Why we’re more Austin than Brooklyn

Much has been said about our city’s quest to once again become “the ambitious city.”

Articles have been written. Hashtags abound. And I spent some time at a brokerage who’s goal is to build that very city.

In this same discussion, many comparisons have been made to the similarities between our fair city and Brooklyn, NY, the capital of hipster cool. The Chamber of Commerce recently put together an excellent summit which brought leaders from the New York City borough to Hamilton to have a frank discussion on many topics, including the common trajectory which our two jurisdictions have travelled to come out of our larger neighbours’ shadows. Obviously, Manhattan and Toronto.

So, then, with all this positive momentum and energy behind the city’s revival, why do we settle our aspirations to be a suburb?

Let me explain.

While there are worse places to be measured against, Brooklyn is at its essence, one-fifth of New York City’s diverse make up. Yes, for many, NYC is arguably the greatest city on the planet and is a Mecca of culture and style. But Hamilton is not a suburb or a neighbourhood of Toronto.

I would argue a closer linkage could be made to a city like Austin, the state capital of Texas. Let’s look at the numbers.

Hamilton is just shy of 600,000 residents. Austin is a little over the 900,000 mark. Brooklyn is at 2.5 million people and counting as more and more Manhattanites flee the city for more space at a lower price point (ok, that sounds familiar and is a noted connection between us and them.) However, Brooklyn’s current population is a lot closer to Toronto’s than Hamilton’s.

Another area is the median house price in the three jurisdictions. In 2015, Brooklyn’s median house price was $574,500 compared to Hamilton’s $334,000. Austin came in at a respectable $206,000 for the same period. Housing affordability is a lot more reasonable in Hamilton and Austin, where home ownership is only a dream for many Brooklyn residents.

I’ll throw Brooklyn a bone when it comes to food, art and culture, as it’s widely noted that the borough has some of the best restaurants in North America, if not the world. Hamilton and Austin can hold their own in this regard, too.

But one similarity which connects the latter two cities is their ability to rally a revival around major cultural events. Of course, I mean Supercrawl and South-by-Southwest, or SXSW, which has grown to be one of the largest annual independent music festivals on the continent, attracting many tens of thousands of people for a week of music, film and digital entertainment – a far cry from most stereotypical sleepy government towns. Now the city is synonymous with culture, cool and progressivism.

The point is that we have a great many people doing great things to move this city forward. If we truly want to grow and prosper, we might want to set our sights higher than a great neighbourhood of a great city to being a great city, period. And why not go for a capital city while we’re at it!


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