Mahesh P. Butani, Candidate for Mayor in Hamilton Municipal Election 2010

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Candidate Details (top)

NameButani, Mahesh P.
ElectionHamilton Municipal Election 2010
Email mpbutani@gmail.com
Website http://www.ButaniForMayor.com
BioMahesh P. Butani grew up in Bombay, in a third generation family of contractors & developers, and trained as an Architect in the late seventies, and subsequently taught architecture and environmental design. He traveled to New York City in the early eighties to pursue his Masters in Arts Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

He moved to downtown Hamilton in the mid nineties and attempted to pursue his career in architecture, but instead got involved in renovating old buildings in the core, as his foreign education and decades of international work experience was not recognized to be relevant in Ontario.

His personal efforts and determination in having foreign experience and qualifications recognized by professional organizations in Ontario, resulted in significant reform at the Ontario Association of Architects in 2003, with the unconditional removal of the discriminatory term "Canadian Experience" from all architects job listings — a terminology that was being until then freely used by the association for over three decades to blatantly exclude some of the best internationally experienced architects in Ontario from access to their profession and careers.

He has over the last fourteen years lived in Hamilton and worked on many revitalization projects in downtown Hamilton, and was the founder, director of the Downtown Arts Centre, and played a central role in securing private construction financing commitments for the Music Hall of Fame bid on Pier 8 based on a unique architectural design and site plan for the eight hectare land parcel on the waterfront. A design scheme and efforts that continues to be not acknowledged in public by the local media. He was also directly responsible for the re-branding of the former Spectator printing press building located in the downtown core into the FilmWorks Lofts project.

Butani continues to be passionately involved in many private sector initiatives that are working to rebuild the downtown core; and over the years has volunteered many hours of his time as a Director on the Boards of various organization such as the Threshold School of Building and Arts Hamilton; besides actively mentoring many professionals who moved to Hamilton over the years.

Butani understands and deeply appreciates the collaborative leadership skills that are required to continue rebuilding and maintaining vibrant, safe and healthy communities in Hamilton, and in his efforts to promote innovative collaborative approaches in our city, he has developed an on-line social network called Metropolitan Hamilton.

Mahesh P.Butani has also been a frequent contributor on local blogs: The Hamiltonian, and Raise the Hammer - where he writes about urban development, urban issues, city politics, the role of the local media, and the importance of Hamilton becoming a Learning City.

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Responses to Questions (top)

QuestionBrief ResponseFull Response
Will your term change people's first impression of Hamilton, and make that first impression more attractive to visitors, students, commuters and newcomers? If so, how? Yes My term will be defined by the theme: HamiltonNow! - not our yesterday, not our tomorrow, but our NOW!

It will strengthen our shaky confidence in our own abilities to seize the moment and run with it in order to carve out our own destiny -- an act of 'community self actualization' that is rooted in implicit respect for our younger generation and their dreams & aspirations; while not loosing our deep admiration for our seniors and their contributions.

My proposal to develop an open citizens office in the mayor's office called InnoHa! - short for "InnovateHamilton" - will define new standards in community collaboration; organizational transparency & public accountability; and cutting edge innovations in sustainable living.

Creativity or a' creative city' will be the natural outcome of adopting these principles, and the first impressions of my approach will be: a truly open and welcoming Hamilton - which will never again have to shout out aloud about its attractiveness, but by the very way it conducts itself, will be perceived as one.
Many observers argue that Council meetings could be more respectful and professional. Do you agree? If so, what will you do to change this? Yes The current council's reputation for being unruly has been magnified by the single infamous act of "pencil throwing" in the council hall!

By now, we have forgotten what led to that sorry incident - but the reputation of 'gross unruliness' stuck. Could that particular councillor's salary have been docked? Could he have been reprimanded and forced to offer a public apology for his act? Could he have been forced to do community service - especially when the general perception of this particular councillor has been that he was MIA through most of the two terms?

Instead, our media gives this councillor the status of a know-it-all patriarch, and elevates him to become a front runner in one of the most critical elections this city is facing. And now empowered, he goes on to extol the virtues of procedural by-laws and rules of order to the community - without once taking blame for his actions which brought so much disrepute to the entire council; nor once accepting his well known fiery temper and his predilection to hold grudges at the smallest of perceived slights.

