We refer to it all the time – “The Ambitious City”, Hamilton’s nickname. It’s the title of books, put on T-shirts, and generally used as a rallying cry for those who seek great things for our city. Lately, it might even be eye-rolling given the unequal situation the community is facing.
In fact, the phrase itself had conflicting origins. It was first uttered by a reporter for the Toronto Globe newspaper in 1847. He derisively referred to Hamilton as “the city of ambition”. This suggested that Hamilton had ambitions far exceeding his talents. In response, Spectator editor Robert Smiley picked up the moniker, writing that the ambitious town was a proud and perfect descriptor of a community with great potential.
Whatever you think of the nickname, the meaning behind it, the ambitious tone, is worth looking up. In fact, the idea of civic potential has driven many achievements in Hamilton over the years. This kind of aspiration led to the creation of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the 1920s and 1930s. It was what led to Hamilton becoming known as “The Electric City” for being the first city to have the AC electricity or, more recently, the creation of Bayfront Park in 1995 which started the process of waterfront reclamation we see today. Supercrawl is another testament to the ambitious thinking that transformed a local street festival into a major nationally recognized annual event.
This brings us up to date municipal election which will see significant changes around the council table, including a new mayor and several new councillors. Competing platforms full of promise are revealed and a healthy debate is taking place.
We heard about transit plans, strategies for building more housing, and ideas for bringing more decorum to City Hall. All of this is welcome and important, but we need to know more about how the candidates, whether regulars or newcomers, will reclaim a culture of ambition in Hamilton – the vision or the larger goal. for the city that will make the community something bigger than it is today.
What might that look like? Take, for example, light rail transit. Most of the candidates have declared their support for the project and so it’s not up for a vote for the first time in a long time, which is fantastic. However, the LRT is a starting point, not the finish line. So what is the end goal? Some would say the goal is to build faster public transport across the city. That’s perfectly fine, but what about something more ambitious? How about a goal to make Hamilton the most sustainably connected city in North America?
Alternatively, there is the Chedoke Creek spill in Cootes Paradise. Candidates pledge to support the cleanup and ensure greater transparency in the future. Again, these are positive steps, but beyond the short-term cleanup, could our ambition go further? How about restoring Cootes Paradise to a pristine natural gem that will become a defining landmark?
These goals may seem lofty and far removed from the day-to-day concerns of municipal life, whether it’s fixing potholes or picking up trash. However, having a sense of ambition is what keeps us from slipping into the “good is good enough” mindset. It’s the difference between managing problems, instead of solving them. Moreover, ambition makes Hamilton punch above his weight.
We’ve done it before as a community, so let’s hear more about reclaiming ambition in Hamilton as we look to the future.