Mixed Media co-owner sees sustainability as key
February 25, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator
(Feb 25, 2009)
There's a growing sense that the things that are changing are not coming back. At this point, with economic aftershocks on a daily, even hourly, basis, everyone seems united in simply wanting the ground to solidify under their feet again. As Tom Waits sang, "We're chained to the world and we all gotta pull."
Hamilton is steeled to this pace of seismic change more than most cities, and the arts community here even more yet. And as we all wait for a new "normal" to set in, David Kuruc may be someone to watch. He's uncomfortable with the "leadership" tag, but it's one that people are going to stick on him, like it or not. He reluctantly admits that perhaps he does have a kind of "ambassadorial" role when it comes to the James Street North revival.
When he and his wife, Teresa Devries, opened their art supply store Mixed Media (and it is so much more), the place quickly became a community hub.
You have to understand Kuruc to understand the energy of Mixed Media, 174 James North, right at the corner of Cannon. He is tireless in his enthusiasm for a renewed Hamilton; well-spoken, open-faced, hard not to like and a community builder. At his own expense he puts out a newspaper -- H. For Hamilton.
He represents a growing cadre of Hamiltonians who believes in a model of this city different from the one that various incarnations of city council have short-sheeted us into during the past 30 years -- urban sprawl, car-based planning, development friendly.
The view from where Kuruc stands has elements of Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida, but without the pseudointellectual cocktail chatter. It's stripped down for Hamilton realities. Essentially, the renewing comes down to re-old-ing. A return to the inner core. Bringing out the architectural beauty and efficiencies of existing buildings. Re-energizing neighbourhoods. Building the city up, vertically, rather than out, horizontally, as has happened, the superseded farmlands of yesteryear trussed up in silly-looking suburban corsets. Less money, more barter.
"We've done things a certain way," says Kuruc. "Now we have to look at a different way. Every day I meet people who are moving here and it's not for the box stores, but for the architecture here, the night life, the characters."
It's about pulling together, not apart as traditional development does. He sees the James Street North area sewing itself together slowly over time, not by sinking millions into big projects, but by letting change soak into existing ethnic communities.
He sees creative industries, such as production companies, which don't need huge spaces in industrial parks, integrating themselves with farmers' markets, hardware stores, restaurants, galleries, residential and green spaces.
Kuruc is leading by example. Mixed Media's new building at Cannon and James is century-old. He and his wife restored it from near-derelict condition, and are renting out the adjoining spaces. But they waited until they found the right fit. You can't rush things, he believes, and he means it.
Beside Mixed Media now are a cycle shop and the White Elephant, which sells handmade goods. Mixed Media itself is stocked with products Kuruc and his wife choose themselves -- many made in Canada, none made in sweat shops.
Fairly priced, he says, and environmentally kosher.
It's about sustainability, says Kuruc. The money he makes at the store he spends in the neighbourhood.
He watches what goes on in the rest of the city. The Pearl Company issue, for instance. "I follow it closely," he says. "What happens there affects us here. It's interesting how when people build houses illegally without a permit, the city says, 'There's nothing we can do.' But when an art space has a nonconforming use it's a different story. It's a head-scratcher. Are they really working for the city?"
He and Theresa have a baby now. Kuruc dreams about what his son will see in 10 years when they walk up and down James Street North together, in the old, new city of Hamilton. He dreams. Then he wakes up and tries to make it happen.