Certainly all of Hammer Home is a tremendously personal project but my exploration of this specific neighbourhood affects me more deeply than my investigation of any other area in this city. You’ll see why if you read through all of this. I know it’s another long and wordy photo essay but I hope that you’ll bear with me.
Bounded by the CN Railway tracks north of Barton Street East, Main Street East, Wentworth Street and Wellington Avenue, Landsdale is part of lower (below the Niagara Escarpment) Hamilton.
What’s In a Name?
This neighbourhood is named after Robert Land I (1739-1818), an international man of intrigue who, with his wife Phoebe, originally settled in Pennsylvania in 1757. When the thirteen colonies of America revolted against Britain, Robert — a conservative British loyalist and Justice of the Peace who was familiar with the topography, became one of England’s couriers of military intelligence.
While under the command of the British General, Sir Henry Clinton, Robert was periodically condemned and confined for some reason but found a way to escape with an intention to reunite with his wife and eight children. Meanwhile, Robert and Phoebe’s home was burned down by American Patriots while the husband and wife were apart due to his dangerous duties as a dispatch bearer. Robert had no idea that his family had escaped death, unlike their British-loyalist neighbours. One son had been imprisoned, and remained in America even after his release when the American Revolution ended. Robert’s family first went to New York, and then on to what is now the province of New Brunswick. For many years, Robert was distraught in the belief that his entire family had been wiped out. With the aid of a Quaker, he fled to the British Dominion of Canada while being pursued and shot at most of the way by Patriots. His non-combative Quaker ally was captured and hung as a collaborator and combatant.
Robert first settled near Niagara Falls, and then eventually in rugged wilderness that is now the south side of Barton Street between Leeming Street and Smith Avenue. Between his neighbours being non-English-speaking native-Indians and his despair over the hell he had endured in life, he continued to live in solitude.
Phoebe and the children eventually made their way to Upper Canada and settled in the Niagara region, probably not far from where Robert had first settled. By sheer chance, and after a year or so, they learned that Robert was living alone in the place that would eventually become Hamilton. Phoebe never fully believed that her husband had been killed in the war. The family reunited and lived the rest of their lives as prosperous and grateful farmers.
In 1802, Robert obtained a grant of 312 acres, much of it becoming what is the Landsdale of today. Robert lived long enough to see the beginnings of the village that eventually became Hamilton. Phoebe died eight years after him. Even though the deed for the area was granted to him specifically, being that he was both male and the one who applied for the grant, I think of the neighbourhood as being named after his entire family and not just him.
The incredible history of Robert and Phoebe Land was turned into a drama called Rascals and Numskulls for the first time by local playwrights in 2009. I obtained a copy of The Story of the Land Family, archived by the Head of the Lake Historical Society. It is fascinating reading, and in some ways reminds me of my own life while living in the very neighbourhood that is named after the Land family. Perhaps you’ll see why by the end of this photo essay.
Looking at the Landscape
Landsdale is an architecturally insignificant neighbourhood. Today, it is strictly an old residential neighbourhood consisting mainly of Victorian houses that are prevalent throughout most of lower Hamilton. The General Hospital on Barton Street East is the most significant piece of architecture of Landsdale. There are interesting old schools and churches that still exist but while they help give the neighbourhood its character, any historical importance is pretty much overlooked.
This area is almost totally devoid of green space. Coordination between City Council and the Gibson/Landsdale Area Neighbourhood Association (GLANA) has resulted in improvements to the J. C. Beemer Park – I imagine more changes are possible in the future, and there is a tidy sliver of land known as Birge Park next to the CN Railway but I fear that these spots aren’t enough to inspire adults and children to go and safely experience the outdoors, observe the people of the city, their local surroundings, play sports or games or hold festivals and watch live performances while generating revenue from the arts, culture and tourism. Everyone cooped up in this community has to travel a few kilometers to places like Gage Park or the downtown core in order to get away. With everywhere so built up and in the way it is, I can’t see a way to ethically expropriate any land for redevelopment.
