Why does the debate over the St. Pat’s-Alexandra property mean so much to its community?
Switch it upBy Lisa Roberts | Sep 5, 2012
Tags: biking, event
Organizers had to downscale their dreams, but Halifax residents will get to experience a two-kilometre long street party on Sunday, September 9. Switch–Open Street Sundays first pitched HRM with the idea of a road closure from the Hydrostone Market in the North End through to Point Pleasant. But Ross Soward, a community planner and board member of the Dalhousie-affiliated Planning and Design Centre, says it was a struggle to explain to the Special Events Taskforce just how the event is different from a parade or a corporate-sponsored street closure.
“I think that’s been the biggest challenge–finding a way to change the conversation,” said Soward, as he waited for final approval during the second week of August. He argues that Switch will meet the goals of many departments within both HRM and the province to make the community safer, more active, and sustainable. He says it would encourage people to get on a bicycle and explore the whole route, now expected to run from North Street to Victoria Park.
“The road closure is a fairly key component in terms of allowing people to experience the streets in a different way, and also try these different forms of transportation in a really safe environment,” says Soward. Switch–Open Street Sundays is inspired by Cíclovía, a movement of regular Sunday street closures that first began in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1976. On average, one million Bogotá residents take to the streets, either on foot or on bicycle, on the first Sunday of the month. Across Canada, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal have experimented with the concept. On September 9, a 10-kilometre route in Winnipeg will host a road race, various markets, community displays and mural making.
Planning for performances and events along the Halifax route was set back when organizers were asked to canvass residents and businesses along Agricola Street and North Park barely a month before the event. Roughly 115 individuals were reached, and 96 per cent of them were positive about the project.
Yoga and dance classes are planned for Victoria Park, thanks to collaboration from the Halifax Community Health Board. Soward is confident that North End businesses and artists will quickly grasp the opportunity to occupy the street. Shutting off vehicular traffic is “a catalyst for vitality,” says Soward. And if this Switch—Open Street Sunday is the first of many, as he hopes, then the struggle will have been worth it.