Our serious concern here should not be the collective misbehavior of our councillors, which I think is exaggerated and quite unfair - but the recurring individual outbursts that can easily be identified as a personality trait - which has gone unpunished in our council hall as well as in our media.

Our perception of 'councillor unruliness' is also often magnified by council votes that are often at odds with our preferences - and as such we need to be very specific about what creates this impression of unruliness and lack of professionalism, and what gives the loose impression of dysfunctionality - from our councils inability to arrive at a time bound consensus on critical matters regarding our city.

I would develop a new code of conduct for all councillors (to reflect our new market focus on economic and business development) - not just for while they are performing their duties in the council hall, but also when they are out in the community, or responding to their constituents service or inquiry calls. Any proven violation of this code of conduct would result in swift and decisive actions as prescribed in this new councillor performance manual.

The Bay Observer recently asked a similar question: "The public seems to have lost respect for the way city council functions. Why?"

Below is an excerpt from my response in this months edition:

"Much as the public appears to have lost respect for the way city council functions, it is part of the bigger loss of respect for our many public institutions that once stood for honour, integrity and respect. Our local media sadly has played a very central role in alienating the citizenry. When it can easily play an educative role in honestly informing the residents of our civic affairs, it chooses partisanship and sensationalism. The public takes its many cues from the media. And the payback is apathy and loss of respect..."
Some cities have committed recently to publishing their public data in an open format that citizens can directly access. Should Hamilton pledge to become an "open source city"? Why or why not? Yes I have been a proponent of an "open source city" for a very long time.

See some of my earlier views on this at: http://metrohamilton.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-city-as-an-open-source and http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/893/#comment-31573.

Hamilton needs commitment in this area, and that can only come from a new leadership that implicitly understands and inherently values "open source" thinking.

It is no longer about making pledges. It is about seizing the moment and running with it. We have lost precious time in wishing and hoping that the current leadership somehow learns about such ideas and gets around to believing in it enough to implement them. The benefits are enormous -- but over the last decade, the fear of the "new" has always stopped us from becoming truly who we are as a community.
Is Hamilton doing enough to support and encourage new investment in our older neighbourhoods? If not, what should the City be doing? No The current meme of the month is: "We need to do more"!

This notion has been repeated over the last months, by many of our popular public action figures, who continue to be actively involved in the shaping of our public policies. Yes, we need to do more for sure! However the reality is that once these action figures utter these platitudes, they go back to doing less while talking even more - about doing more!

Encouraging new investments is the obvious way to solve some of the problems afflicting our older neighbourhoods. Instead, acquiescing while we hurt investments that are already in place in our older neighbourhoods, is what we excel at.

The debilitating situation faced by the Pearl Company and the Westside theater are just the tip of the iceberg. How many more individual property owners and businesses in our older neighbourhoods have simply given up from the fatigue that sets in from having to constantly battle with public policies that are at cross purposes with their stated intent?

What is that "more" we need to do to bring back things to normalcy? Is it that "more" money needs to be thrown at the problem? or is it simply that we now need "more" resources thrown at the problem, by way of "more" jobs in the ever expanding poverty industry, or the now fast emerging EcDev industry? Or is it that we need to form more committees and round-tables and seek "more" public funding to study the problem and then seek even "more" funding to discover a new language to get rid of poverty?

What is needed "More" in my opinion - is less talk about what needs to be done, and more action on what ought to be done, to support and encourage new investment in older neighbourhoods.

The first step is to reconfigure our antiquated Code and Zoning Books, to truly reflect performance and design based outcomes which are directly associated with requirements of dense, compact urban built form.

The second step is to identify and remove all bureaucratic obstacles from the city hall, and replace them with "can do" personality types. If it means getting them on a loaner from more progressive municipalities for a year - to train our own and teach them this new language - than that is where money is worth spending. The resulting direct boost in development fees, and assessment revenues will be transparently measurable.

People know where to look for opportunities. They find them. That is the genius of the free market. We waste valuable time and money crafting mission statements and slogans, printing brochures and beating our own drums. When, in fact what we really need to do is simply start behaving like human beings with so many investors who are already here. Just this simple action, will make many more from outside find their own way to our older neighbourhoods. This has been, and always will remain the basis of most thriving markets and communities.