If I had my way, I would zone the block bounded by Emerald Street South, Tisdale Street South, King Street East and Main Street East as real estate for a small shopping plaza with a supermarket and small stores. The bigger block beside and surrounded by Tisdale Street South, Grant Avenue, King and Main would be converted into a lively urban park with trees, grass and walking paths to a central or near-central monument or sculpture that’s surrounded by a small flower garden.
On one side of the park, there could be a community garden for those interested in planting produce. On another side there would be open but roofed seating for readers and picnickers and near to them would be a postings board for advertising local concert listings, community events and resources, and area businesses. I’d also like to see some sort of pavilion or kiosk where neighbourhood residents could periodically showcase their art or any dissenting cultures that help to build Hamilton’s overall culture.
A quarter would remain open and grassy so that children can safely run up and down, as they always will, and so that annual festivals could be held there even if they’re small parts of other events being held in other areas of town. The park wouldn’t be heavily fenced in, if at all, but I’d like to see ornate arching gates that complement the overall traditional architecture of the city. In spite of the city’s multitude of omnipresent taggers, I would do all of this if I only had my way.
This area is another of Hamilton’s neighbourhoods that some describe as being a ghetto. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; there are no urban ghettos in Canada, and I’ve lived in both eastern and western Canada to know this. My opinion isn’t based solely on what I’ve researched about my country. There are poor neighbourhoods, and that’s hard enough, but there’s nothing yet in existence like a true inner city ghetto. Despite what some might want to say, Landsdale is not a ghetto. It is a neighbourhood with a fairly even mix of poor and “shrinking middle class” residents. It is definitely; nevertheless, one of the areas that have inspired Hamiltonian’s to nickname their city “The Hammer”. Even the Gibson/Landsdale Area Neighbourhood Association (GLANA), however, would have to agree that old Robert and Phoebe Land couldn’t have imagined their backyard turning into what is has.
I’ve always known the demographics of Landsdale as being very diverse but majority Caucasian. A fair-sized and highly visible Caribbean population has existed there for decades.
I know from personal experience that many Hamiltonians are quite willing to write all of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood off as they do with the residents of Beasley, Gibson, Stipley and Keith. I’ve listened to people talk, and I’ve heard them relegate the people of Landsdale to nothing more than a pack of criminals; homeless and stereotypical welfare bums; unattractive, unimaginative and untalented people.
How the Other Half Lives
When I returned to Hamilton in the late 80’s, after growing up in Prince George, BC for several years, Landsdale was one of the first neighbourhoods I lived in for a couple years. I can’t speak for anyone else because I know that there are many who are rightfully content to live in that neighbourhood but I found it tough to live in.
I lived pretty close to a halfway house for men in the area which, I thought, was poorly set up right beside a shelter for women, who escaped their abusive, and often recidivist husbands and boyfriends. I saw pimps and prostitutes occasionally loitering and picking up Johns in front of my home, and a few who I figured were actually cops executing stings.
Not too far away was a shack of a house with the biggest reputation of being a place where an addict could go to buy their drug of choice. I could never figure out why the police had not shut that hole down after it had been in operation for apparently many years while being so notorious all over the city (they didn’t raid it until a multi-jurisdictional sting from Hamilton to Montreal was executed well into the New Millennium). My grandmother lived cater-cornered to that place.
One night, I stepped out of my apartment to see two men pushing around some woman who seemed to be with them. Without going into detail, I can tell you that they didn’t much care for my getting into their faces about what they were doing to her right there on the sidewalk. The girl also made it clear that she didn’t want my help or anyone else’s. I think that’s one of those experiences in my life that I can say that I’m probably lucky to have come away from still breathing.
In the small, poorly maintained, dirt-cheap rent, Victorian townhouse I lived in most of the tenants were major alcoholics. Nearly every day or night I could exit my apartment and see one of my neighbours passed out stark naked on his floor with his door flung wide open. I would have to carefully step over the vomit of some other resident who couldn’t hold his or her liquor. The stenches of dirt, tobacco, marijuana, stale alcohol, puke, urine and only God knows what else in the building were incredible.
