Live like Common people

A consultation about improvements to the Common becomes a debate about the benefits of big outdoor concerts.

"The consultation process is a joke," says Katie, a 24-year-old student, lips quivering, eyes on the brink of tears. She announces that she is going to leave Halifax because the city doesn't care about the desires of its populace. Halifax Regional Municipality makes her feel agentless.

Peter Bigelow, manager of real property planning for HRM and principal mover in the city's plan for renovating the North Common, appears unmoved after her speech, saying, "Gotcha," moving the questioning period on. The rest of the meeting in Halifax city hall on that snow-covered January 20 was much the same.

Over $3 million has been proposed for the improvements, which includes money for trees and landscaping, widened pathways, redesign of the fountain, new park lighting and, most importantly, a special events plaza and a permanent power supply. Planned for the corner of Cogswell and North Park (replacing the Number 6 baseball field), the special events plaza and seating, according to Bigelow, would be open for public use and for local performing artists. He points out that there is already a large powwow for the Membertou nation booked, and Queen Elizabeth is thinking of delaying her summer trip a day to take in the sights.

The room was not as happy as could be expected from this news.

While many there believed this to be a consultation session, Bigelow announced that there are already several bookings for the plaza. Peggy Cameron, of the community group Friends of the Halifax Common, says she is curious why, if this is for the local arts community, they have yet to be consulted. She also wonders exactly how these concerts benefit downtown, as suggested by HRM staff.

It has been over three years since the Rolling Stones played on the Common and, to date, there has been no data made public as to how these concerts have benefited downtown. Some experts seem to think the concerts have had the opposite effect.

Bernard Smith, executive director of the Spring Garden Business Association, says that what data they do have does not support this theory. In fact, he says, "Big events seem to put our customer base into hiding."

Jane Wright, who owns jane's on the common, says that she lost money during the concerts and had to close down her operation during the duration due to intrusion of sound and a stack of blue toilets muddling up the view from her restaurant.

While some local residents, like Cath Bray, say they see fabulous improvements planned, she is still skeptical when it comes to the big shows (Country Rockfest is scheduled for August 6 and 7). Bray believes that the $720,000 budget allotted for this year will go entirely toward aiding future concerts, suggesting that the $375,000 allocated for the permanent power supply is to allow large-scale concerts to plug in their equipment and have enough juice; $100,000 for neighbourhood entrance plazas will make it easier for trucks to enter the ground and $125,000 to widen pathways is only to allow the trucks inside.

Like many of the other people in the neighbourhood, local musician Lukas Pearse has concerns about the big concerts. He is excited by the prospect of playing at the new special events plaza but wonders if this will be a space for Haligonian artists like himself, or "if it would just be for Bonos."

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