Sunday, June 26, 2011

Moving from the east to the west....

This post originally appeared on OpenFile Hamilton, but I thought I'd repost it here as well - please let me know your thoughts.

This is it – this is the month that this former Torontonian officially became invested in Hamilton.

Since we arrived here in the winter, my husband and I have made it our goal to get to know our new home by becoming ingrained in the Hamilton culture in small ways. We joined the Art Gallery of Hamilton, a gym and go to as many events, festivals and restaurants as possible, trying to get a sense of what the city has to offer, and find our new favourite spots.

By invested, however, I mean that after six months or so of living, learning and experiencing Hamilton, I have now taken the plunge and become a property owner in the city.

When we moved to Hamilton from Toronto, we didn’t know much about the city, and needed to find a place to live pretty quickly. After looking at a few rental places, we settled on an apartment in the east end, not far from Gage Park, in a neighbourhood called Delta West.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was January, our first impression was that the area had a nice neighbourhood feel to it, there seemed to be a lot of pride of ownership and the neighbours were quick to say hello, and even help push our car out of a snowbank or two.

This part of town definitely has a lot going for it. Gage Park is a gorgeous green space, Ottawa Street and the new Centre Mall are not too far away and a lot of families have settled here.

Very quickly, however, the difficulties with walkability in this neighbourhood became apparent. For nearly the last decade, we had always lived in urban neighbourhoods (in Ontario and the UK) where nearly everything we needed on a daily basis – anything from the grocery store to the optometrist to the drugstore or coffee – was only a five or ten minute walk away. Until recently, we didn’t realize how essential this had become to our way of life.

As a one-car family in Hamilton, (a car which I rarely use, as I work from home), I often felt stranded in our new place, especially in the winter, with the only things to walk to being the convenience store and No Frills. Sure, the bus and taxis are readily available to take people wherever they want to go (and I did use them often), but there’s something to be said for heading out to the coffee shop for a break or taking a stroll to pick up something fresh for dinner.

With walkability at the top of our list of wants, we ended up putting down our permanent roots in the west end, with the shops and services of Locke Street or downtown now just a short walk away, and the hope that this will make all the difference to our quality of life in Hamilton.

This is not to say that a car will always be essential for those in the east end – I have every reason to think that my experience will not be the reality for much longer.

Things are constantly brewing on Ottawa Street, which seems to present the greatest potential for walkability for the neighbourhoods to the east of downtown, with new coffee shops and restaurants springing up regularly. It was also recently named one of the best streets in Canada.

Even closer to home, if the same type of amenities begin to move onto Main Street East, the residents of gorgeous south central and east neighbourhoods like Delta, St. Clair and Stinson will gain the opportunity that those in the west end have to shop local and stay out of the car more often – a concept which I’m sure is at the top of many people’s lists.

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