On the bottom floor was a pyromaniac who was said to have been released from the mental institution up on West 5th Street and Fennell Avenue East. Within the first year of my living in that building, he had indeed set fire to the place four times, one of which by lighting up his own bed mattress. A neighbour put out the first fire I know he set. I came home from job hunting to learn that I could have been homeless that day. The fire department put out the other three blazes. I guess it took four strikes because after the last one, someone came and yanked that guy out of there in a hurry.
The property owners, two brothers who lived in Toronto, still didn’t do anything to ensure that there were working smoke detectors in the apartments. The ceiling of every top floor apartment was caving in because it was only made of drywall that had been softened by the years of rain leaking through the roof. The wiring was touchy and any light-switch and outlet was in danger of sparking at me on rainy days due to the moisture seeping inside the walls. The whole building was running away with cockroaches and mice.
Despite all the harsh realities I saw, Landsdale wasn’t and still isn’t a den of iniquity. There are other lower north-central Hamilton communities that actually have worse reputations. I met some good, friendly, hardworking and reliable residents and store owners in that neighbourhood.
I found that the worst thing about being young and living on my own in Landsdale was trying to find employment. When you’ve studied graphic design in college, you can’t expect to readily find the job you really want in a town known more for its steel industry. This was a town that was quickly slipping into a national recession back then.
I went to so many interviews in which it had become clear, within the first ten seconds of the meetings, that I had no chance of getting the jobs. I could always tell that as soon as an interviewer read my Landsdale address at the top of my resume, all sorts of negative assumptions about who I was, where I was from and what sort of employee I was likely to turn out to be started filling their heads.
I was raised poor by a proud, Christian, moral, self-educated, tough and strict single Jamaican mother. I was taught very early that it was important to find legitimate ways of standing on one’s own two feet. Welfare was considered an absolute necessity for society but not for the members of my family. Using up my savings — from the short-lived jobs that I previously had in this town, without getting hired anywhere resulted in me literally living on one hot dog a day, and a bicycle canteen of tap water. That’s a cheapest of the cheap hot dog with no bun or condiments. That’s all I had in my fridge, a pack of hot dogs and a bike canteen, absolutely nothing else. I refused to accept welfare, fearing the amount of shame I’d be bringing to myself and my family.
This is why education is extremely important to my family. From very early, mum taught us that we could do all the right things as citizens, and even have high education and still wind up on the street. It had happened before to others, and it could certainly happen to us. The very least that we might be able to rely on; no guarantee, to get us out of such a predicament was our education and ability to communicate well. We would not be able to rely on anyone else. It will always be for me to be sympathetic and merciful toward others without expectation of reciprocation.
This was instilled into my sister and I repeatedly growing up, and I always took it quite seriously. It was especially impressed upon me being that I was determined to become a professional artist –- something felt to be highly impracticable and only worth being regarded as a pleasant hobby. It was often made clear that in pursuing that dream I’d likely have to work for someone for several years, if not permanently, before I could dare to become a truly independent entrepreneur in the visual arts. I know mum often feared that we didn’t pay attention, and she said so outright, but I did. The constant warning played a huge part in my unrelenting future shock as an adolescent and young adult.
A stroke of good luck was when I was temporarily hired for a roofing job during the last week of August 1990. You see, shortly after I had come to Hamilton, I began putting applications everywhere while going to Mohawk College. One place I applied to was an upcoming roofing company. I had never roofed before but I didn’t care. I wanted a job. A year later, a pathetic and clichéd starving artist, I received a phone call from someone there who told me that a worker just walked off of the job, and they needed someone to fill his shoes quick if I was interested. After praying so hard for weeks, I began praising God for answering me.
I hopped on my bike that morning and pedaled my scrawny and weakened self down to the office of the roofing company on Parkdale Avenue North. From there, I was shuttled in the back of a pickup truck with other workers to an old Waxman family property on Windermere Road where the flat-roofing job was. I started working.
My foreman was a coarse blonde-haired white guy named Allan Hamilton of all things. Even his first name was spelled exactly like mine. I was told that while it was true that a young worker abandoned his duties, it was mainly because of a curiosity between me and this other A. Hamilton why I was even called. At the contractor’s office, my resume with my Landsdale address was found but the details didn’t match up with the Allan Hamilton they knew, who had already been working for them for quite some time. They asked him if it was his resume. He appropriately denied it. While the street and our names were correct, the exact address number was off by approximately ten houses on the exact same side of the street, placing his residence not in Landsdale but in Stinson on the south side of Main Street. Go figure! I was more certain than ever that this was an act of God saving my life.
