I’ve heard from some close allies and friends of mine that they are concerned about Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) project and what implications it holds for the forces of gentrification in Hamilton.
I understand that there has been a lot of concern that the LRT system is only going to exacerbate the issue of gentrification in Hamilton’s downtown and push working-class folk out of their neighbourhoods.
I understand the fear. I’ve lived the fear. But it needs to be said that fear of LRT is smacking at the branches of the problem instead of tackling it at its roots.
First, so my position is clear: gentrification is absolutely happening in Hamilton, and rents have risen significantly. It is fact, it can be seen in the rental market pricing, it can be seen in the condo developments. We know it is indeed happening.
Better transit that promotes a higher quality of life does not have to go hand-in-hand with gentrification of a neighbourhood.
I get that gentrification is happening, and I know that we are doing an extremely poor job as a city of ensuring it doesn’t force people out of their homes as a result. The same goes for the province’s inaction.
Yet this doesn’t change the fact that low-income earners predominantly rely on transit. For most, it is a vehicle of necessity, not of choice, and it is the only form of transportation they can afford.
There are absolutely those who freely choose to ride transit, but there will always be those who must ride it if they want to remain employed, or in school, or go for a night out.
Public transit is the single mother with her child in a stroller on her way to the daycare centre before she goes to work.
Public transit is the high school student getting to class because their family car broke down.
Public transit is the means of getting groceries home.
Public transit is the only means of accessibility to the rest of the city for people who don’t have other options.
I cannot see the social justice in telling working-class people who rely upon transit that in order to help assure they can live in the neighbourhoods they presently do and still be able to afford it, we must reject investment in the underfunded transit system they rely on every day.
I cannot see the social justice in saying that if we allow a transit system that has notable improvements upon quality of life to be built, they will suffer. I do not see how this can be anything other than a disservice of the worst kind to these people.
I understand that the development of an LRT system will in some ways lead to higher demand for real-estate and development projects that are the very forces that help increase the flow of housing prices, and I do not mean to criticize or dismiss the very real lived fear that comes with that for people.
However, I do not understand why we are trying to tell people who rely on transit that better transit is bad for them.
It makes much more sense to tackle the roots of the problem by pushing for our government to actually ensure affordable housing initatives than to reject a billion dollar investment in transit and purposefully make daily life harder for the people we are trying to protect from displacement.
Working-class people deserve a transit system that does not treat them like second-class citizens. And they also very much deserve not to be forced out of their neighbourhoods.
Let’s tackle the real issue here – the roots, not the branches. It’s the lack of affordable housing measures that is the real issue for our working class, not the transit system that they rely upon.