There will always be the so called mega-developers who will surface with the promise of saving the city by feeding of the public trough - like they do in most cities. Smart cities have developed an ability to recognize them, and make them go through the 'red channel' - whereas in Hamilton, we do the reverse and open up the treasury for them, while chasing away scores of smaller investors who have through their own efforts, saved the city from collapsing.

The third and most critical step here, is to recognize and acknowledge the severe impact of mental-health issues on the streets of older neighbourhoods, and rapidly develop a humane solution for this very serious problem. Without this, all attempts at developing a "new urban future" and altering code/zone books is simply a waste of time and resources.
For your campaign, will you be accepting donations from corporations or unions? If so, why? If not, why not? No I will not be accepting donations from corporations or unions.

I believe that elections should be conducted with an entirely different approach if we are at all expecting to see substantive changes in outcomes.

I believe elections should be run on communicating candidates campaign platforms/initiatives - and the media available at our disposal in our times - provides free access to all voters to review what is being proposed by candidates. Live debates offers another channel to get to know the candidates well.
The City of Hamilton has committed to doubling transit ridership by 2020. Do you support this goal? If so, how would you realize it? Yes I support the goal of doubling transit ridership by 2020.

To acheive this goal, we will need to adopt a more holistic planning approach which aligns our economic development goals with transit design. A well designed transit network will increase ridership and drive operational sustainability.

A similar question has been asked by CHML 900 in their survey today: "How do you see the future of transit in Hamilton?" (see Mayoral Survey at: http://www.900chml.com/News/Election2010/Candidates.aspx )

Below is my answer to this question, which also addresses the realization of doubling our transit ridership:

"I believe that we need to evolve a holistic approach to our transit issue. We are presently dealing with a totally fractured transit system, that does not address our current needs, let alone our future needs.

Our disconnected transportation system has retarded our city's growth and caused many serious environmental and economic problems - including the continuing dependency on automobiles for local commuting. [...] I will actively push to develop a holistic regional metropolitan Hamilton transit solution which acknowledges and embraces the divergent needs of all our urban and rural communities - and adopts innovations in transit planning solutions to meet our present and long-term needs.

A good transit solution defines the city's identity, and gives it the basis for its economic growth and cultural vitality.

Under my direction, Hamilton will begin to reconfigure its economy by deploying innovations in transit design and financing - with a view towards building a solid foundation for an economical, environmental & user friendly, and seamless multi-modal transit network.

I specifically do not see this as a simplistic case of LRT v/s No LRT or bikes v/s cars v/s bus v/s trucks issue - as it is being made out to be in our media.

Or transit problems have been historic in nature, and developing a holistic and comprehensive transit approach is the only way we will be able to overcome our economic and environmental problems."
Hamilton's Cycling Master Plan has Council approval. However, the implementation timeline is very long and ward councillors can block individual bike lane projects. Do you support accelerating the completion of a continuous bicycle network and other initiatives like a bike sharing program and better access up and down the Escarpment? Why or why not? Yes I strongly support the need to develop a much quicker time-line for the phased-in master plan for cycling.

Introducing bike lanes is a design challenge more than a budgetary problem as it is being made out to be. The implementation of the bike lanes in our city presently suffers greatly from conventional thinking and a piecemeal approach. This has created more hazards for cyclists and auto drivers than it it offers alternative modes of commuting.

Our current patch work of bike lanes exposes the half-hearted attempt in developing critically needed alternate transit solutions. The present approach has led to many misunderstandings of this critical mode of transit among many in our community, and instead of highlighting the many economic benefits in many urban areas of our city - in some cases, as on Dundurn Street South, its impact on merchants has been negative as reported, on account of them loosing kerbside parking.

Our unique geography and landscape offers us a rare opportunity to avoid conventional and often harsh to use city bike lanes. Making creative use of low density roads, older neighbourhoods, historical locations, landmarks, amenities, back roads, nature trails, the escarpment, scenic routes and vistas -- to develop a contiguous and visually rich network of bike lanes across various neighbourhoods, would result in a very safe, appropriately paced and experientially rich biking experience in our city.

While the current phasing in of bike lanes is underway -- it is critical that corresponding design enhancement to the lanes with high quality signage is also implemented in a very comprehensive manner - (ref: http://www.activelivingresources.org/assets/chicagosbikelanedesignguide.pdf ), along with concurrent community education outreach. This will not only enhance the groundwork already done to date, but also create a better appreciation of bike usage, respect for bike users, and a broader community acceptance of the underlying values that this mode of transit holds.