Being beaten down by the hot August sun on a hot roof with hot stones, hot metal, hot membrane and hot tar I was useless. All of the other roofers, every last one of them big gruff brutes who probably ate three-inch nails for breakfast, chased by stale beer, hated my guts. They thought I was just young and lazy. Probably like the young worker they bullied off of that roof and replaced with me. I was nothing like the brawny know-it-all supervisor Allan Hamilton they were familiar with.
I couldn’t tell them the reasons why I was so weak, lethargic and clueless about the job. I couldn’t risk losing this opportunity to make some cash. On top of that, everything that I had learned from my mother reminded me that if I was to ever get to a point in life where I might feel like looking for sympathy, the only place in this world I was likely to find it was in a dictionary. Praying to God for strength and stamina, and relying on my genetically inherited stubbornness, I soldiered on that week on a hot dog a day, and a bicycle canteen of tap water.
There was a 15-minute respite on one of those days when the 64 year-old business owner Chester Waxman (b. 1926 – d. 2008) –- a man with quite a reputation in this city’s controversial scrap industry, called us all into his air-conditioned office and gave us each a Koala Springs drink from his refrigerator and chatted with us briefly.
I don’t recall what all of the short conversations were about. How we were doing up there on his roof under the blazing hot sun, and some trivial things I suspect but I wasn’t one of the workers he spoke to directly. “Thank you,” was all that I said to him when he passed me a bottle. I did, however, notice his eyes studying me intensely above a nearly constant smile. He did this with everyone; measuring us, carefully making silent calculations on what kind of young men stood before him and was likely to become.
No, Mr. Waxman wasn’t smoking a cigar, as he has been well-known for, but I’ll never forget that smile and the way he studied us.
I’m not a spokesperson for Koala Springs but that drink felt so good going down into my weak and heat exhausted body. A welcomed one-shot addition to my cursed water and hotdog diet but in truth, my daily rations were all that I had. I was so hungry; absolutely starving, in Landsdale, in Hamilton, in Ontario, in Canada.
I was strengthened when I received my pay at the end of that week and got out of those poor guys’ faces forever. I was elated by my ability to buy a little bit of groceries again.
Still destitute and living in Landsdale, I still wasn’t finding lasting work. I was getting very close to winding up living on the streets like so many others that I saw around the neighbourhood. I was never before so scared in my life. Not even when someone stalked me through the nighttime streets of Prince George shooting at me while I tried to walk my dog. There were times when my frustration overcame me and I’d just bawl my eyes out and tremble when I’d get back home from another failed job interview.
All I wanted was to make ends meet and start building an auspicious future as an artist. Some characters turn to dope-dealing and other criminal acts while convincing themselves and others like them that they’re taking necessary means to remain gainfully employed but I can’t do things like that. I’d rather starve to death; not that that’s really an acceptable option to me either. I’m neither a sociopath nor an idiot. I’m conditioned to be something more. Not an angel but someone stronger and far more disciplined and respectable than a common hustler. Although difficult for many to believe in this cynical world, I really was just someone down on my luck.
My older sister Gail pleaded with me to go on welfare. That was so hard for me to do. I hated doing it just as much as eventually having to use the food banks around town. I don’t like pea soup but when a food bank gives you a can of it, and you know it’s going to give you just enough nutrients to keep you from dying it tastes like a gourmet meal.
The best paying job I was able to eventually land while living in Landsdale was as a temporary art instructor at Hamilton East Kiwanis Boys’ and Girls’ Club across town. That too was sort of my sister’s idea. She recommended that I try to find a job teaching art to kids. She didn’t understand that with the kind of, honestly, edgy mature sort of art I was interested in producing, and still do; I thought it would be terribly inappropriate for me to pursue doing anything with children. Within a week of her trying to convince me, however, the provincial government put up a job posting for doing exactly what Gail was recommending. Beggars can’t be choosers so I went after the job, showed my portfolio to the hiring administrator at Kiwanis, knocked his socks off with my art, and was hired immediately. He said he was so impressed that he didn’t need to see anyone else; I was exactly what he was looking for. I’ve always looked at that moment as another profound act of God coming to my rescue in those years.
