Cogswell plans leave room for more opportunity

Cogswell plan nears completion, but unanswered opportunities still knock.

Cogswell plans leave room for more opportunity
Halifax Municipal Archives
This row of houses on Starr Street near Hurd Street in 1961 was demolished for the Cogswell Interchange.

I n Displacing Blackness: Planning, Power, and Race in Twentieth Century Halifax, author Ted Rutland says that in 1970, the city's view was that construction of the "dystopian" Cogswell Interchange was slum clearance in the name of urban renewal. A similar official view prevailed about a decade earlier with the relocation of Africville residents.

With Cogswell, as with Africville, tenants and residents resisted, "rejecting the view that their lives would be better elsewhere," says Rutland. "They just wanted to be downtown, having lived there for most of their lives."

While the 90 percent plan passed through council, the decisions around the buildings themselves and the residential mix for a "human scale" neighbourhood-to-be has yet to be settled. Up to now, the plan has envisioned mixed-use towers of different heights.

The plan calls for recognition of the history of this part of downtown Halifax and commemoration of its earlier inhabitants with historical depictions and statues. Could a more concrete tribute be in the form of some low-rise affordable housing for families connected to the original relocation?

A video featuring Irvine Carvery talking about the history of the downtown area started many of the public engagement workshops that informed the plan. From Duke Street to Buckingham to Jacob and Proctor Street, Carvery remembers the residents and family names living on these blocks. Living relatives of these displaced downtown families likely live in Halifax today.

At the time of construction of the interchange, many families were moved by the city to public housing in newly constructed Mulgrave Park.

It goes without saying that like most cities, Halifax needs more lower-income affordable housing. Councillor Shawn Cleary says the Downtown Plan has "less teeth" than the Centre Plan to "show a wide range of community benefits," he says. "And the formula doesn't usually add up to much, often less than one affordable unit."

As this plan goes to council Both Cleary and Donna Davis, Cogswell Project Manager, agree it will be up to councillors to make affordable housing decisions. "There are different mechanisms that can be considered to support affordable housing like zoning, the land use bylaw, and purchase and sale agreements with developers," says Davis.

Port potential

Each stage of Cogswell Redevelopment has acknowledged the importance of a successful, working port.

Part of the plan involves reducing truck traffic and truck speeds, as Pam Berman reported for the CBC in the fall. The plan originally had two roundabouts to combat truck noise, but for the sake of cyclists and pedestrians it's been downgraded to one.

The problem may be overblown, however, as container trucks account for less than four percent of daily traffic flow through the interchange. Solving this problem will not eliminate delivery trucks and dump truck traffic downtown. And while steps have been taken to reduce container-truck traffic, it may have to be accepted as a fact of life downtown.

But the Halifax Port Authority says it wants to do more to solve the truck problem: In a news release last week, the port authority states it is "having discussions with CN Rail on how to better use the port's assets and infrastructure." The website adds "we have heard and understand that truck traffic is a concern for those who live, work and spend time downtown." A new round of infrastructure funding has been applied for along with plans for community consultation, the port says.

According to the port's website, initiatives being explored include increased use of the CN Rail, additional rail ramp loading in different locations and for long term planning of an off-dock intermodal yard where trucks would drop off and pick up containers to and from the port—the first request for funding for such a yard was unsuccessful. Part of the Port Master Plan, now available to the public, shows a picture of the facility redacted.

On the peninsula, CN operates the Fairview Yard close to the Bicentennial Highway. As part of its intermodal operations in Halifax, CN has the Basin Yard Reload Centre on Africville Road. At the same time, the port authority is sequestering land beside CERES Container Terminal with fill from local construction sites. Use for this land, according to the port, is undecided.

With its bid to purchase Halterm Container Terminal can CN, working with the port authority, use its resources and rail know-how to finally solve container-truck congestion downtown?

Not having roughly 275 trips per day going down Hollis Street and back up Lower Water Street would have wide appeal as a win-win for all, from the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, to condo owners on the waterfront, to new residents of a redeveloped, pedestrian-friendly and quieter Cogswell neighbourhood.

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