Reflecting on a Year of Beautiful Surprises
From the Nest, Issue 11
by Cameron Kroetsch
As we approach the first anniversary of the Downtown Sparrow, I thought it would be a good idea to trace some of our brief history and share some of my experiences as its editor over the last year.
The initial desire to start the Downtown Sparrow arose about 4 years ago. I was working with a group of neighbours to try to get more information about a development in Corktown. We had asked for some planning files and learned that if we wanted them we’d have to go down to City Hall in person, pay a fee for the copies, and come back again to pick them up when they were ready.
It wasn’t a big deal for me, to be honest. I live downtown, am able to walk down to City Hall quickly, and had the support of my neighbour to help with some of it. But, it got me thinking and it lit a creative spark. What would it look like if everyone downtown just had more access to this information? So, this journey began, followed by coffee after coffee after coffee with downtowners, listening to their hopes and desires, checking in to see if they thought this idea had legs.
Their refrain was common, “Why doesn’t the City just put all of this on their website?” So, naively, and not wanting to duplicate work that was already being done, I inquired with the City, met with staff, and learned that a revamp of the City’s website to include more access to information just wasn’t going to be a priority anytime soon.
The more I spoke with people, and listened to their ideas, the more I realized that this was something others had thought about starting but didn’t have the time, resources, or technical expertise to get off the ground in the short term.
I knew I could muster those, but the timing wasn’t quite right, so I put it on the shelf and vowed to come back to it.
About a year or so later, in 2019, I talked with designer and artist Matt Jelly and website creator Sam Allemang about making this a reality. They thankfully agreed to go down this sparrow hole with me, and here we are, after more than a year of testing and fidgeting (there are many other people to thank, and I encourage you to read more about their contributions if you’re interested).
What started as a website for Hamiltonians to get more information about their downtown ended up, to my surprise, blossoming into a space to help people connect with one another during a time of intense isolation, loneliness, and fear. It may not have been my intention, but it’s been the happiest outcome I could have hoped for.
And I’m not the only one who has found something meaningful in our digital pages. I’ve heard from contributors, readers, and social media passersby that the experience of writing and reading has been a joyful one for them. It’s meant something.
Downtowners and neighbourhood and community associations have donated to support our work and some of our articles and projects have had an impact on the downtown community. It hasn’t just been a labour of my love, either. Behind the scenes, there have been about a dozen volunteers who have been helping with the work of researching, writing, editing, and maintaining what we’ve curated so far.
When the Downtown Sparrow launched in January 2021, I didn’t know what to expect. We added a section for articles, called From the Nest, and started inviting people to write. My goal was to try to strike a balance between people who had maybe never written publicly before, and folks who were regularly known to offer their commentary on Hamilton. My only request? Make sure it comes from your personal experience and that it’s about downtown Hamilton.
It’s been a beautiful year full of personal stories. We’ve featured articles on sprawl and the urban boundary expansion, Indigenous sovereignty, truck routes, and a few with a healthy dose of criticism for our municipal government.
Our most read pieces ended up being about hyperlocal issues like neighbourhood parks, affordable housing, and how we’ve managed to continue to care for one another during this pandemic, but every article shared a common theme – a deep love for our downtown. Speaking personally, it’s given me a lot of hope for our city.
Whether laudatory or critical, those who took the time to write for us this past year demonstrated how much they care about the future of our city.
In January, we’ll celebrate our first anniversary to kick off 2022, a year that will see both provincial and municipal elections, the cleanup of our contaminated waterways, and, likely, the return to more time in person.
If you’ve thought about writing for the Downtown Sparrow, but haven’t reached out yet, I hope you will.
Our collective voices, writing on the issues that connect us to our downtown, will be needed in the days to come.
Cameron Kroetsch is the editor of the Downtown Sparrow