With sophisticated design and rich user-experience oriented continuous lanes; high quality signage; comprehensive community educational outreach; and a well developed bike share program, our city can very quickly become the premier bike friendly city in the GTHA, with one of the most unconventional and visually stunning urban bike lane networks in the world.
Council is poised to vote on the Airport Employment Growth District, a 3,000 acre plan to expand the urban boundary around Hamilton International Airport for employment lands. Do you support this plan? Why or why not? No No. I do not support the AEGD plan, as I believe that it does not address long-term needs of the airport itself, as well as the goals for achieving sustainable regional growth.

I have developed an alternate plan that would directly address the current financial conditions of the airport, the surrounding lands, including the urgent job creation needs in our city.

My Proposal:

The AEGD as presently conceived is contrary to all best practices in planning and is simply unsustainable. If our city is to achieve economic and ecological sustainability, it is imperative that the HamiltonGreen
Port http://www.butaniformayor.com/solutions.html be used as a base reference to undertake a community re-visioning of the AEGD.

In keeping with the spirit of HamiltonGreenPort, our airport and surrounding lands is an highly critical node of the north-south green axis, hence innovative building types and alternative forms of development need to be studied in greater detail to avoid further stressing our resources with unsustainable models of economic development.

Below are two innovative project/building types which are far more relevant for visioning the AEGD lands:

- Educational: Innovative Farming & Ecology Institute with ancillary facilities - which use the surrounding lands for developing large export niche-markets for strategically grown local produce, plants, flowers and herbs http://www.ayurdara.com/herbs.htm. This should be developed in strategic collaboration with the HIA corporation as a hedge against drop in air passenger traffic. HIA can use this approach to confidently reinvent itself as the world's first true sustainable airport with captive green cargo traffic http://zunia.org/uploads/media/knowledge/Sweta-Women-Cooperatives6.doc, and develop many more such path-breaking innovations http://books.google.com/books?id=NPI8_-omzvsC&lpg=PP1&dq=Mycelium%20Running&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false to redefine airport sustainability in light of diminishing fossil fuel supply.

- Eco-Recreational: A very large scale all season eco-recreational facility http://mappery.com/maps/2000-2004-Eden-Project-Map.mediumthumb.jpg based on the Eden Project http://www.edenproject.com/ in Cornwall, UK. This building type http://www.google.ca/images?q=the%20Eden%20Project%20in%20Cornwall%2C%20UK.&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi can establish the rational for year around regional & international tourist traffic, resulting in sustainable air passenger traffic for the HIA, and a dependable market for hotels, bed & breakfasts and ancillary commercial/service use, on the south-east part of the airport along the Upper James axis.

With large scale local employment creation being proposed on the already serviced lands of the HamiltonGreenPort north-south axis, the AEGD lands around the airport can be used far more creatively by the construction industry to position the City of Hamilton as a serious contender for the title of a true sustainable city with a thriving clean-green economy.
Do you believe that poverty is the most critical issue facing Hamilton today? If so, please outline your solutions. If not, please explain your reasons. Yes Yes. Poverty is the most critical issue facing Hamilton today. It has impacted many lives and the broader image of our city, and created a major collective self-esteem problem for many in our community. We have been facing this issue in the lower city more glaringly for decades - namely in the Stipley, Gibson and Landsdale neighbourhoods and parts of our downtown.

While attempts have been made to address this issue in recent years, the solutions being offered are not directly confronting the challenges, but instead they profess to explore and understand this issue at a large cost of time and expense to the taxpayers -- in the hope of finding solutions. This approach has lead to what is commonly called the thriving "poverty industry of Hamilton" - which has created more jobs and consultation opportunities for solution experts, than it has managed to alleviate poverty.

The root cause of poverty in our city has been the perennial lack of meaningful jobs or small business opportunities which leads to self employment. This force many families and individuals into the welfare system - which in turn leads to a perpetual cycle of dependency on the system which is essentially a safety net. Through poor social planning, our safety net stands now broken, and can no longer offer meaningful protection to the many who genuinely need it. The glaring substance abuse dependency in our communities is directly connected to this broader systemic economic and social planning failure.

