How downtown gets planned, and then ignored | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

How downtown gets planned, and then ignored

The city has spent millions of dollars on plans for downtown. Now T.J. Maguire says it’s time to get serious.

How downtown gets planned, and then ignored
Not a single tree has been planted. No sidewalk has been widened. No new lighting has been added.

We've got a plan to save downtown Halifax! This plan will make downtown more pedestrian-friendly and add lots of street furniture (that's bureaucratese for "benches") and plenty of street trees. Once the plan is implemented, we will have a greener, prettier downtown, all the businesses will thrive and everyone will be oh so proud of Halifax.

Actually, we have lots of plans to save downtown Halifax. There's the Downtown-Barrington plan, from 1998. And the Barrington Street Heritage District plan, from 2003. And the Capital District Urban Design Project, from 2004. And the Barrington Street Historic District Revitalization Plan and ByLaw, from 2005. And the Functional Design for Barrington Street, from 2007. And the Joint Public Lands Plan, also from 2007. And the Public Realm Handbook, from 2008. And the Downtown Plan incorporated into HRM By Design, from 2009.

Still to come are the Transportation & Streetscape Design Functional Plan, the Sustainability Functional Plan, the Downtown Open Space Functional Plan and the Barrington Street Streetscape Project.

In fact, the above plans are just the short list of plans for downtown, as compiled by T.J. Maguire, a planner for the civil engineering firm Genivar, who studied the various downtown plans in pursuit of a degree from Dalhousie.

"Oh, it's impossible to say," says Maguire of the plans' cost. "A lot of them involved city staff time, so if you included that, in the millions of dollars."

And what have we gotten for that? Not much. Not a single tree has been planted. No sidewalk has been widened. No new lighting has been added. The bench at the corner of Barrington and George Streets, which Maguire pictures in his report, has been broken for two years, and still not fixed. No other benches have been erected, either.

Besides keeping a lot of highly paid planners employed, the only tangible positive result of all the plans is that, thanks specifically to the Public Lands Plan, city councillors have stopped parking on Grand Parade. All the other parts of that plan, however, were not implemented: MLAs are still parking on the Province House grounds, the fence around Province House hasn't been opened up to encourage park use, a new stairway hasn't been built at Grand Parade, trees haven't been planted along George Street...

Still, Maguire has a remarkable absence of cynicism. He undertook the review of all the plans in order to figure out which of the proposals still have merit, and proposed his own set of solutions to make Barrington Street more pedestrian-friendly. Maguire says most people walk on the east side of Barrington, and so that's the sidewalk that should be made wider, extending into the street. And that wider sidewalk should have time-limited parking for deliveries, but otherwise businesses can make use of a chunk of the sidewalk for cafe seating and the like. He makes other recommendations for lighting, trees, benches and bus traffic, as well. (See Maguire's full report at here.

Does he think there's any hope that his suggestions will be taken any more seriously than all the other plans he's studied? "We have a new council, and there's a new enthusiasm for downtown," says Maquire, buoyantly.

Later in the week, Maguire emails us still another plan for Barrington Street he's discovered, this one from 1970, which called for "malling" much of the street and restricting traffic to buses only.

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