As I was paid directly from the government to work at Kiwanis — a not-for-profit organization, the pay was very good and I didn’t have to continue on welfare. That was such a relief. The job didn’t just help me financially; this is also where I met my future wife, who also happened to live in Landsdale and had an idea of how hard it can be to find work from there. She was also working at Kiwanis on the same government sponsorship program. I also genuinely did enjoy showing the kids there how to draw, paint, use their imagination and draw on things like personal and other people’s life experiences, and their favourite music to inspire their creativity. I am forever grateful to God and the people of Hamilton East Kiwanis.
Sometime after that job, and Kim and I were a couple, I started working at a recycling plant (another Steel Town job that has absolutely nothing to do with the arts) in Industrial Sector C. In time, we left Landsdale for good but we know that that’s an area we can never forget.
Expectedly, life continued to be hard but it began progressively improving for us when we moved away from that neighbourhood so many years ago. Without going into detail, more opportunities came after we eventually settled into the Ainslie Wood East neighbourhood. Instead of being left alone because few cared whether or not if we existed, neighbours left us alone because it is a quiet and pleasant place to live, and everybody gets to enjoy their legal right to peace and privacy. Above all, we achieved greater respect from others; both neighbours and people from other parts of town. These were benefits that wouldn’t have come to us as easily if we had stayed in Landsdale. While these are good things, and I’m completely okay with taking full advantage of them, in my mind they’re also disappointing because people shouldn’t be respected more and have better chances in life just because they live in a nicer location than someone else.
I can speak from personal experience that the people of Landsdale should never all be written off. These experiences are why I have such an unyielding interest in street photography and homeless photography, deep concerns about local homelessness and worldwide poverty in general. Once in a blue moon, I honestly tear up a little when I think about what I lived through, and what someone else still stuck in a rut in Landsdale may be going through. Then, I think of people in similar situations in other tough neighbourhoods; in other cities around this planet, especially those living in real ghettos.
The Art of Muckracking
I need to express that my negative experiences in Landsdale are not even so much about the neighbourhood as they are about me and my chosen professional path. I grew up constantly reminded, and having no illusions that seeking a career in the arts is, for most, a tricky endeavor. I knew from very early in my adolescence that exactly the sort of things I faced in Landsdale could actually happen to me. While fearful of it, deliberately trying to avoid what I had experienced and always being one who detests the starving artist cliché, I couldn’t let myself copout and seek some boring and easy route to success. I knew that by accepting whatever hardships I faced in life for being an artist, it would only serve to make me a stronger and smarter individual and a better artist — if I survived.
I don’t think I can adequately explain this “strategy”, if you will, so that others might understand even a little. I don’t care for other clichés like, “suffering for my art” or “tortured artist”. The best I can do is say that I’ve always likened the concept to the blues. It is a fact that the greatest blues artists actually lived the life they sang about. Their lives are in their words, their voices — every inflection, and how they play their instruments — every note (once upon a time, even hip-hop had the potential to be that genuine but that’s all changed now). There are many who learn to write, sing and play the blues quite well because of an understandable love they developed for it but you can still tell that they haven’t experienced what true blues is about. That raw essence just doesn’t come out in their music — as good as their music may be, because they’ve never really experienced anything.
I know what it is to desperately want to help others but can’t because I have to focus squarely on saving myself. I know exactly what it’s like to have the knowledge and ambition to realize my dreams but still can’t because for so long I don’t have the money required to finance my goals; and a lack of funds is the only real hindrance to my plans. I know precisely what it is to wish I knew people who could and would help me but in reality don’t know anyone, and as hard as I try to gain some contacts, nobody even wants to know me. I know just what it means to have to suck all of that in and still never give up.
