I am now on ODSP and have no hope of supporting a business, obviously. I am very lucky to be able to live in my own house.
    Having said that, I am pleased to stand in defence of ODSP saying that it absolutely does provide us with a way to live decently if we are careful. I have NO idea what all the whining is about. Welfare payments are simply a shame! But ODSP is frankly a blessing to people living in this province. In any other province we would pretty well starve.
    I am an artist and yes even before my health went downhill I earned pittance. Most every artist I know can say the same. We have never been a privileged class and it is utterly ridiculous to suggest it even faintly now. It is the artists who will be forced out of the James Street North area by the gentrification soon enough, not the residents. It is only one main street that is a business section and always was. Artists have always been the ones to move into the poorest streets in town because it’s all we’ve ever been able to afford! Learn your history!! And it is always us who are moved out after we make the street popular. Always! And so we will move again to somewhere cheaper and build that area up again and move out when that place is made popular. Probably Ottawa Street next I’m guessing.
    S’cuse me if I’m confused a bit here…but if the people doing the eloquent finger-pointing/whining here are university students, I’d just like to say how wonderful it would be to be wealthy and healthy enough to afford an education like yours. Alas…I spent every last penny of my life savings on my gallery on James Street North helping others the best way I could: promoting their strengths instead of crying about their weaknesses.

    Stephanie Hansen

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