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The best people want a good-looking place to live

It's hard to fully capture the link between good architecture and the economy, particularly in six minutes, but seven speakers gave it a try Friday at Mills Hardware.

All seemed to come to a similar conclusion: good-looking, functional places attract the best people, who in turn, fuel a city's economy.

"We have to compete for people," said Richard Allen, director of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's Renew Hamilton project. "Inspired urban environments and (the economy) go hand in hand. That's the business of city-building."

The Supercrawl-affiliated event was structured in the PechaKucha format: each presenter showed 20 slides and got 20 seconds to talk about each one. A standing-room-only crowd nearing 100 people packed the Sonic Unyon-operated event space on Gore Park, as architects and otherwise civic-minded individuals discussed how design fuels business.

"Things are changing (in Hamilton) and people here are hungry for it," observed audience member Ben Babcock, a carpenter who described himself as "keenly interested in the city's bones."

The event, called Architecture + Commerce, was organized by the Ontario Association of Architects, the Hamilton/Burlington Society of Architects and Renew Hamilton.

Toronto consultant Robert Freedman, that city's former director of urban design, said the evening's thesis was actually proven in a British study, which found that well-designed cities are doing better at attracting top talent.

He said old buildings give a city its character. More moves to accentuate heritage combined with better transit could give Hamilton the edge over "competitors" Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland, which are all experiencing their own renaissances.

"Hamilton is definitely on its way up, and if my wife would let me, I'd move here," he told the crowd.

Jeremy Freiburger of local arts agency Cobalt Connects revealed some new data from his group's Expressing Vibrancy study, which is examining residents' reactions to neighbourhoods across the city. It found people love heritage buildings, but only if they're in use.

"The positive effect of heritage does not outweigh the negative effects of vacant buildings," he said.

And if we don't like the built environment around us, there's a pretty straightforward fix, noted TCA Architects principal Bill Curran: Do something about it.

"One building can change a city's image," he said, pointing to Bilbao, Spain's Guggenheim Museum as a positive example and the McMaster business school on the QEW as a counterpoint. "We have no one to blame but ourselves for the buildings that we live in." 

Source: The Hamilton Spectator, Sept.12, 2014
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