Project Background

Conception: A "Green Guide" to Hamilton


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This University of Waterloo Major Research Project was first conceived as a "Green Guide to Hamilton" to capitalize on the emergent urban green tourism trend. Having recently visited a number of cities across North America with my partner, such as Calgary, Portland, Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Vancouver, Syracuse, Halifax, New York and others, it was clear that each of these cities have their own identity that has evolved organically over time. Each one also has a unique urban structure, built heritage, and relationship to its surrounding region. From a local economic development perspective, it is important to understand a city's "place," in order to develop effective strategies for growth and vibrancy.

Urban exploration

I did not believe we were alone in taking a keen urbanist interest in visiting cities to observe patterns of urban planning and development, particularly in the "rust belt," as weekend travel destinations. Indeed, we are not alone, as "urban exploration" tourism is rapidly growing in popularity [37]. The monumental relics of the post-industrial landscape can captivate a visitor's interest just as the ancient ruins of past civilizations, without the cost and complexities of intercontinental travel and hoarding crowds. Urban explorers photograph architecture, seek out the urban decay of derelict industrial areas, consider local sustainability and preservation initiatives, and witness the renewal taking place throughout these cities. There is also growing interest in contemporary architecture, built form, streetscapes, "historical fragments" [8] and the symbiotic connection between urban sustainability and the surrounding natural environment. The dilemma is that most local residents are relatively unaware these features in their own communities. These features seem so familiar to them and the resources enabling them to understand their cities better are not apparent.

Even in more modern, successful cities like Calgary, there is a rich built heritage and urban structure to explore. A trip on the local transit system or exploring on bicycle is also a requirement on these trips. There is usually some form of publication available for these cities, promoting local tourism, built/industrial heritage, architecture, sustainability projects and alternative transportation. These publications identify and promote the unique places in the city that aren't the usual tourist spots, and usually offer an understanding of the history and context behind them. Local residents and visitors alike may find this type of guidebook to Hamilton very useful in helping them see a side of the city they otherwise wouldn't consider.

Do tourist guides increase tourism?

Urban tourism has grown disproportionately to global tourism as a whole [92]. Although aggregate statistics show overall growth in tourism in cities, the effect of urban tourism is difficult to quantify. In Hamilton's case, tourism statistics published by Tourism Hamilton do not provide adequate detail to show a clear trend since their focus is on business (conventions and trade shows) and sport tourism (competitions and tournaments).

However, the direct spin-off benefits of an alternative tourism publication of Toronto called The OTHER Map of Toronto [45] were tracked. The map was touted as the first publication to link urban tourism and the environment. The map generated considerable awareness and tangible benefits [25]. A public-relations value of over $38,000 in the first six months, 29 media articles were written about the map, over half of the 60,000 maps printed were distributed within the first two weeks, and figures showed 8% of tourist enquires at the city's tourist information centres were for related information or a copy of the map. Furthermore, local business received international attention through the media articles, and awareness of green tourism increased. The authors conclude the map was a success in promoting the city of Toronto and the Green Tourism Association.

Why a book, not a website?

The Toronto Green Tourism Association appears to have disbanded shortly after publication of their 2003 edition map, titled the Tour Green Toronto Map, as their web addresses and, which were once touted as a "robust Web site" [39], now point to a bicycle rental shop in the city. It seems that the group's own sustainability was not to be.

A website requires ongoing maintenance and updating to remain relevant. An abandoned website quickly begins to break down once linked content is modified or removed, web addresses change or service contracts run out. Even an e-book may become unreadable in a few years time once the software format inevitably becomes obsolete. The web is dynamic, while a book is static. A book provides a lasting legacy for this project, and ultimately becomes an historical document or nostalgic snapshot in time of how things were.

Although it is now established that a printed book is the outcome of this project, a website would make a good companion for it. Using The Hamilton Book's content as a foundation, a companion website is envisioned to promote both the book and the city of Hamilton, and provide a portal for additional information and updates. Ultimately, for the reasons just described, it is not known how long the website will be maintained, remain useful or relevant, but the legacy of the printed book can continue indefinitely without fear of technological irrelevance.

What inspired this project?

The genesis of the project first occurred after being presented with a copy of Ecoguide Skane (2008)[26] . I was immediately impressed with the book and its portrayal of Skane as a sustainable, green tourism destination. There are some geographic similarities between Skane, Sweden and Hamilton, Ontario. The largest urban municipality in Skane is Malmo. Malmo's population is just over 300,000, which is similar to the pre-amalgamation City of Hamilton's population. Both Malmo and Skane have also experienced a number of municipal amalgamations over the years – centuries in fact. Like Hamilton, Malmo is an active marine port city, has a regional airport, an internationally renowned university nearby, a regionally significant "centrum" (downtown), a strong industrial manufacturing heritage, and a surrounding rural agricultural area.

The second inspirational publication is the Greater Vancouver GreenGuide (2006)[114]. Like Ecoguide Skane, the Greater Vancouver GreenGuide exhibits sustainable development efforts on a local urban scale, but leaves the reader with a broader impression of how the projects contribute towards sustainability on a region-wide scale. The authors of these publications clearly recognize how sustainable development can be a benefit to local economy, not just for tourism, but to also attract like-minded businesses and people to locate there. Promoting the unique qualities and livability of the area also creates a competitive advantage. Ecoguide Skane's publishers must also recognize the competitive environment across Europe for regions to be seen as green and sustainable to attract investment.

However, considering the research required to inventory, photograph, critique, and write a narrative for all of the eco-friendly, sustainable and even LEED certified developments in the city, it is clear that producing a comprehensive urban green tourism guide along the lines of the Vancouver GreenGuide or Ecoguide Skane is not a practical research project for one student. For example, GreenGuide had a 25-member advisory panel, several writers and a long list of acknowledged contributors to develop its content. The scope of The Hamilton Book must therefore be delineated by understanding Hamilton's unique situation and needs in terms of promoting sustainable local travel experiences, place marketing, community building and demonstrating the economic resilience of the city – concepts that will be discussed in the next section of this paper.

What are the objectives and motivation for the project?

In creating Hamilton: Brutal Beauty - Hidden Heritage, I saw an opportunity to combine my professional expertise in mapping and design, past business experience in map publishing, studies in Planning at the University of Waterloo, and current Masters in Local Economic Development. In addition, my direct experience working in the Hamilton community arts scene, on initiatives such as rapid transit, on citizen committees and with the Chamber of Commerce has provided me with some insights on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by the city. The following objectives are informed by this experience and through the research flowing from the next sections of this paper.

• Recognize traditional forms of tourism marketing in the city fall short of promoting its potential as an urban experience destination and the unique things that make it interesting.

• Highlight the economic development potential of Hamilton's strategic location, transportation linkages, heavy industrial base, infrastructure, and investment value.

• Shed light on sustainable initiatives in the city, such as urban renewal, infrastructure, energy recovery, harbour remediation and alternative transportation.

• Address the disconnection between urban (old city) and suburban/rural communities that make up the "new" City of Hamilton.

• Show this region-wide city is a unified "city of many communities" that are stronger working together than apart.

• Help in creating an identity for the City; form a sense of place that may ultimately lead to the development of a cohesive place brand and marketing strategy residents can a be part of.

The foundation of Hamilton: Brutal Beauty - Hidden Heritage is the city's past – its place and strategic location, durable infrastructure and radial transportation networks of road, rail, and water, which will lead the city to a sustainable future.

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The preceding is adapted from the academic research paper that accompanied the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage - The making of a guidebook to the City of Hamilton as a practical exercise in context-sensitive place marketing and community economic development. (Dunlop, 2013)

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)