It’s not as though I come from any level of affluence either, and decided to experiment with “slumming” as though I were some insensitive aristocrat or middle-class voyeur of the less fortunate. I was born poor, and raised poor but very proud and dignified — I have no self-pity about my origins. I had just never been so close to destitution before, and that is actually a different form of poverty. It’s a much harsher kind.
These days, the established societies of this planet are not the friendliest environments for serious artists. There seems to becoming less-and-less people, including other artists, willing to take themselves to the brink of hell and then dig themselves out again for art or any other reason anymore. Certainly, we’re still out there, and there probably will always be some of us but not as many as there might have been in the past.
The good times and grittiness of my life before, during and after living in Landsdale is always there in all of my fine art. Achieving this is so important to me, even though I know that many others will never understand it. Besides, I’ve always been well aware that there have been millions of others in this world who have endured far worse than I have and survived; even thrived. I’m confident that this unfortunate phenomenon will continue. So, I have profound respect for Landsdale, and even what I’ve lived and learned about life.
The Hamilton Police Service (HPS) regards the city through three patrol divisions. Landsdale is located in the eastern portion of Division 1, which is surrounded by Sherman Avenue, the border of the Dundas and Ancaster communities, the mountain brow and Hamilton Harbour. Division 1 is further broken down into four sectors for the police. Landsdale occupies the southwest portion of the Sector 2; also known to the HPS as North Town.
The electoral Ward 3 includes the lower Hamilton neighbourhoods of Landsdale, St. Clair, Gibson, Blakely, Stipley, Delta West, Crown Point West and all of the industrial sectors north of the CN Railway tracks, and between Wellington Street North to the west and Ottawa Street North to the east. This is the bulk of all of the areas responsible for the entire city’s gritty and polluted reputation (also where American movie producers and directors do a lot of scouting and filming to mimic truly harsher US inner cities). In 2008, Ward 3’s Councillor Bernie Morelli (b. January 8, 1943 – d. January 14, 2014), who had also been on-and-off chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board (HPSB) for many years, informed the press that at that time there were seven to eleven crack houses in his ward.
This news came at a time when a private citizen launched a Facebook group called “Get Rid of All the Crack House’s” (sic). The group was Tanya MacPhail’s reaction to seeing someone she loves getting swept up into Landsdale’s crack house invasion. Her mission; simple in concept if not in execution, was to eliminate every last crack house in Landsdale, and inspire or shame other citizens and governments around the world to do likewise by making this problem a high priority. Her leading tactics; boldly listing and posting photographs of the addresses of known and suspected crack houses on the web page, and excoriating them. I observed that a lot of people contributed information for quite a while. I absolutely adored that web page (sadly it’s no longer around).
By the way, the blocks I mentioned before as being great for expropriation are of a district reputed as having most of Landsdale’s crack houses and prostitutes.
Prostitution has an interesting impact on the area. The flanking neighbourhoods of Beasley, Gibson and Stipley see prostitutes conducting business almost exclusively on Barton Street along the north end but sex work is almost equally visible on both Barton and King Street in Landsdale. The area is virtually sandwiched by it.
Intolerance toward the ladies of King Street appears to differ from the quietness and semi-acceptance of sex work on Barton. While some people say that they’re afraid to go to lower Hamilton areas like Landsdale out of fear for their safety, nothing seems to stop some young women from driving through the area in SUV’s and jeeps on occasional Friday evenings to harass the mistresses of the night, and add to the district’s sullen reputation.
The girls in the cars will holler “Slut, whore, hose bag and skank!” at the streetwalkers. As this part of King is only a one way westbound street, the vehicles sometimes circle neighbourhood blocks so that the occupants can enjoy firing a few more salvos of insults and epithets.
This only prompts retaliatory screams of, “Fuck you!” and “Fucking bitches!” and middle-fingered gestures.
Intermittently, there are the reports of stabbings, other assaults and shootings throughout the old suburb.
As usual for this project, I’m trying to get an idea as to where Landsdale is heading, that’s why whenever I study a neighbourhood I start looking into its past in case there’s something there that will indicate a future outcome. I liken it to meeting an adult and discovering that they have certain peculiarities and temperaments. The reason for their character or personality is more often than not the result of trials, tribulations and positive experiences they had as children.
