During a recent business trip to Milwaukee, Halifax downtown councillor Dawn Sloane was struck by the absence of life in the American city’s centre.
“Many cities at this point in time, their downtowns are dead,” she reflects. She was relieved to return to Halifax’s lively downtown and sees its development as crucial to the future of the whole of HRM.
The history and future of downtown is diversity, she says. “We have everything from low-income to high income, from the homeless to those that are not — we have it all, when it comes to housing and constituents,” she says. “We want to keep a mix that keeps that buzz in the air and keeps the place interesting to live in.”
So while glamorous new condos sprout up to lure young professionals downtown, affordable housing finds a place too.
She points to recent housing developments on Creighton and Maynard streets in her own neighbourhood.
“That’s 19 people who would have been homeless,” she says. “We’re trying to make sure things are balanced so we don’t gentrify the neighbourhood. We make sure there’s housing for everyone.”
She’s a fan of HRMbyDesign, too. The blueprint for HRM’s physical future envisions more people living and walking downtown.
“It talks about complete neighbourhoods, about having it so things are walkable, that streetscapes are esthetically pleasing and make you want to walk down the street,” she says.
Walkable neighbourhoods build community and protect the environment, as people don’t automatically hop into their car when they go out the front door. Sloane would also like to see the Granville Mall find a twin on Argyle Street, with the area either becoming fully pedestrianized or closing to cars in the evening.
The key to much of the planned growth is luring residents.
“I would hope that we could achieve the goal of more population within District 12,” she says.
Pulling people back to the centre after years of outward sprawl would help build amenities downtown, support local, small-scale stores and cut back on the traffic problems of getting suburbanites to work in the city core.
“In doing so, we create community again and you get to know your neighbours,” she says.