My solution called the "Hamilton GreenPort" development initiative addresses this critical problem head on, by creating a new sustainable economic development axis which cuts through the heart of these neighbourhoods and reconnects our waterfront to the airport via the Wentworth/Sanford and the Upper James Streets. Through creative rezoning on this axis, in ten years, my proposal will trigger a billion dollars worth of new economic growth along this lower city axis, and around ten billion dollars of new economic growth on the upper James street axis.

Various projects such as the strategic "Hamilton Grand Central Terminal" on the existing Siemens/HSR terminal lands will provide this city with the most stellar Go/Via/HSR central terminal with park & ride, which will result in an enormous economic impact in and around the Barton street area, and provide the thousands of families (in these three neighbourhoods mentioned above) stable employment and opportunities to start and sustain small businesses. The economic focus of this zone will be the creation of clean green industries both home based services/retail and light industrial based on the northern edges of these communities.

The rezoned and redesigned Upper James axis will provide the canvas for our green field developers to segue into the largest urban infill development opportunity in Canada, and thereby continue to provide employment to their employees while creating more relevant urban development.

This ten year clean green economic development & job creation project will create the basis of removing poverty from our communities; and reconnect our city's economy to the world economy through this sustainable clean-green multi-modal transportation artery.

This project is designed to trigger large scale local, regional and foreign private sector development financing, and breaks the decades old co-dependency on higher level government financing for the revitalization of our economy -- thereby becoming the new economic development standard, and a true measure or our city's renewed entrepreneurial spirit.

This solution forms a part of a broader solutions that I am proposing, which will lead to reinventing our transportation system, and reconnecting our isolated urban and rural communities into a "one city, one economy" regional metropolitan identity.

For more information on this and connected proposals please see: http://www.butaniformayor.com/solutions.html ; as well as listen to my audio interview at the links on top left of this page.
Should we spend the Future Fund to build a Pan Am / Ticat stadium on the CP Rail Yard lands? Why or why not? Maybe If the community was enthusiastically agreeable to use the Future Funds for the Pan Am / Ticat stadium on the West Harbour lands, then in all fairness, it should be agreeable for it being used on the CP Rail yard lands.

If the Future Fund's use is now being questioned - it is primarily for the reasons that the political process that we have presently, broken or otherwise - somehow, ended up with the CP Rail Yards land over the West Harbour lands.

The core issue here is not the stadium, but the location which some are not happy with.

On the merits of the location, as someone who has decades of planning, design and architecture experience, I will say this: in time, we will come to appreciate the wisdom of the CP lands over the WH lands for a sports facility.

But presently, we should allow the process to unfold, without casting any further aspersion on it. This is only because as a community, we have allowed ourselves to get traumatized over this issue, and we need a closure on this matter to move forward.

However, I should emphasis that it is my firm belief that any use of the Future Fund should be in the form of loans and not grants.
Do you support Hamilton's LRT proposal? If so, what will you do to ensure Hamilton's success in building LRT? If not, why do you oppose it? Yes I support the LRT. However, we have to move away from politicizing its need, and focus on quickly creating the other vital components that makes an LRT scheme successful.

One of this crucial component is the creation of 'economic conditions' that support the implementation of an LRT. Our current zoning and economic development policies do not support compact urban growth - and although political lip-service is paid often to such relevant growth, the reality is that many private sector investments and community driven initiatives in the urban areas have suffered irreparable damage on account of the anti-urban development policies that dictates our city's growth.

The other vital component being our political and institutional culture, which unfortunately continues to put the cart before the horse, and as a result many critical, progressive initiatives end up failing in our city, at much cost to the tax payers. We need to redevelop a culture that understands the sequence of community building, and respects the facts that certain blocks need to be firmly in place, before we can add more blocks on top of it.

In moving forward, our city needs to seriously begin driving the required economic conditions that will not only justify, but sustain the LRT scheme. Expecting the federal and provincial levels to entirely pay for the costs of the LRT project is unreasonable and far fetched in the absence of the underlying local economic conditions. Given the sorry state of our existing infrastructure, finding local council consensus for new transit infrastructure investment will not be easy.

Creating sound economic conditions to support the LRT is not nuclear science. It just requires a radical political shift in thinking - and the required planning & zoning policies, along with its resulting urban economic growth will flow from it.