It’s quite interesting, if I may use that word, to discover how Landsdale came from being Robert Land’s old farm to the less fortunate neighbourhood it is today. From what I’ve been able to piece together, partly due to living there, is that Landsdale has been an old inner city working class neighbourhood since at least the 1950’s, a time when most of lower Hamilton saw much of its growth. It seems to have been tainted through abandonment by many of the working class moving away to more modern suburban areas on the mountain and in Stoney Creek in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and increasing their economic status through organized labour.
Those who left, sold their properties to out of town investors who went on to convert those houses into low rent multi-unit and even illegal apartments that remain inadequately maintained by the owners or dwellers. Exactly the kind of place I lived in on Emerald Street. Mind you, the term low-rent has to be carefully weighed as the March 2012 Neighbourhood Profile by the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) of Hamilton, indicates that 62 per cent (4,786) of Landsdale residents are renters, and 57 per cent (4,400) of them live in places they really can’t afford because they spend 30 per cent of their incomes on that housing. I know this all too well.
The vast majority who stayed or moved into Landsdale were non-unionized workers and their families whose economic advancement was slow. Many of them produced a generation of offspring with limited education who would become dependent on public assistance, and their also poorly educated successors learned to do the same.
I moved into the area back in the early 90’s, and moved out in the early 90’s. It’s been many years since Kim and I lived in Landsdale but I still pass through there virtually every day. I’ve studied the area ever since, and I have observed that the living conditions have unfortunately not changed in more than 20 years.
Despite all aforementioned faults including those not even mentioned in this photo essay, there are still people nevertheless, who are quite ready to state that Landsdale is not as scary as others make it out to be. Don’t worry; I still have high hopes for the old neighbourhood.
The old Landsdale Area Neighbourhood Association (LANA) reformed as the GLANA in 2012 in order to lead the struggle to improve both Landsdale and Gibson. I recognize that running an association of this kind is a highly important first step. That’s what’s always needed when faced with any situation that seems insurmountable, a bold start with a show of solidarity in a systematic approach.
Unfortunately, it seems that the posting of my first photo essay on Gibson, another beaten down area, sort of shook up or irritated some of the GLANA’s new members. Some indicated that they understood exactly where I am coming from with Hammer Home but others didn’t know what to make of the essay, and took to assuming that it was just another character assassination of this city and one of their beloved areas of residence. Those who were put off by the essay invited or should I say challenged me to attend one of their monthly meetings. Of course, my wife and I went. I’ll always appreciate that they were fair and interested enough to give me an opportunity to show that I’m not about slamming this city.
I knew going into this project that there would be those who would automatically assume the worst. It would take time before people began to recognize that this project could be used to their benefit, not just my own. They, of course, have absolutely no idea of my personal experiences in this city and how those experiences drive me to carry out this project.
I don’t believe in denying the problems that exist in areas like Gibson and Landsdale but I also don’t believe in condemning these neighbourhoods to hell for no real reason. I hope that the members of the GLANA have truly come to realize that I am most proud of them for taking up the long fight to systematically improve these areas, and have seen that Hammer Home also shows the positives of this city and its people, not just the bad. I believe that they can prevail, and I hope that I will be able to somehow contribute to their success.
The GLANA has established a Gibson and Landsdale Area (GALA) Neighbourhood Action Plan, which aims to make very specific improvements in:
• Public safety;
• Business and services;
• Culture; and
Landsdale is another part of the city in which gentrification will be necessary to save it, and I believe that considerable change at its current pace could be achieved over the next thirty to forty years.
As the SPRC pegs Landsdale’s current population density at 7,720, they indicate that 38 per cent (2,933) of these residents are homeowners; therefore, having the highest stakes in the area by virtue of possibly being permanent residents. I say possibly because 28 per cent (2,162) of the homeowners can’t afford their homes as they spend at least 30 per cent of their incomes on housing. They have considerable reason to sell their homes –- if there are buyers for the 60 year-old abodes in very old style surveys hemmed in by pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other thugs, and abandon the area. It will certainly require stalwart dedication and coordination by the homeowners and city council to ensure that improvements to Landsdale take hold by 2055, and last.