Sundial in Garden Place, 1979. Hamilton City Libraries. HCL_M00437.15

A recent headline in the Waikato Times “Hamilton’s CBD not bold enough” had me nodding my head in vociferous agreement.

I’m a very proud fourth generation Hamiltonian. No doubt there are many that think I have reached that generation that talks about the ‘good old days’ of Hamilton.

I remember the fountains and splash pool of Garden Place, and how Woolworths would open out onto the square, handily near the hot nut bar.  I remember the DIC and how we could walk through a department store to the very fancy Collingwood Mall and buy fabulous ice cream from Quaggs. I remember when Centreplace was built, and the naysayers said it would be the ruin of the CBD as it would draw business and foot traffic from Victoria St (they were right). I remember Pollock and Milne, and hours spent choosing fabric for a new dress, followed by tea and a savoury in the spectacularly badly located ‘coffee shop’ on the first floor.  I remember late night shopping on Fridays, when you could walk from Whitcoulls in the south to Lims in the north and there were shops the whole way.  I remember the protest about the tree in Ward Street, and how pulling it out would destroy that end of town. Heck, I remember when you could actually go into the underground railway station for a look whilst you were waiting for a bus.

But what I remember most, is that shops opened to the road and there were lots of people.  There were not ‘shared’ spaces where neither car nor pedestrian had a clue who had right of way, and both were fighting oddly placed barrels of rhubarb.  There were not huge garage doors opening onto the footpath instead of shop windows (I’m looking at you Downtown Plaza/Centreplace extension or whatever your name is now). There were not weird middle of road carparks and plantings down the middle of Victoria St that blocked the connection between each side of the road.  And there were not massive windowless buildings blocking what could be the most amazing view ever to the river (that’d be the Bowling Alley).

Hamilton has the potential to have a fantastic inner city – the weather is mostly good, there’s already some real gems in our retail and hospitality offerings, and places like Victoria on the River are just, well, awesome.

I am hopeful that the vision shown for spaces like this, the walkway that can take you from the Meteor all the way to Claudelands, the fabulous sculptures that are appearing as if by magic, and the excellent plans for getting quality public transport in and out of the city, will move us forward.

We will never be Auckland, or Wellington, or Christchurch – and that is no bad thing.  I want to see Hamilton return to the heyday of having an exciting, safe and interesting CBD.  We need a co-ordinated approach here from developers, town planners, elected representatives and investors.  It’s more than collaboration, it’s about having open, sometimes hard, conversations about what will really make this city the place everyone says they want it to be.

Who’s going to make it happen?