[HALIFAX, NS] — Neptune Theatre recently played host to a lecture on the findings of a study initially released in May called ‘The Value of Investing in Canadian Downtowns,’ which looked at 10 urban centres, including Halifax.
Katherine Morton who was one of the researchers for the study presented some of the findings to an audience of about 75, which included councillors, mayoral candidates and urban advocates.
“It’s such an urban nation, we really have to look at cities, what makes them great, what makes them successful and really thinking about them in detail,” said Morton.
The area in Halifax that was looked at focused on the dense ‘office core’ of the city, generally from the waterfront to Citadel Hill.
This area makes up only 0.0012 per cent of the entire municipality but contributes eight per cent of the tax revenue, Morton said.
The study was conducted by the Canadian Urban Institute and primarily supported through business commissions from the 10 urban centres that were analyzed.
Morton said Halifax specifically has lots of great advantages and unique challenges.
The primary issues include attracting more residents downtown, currently only 4,500 people live in the core.
With only 46 per cent of the HRM’s commercial office space being located downtown, one of the lowest in the study, along with large demand for more, this could present new development opportunities Morton said.
With an extremely dense core, the study showed that Halifax’s downtown had the best level of walkability of the group, despite the sometimes-challenging topography.
Morton also touted HRMbyDesign as a crucial aspect of the city’s continued success.
Paul MacKinnon, executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said he agrees, noting that Skye Halifax could harm the plan if city council approves the 48-storey towers.
“One of the things that we found in the study, where a city has been successful, was coming up with a good plan and then sticking with it,” MacKinnon said. “Vancouver has been a great example of that with their downtown, where 40 years ago they came up with a great and stuck with it.”
London, Ontario is another example, where city council determined that new office towers can only be constructed within their downtown core. Since then, 80 per cent of London’s office space has moved there, the highest percentage in the study.
MacKinnon has spoken against the Skye Halifax development in the past saying that it could contravene HRMbyDesign, rendering the plan useless if it goes ahead.
“I think this whole Skye thing is an example of where council perhaps isn’t necessarily showing the confidence in the plan that they need to,” MacKinnon said. “We’re only a year and a half into (HRMbyDesign) and already we’re saying, well maybe we should change it.”
Skye contradicts the design plan by being visible inside Citadel Hill’s ramparts; MacKinnon said altering the plan for one development renders it pointless.