HALIFAX – The Downtown Halifax Business Commission (DHBC) recently launched a promotional campaign to “tell a better story” about your experiences downtown – that is, after you get out of your office/home/car to take advantage of the fun factory that our downtown can be. One ad tells the story of the great food I ate, the park I sat in, and the conversations I had during my lunch break – rather than “I ate at my desk today”.
This positive approach piqued my interest, got me thinking about the downtown story I tell, and ultimately lured me to their annual general meeting last Wednesday evening. As I arrived Paul MacKinnon, Executive Director of DHBC, was delivering an entertaining tongue-in-cheek presentation on people’s perceptions of the downtown, informed by their annual survey.
Overwhelmingly (yet not surprisingly) parking shortages emerged as the hot issue. I had to surpress myself as the city-design-geek in me physically cringed. Considering the plethora of challenges and opportunities we Haligonians could speak up about – why does parking always take centre stage? What a dull story: “I tried to go downtown but there wasn’t enough pavement to sit my big auto on for an hour or two, so I didn’t go.”
MacKinnon noted that an event like the Parade of Lights attracts 100,000 people to the downtown – and no one complains about parking. I sense a hidden story here: “I want to be downtown! I would not complain about parking if more exciting events and activities happened.”
To that story, one might add “If public transportation were more convenient and enjoyable, perhaps I wouldn’t need to drive downtown at all.” Bursting that thought bubble, MacKinnon mentioned how HRM’s 5 year transit plan proposed a downtown shuttle – that was later cut by city council. On the flipside, downtown is expected to earn 80 more parking spaces in the coming year.
Looks like people are getting what they want, based on the narrative they spread. I take this as an invitation to rethink our downtown stories.
MacKinnon told a story of our downtown where “50 years ago, 30,000 more people lived on the peninsula than today”. Adding that currently 25 new developments are approved but not yet under construction in the downtown area – of which, many sit and wait as surface parking lots.
Might we tell a story of Halifax with fewer patches of single-use pavement? A story where even a few of these void sites are transformed into other uses – oh the experiences we could also have! Spontaneity in public spaces, funky goods found in independent shops, cappuccinos in cafes, playgrounds, performance and art spaces, social innovation squats, dancing in the streets – with more people living affordably downtown! Endless possibilities, really.
For now, I will tell a hopeful story of our downtown that encompasses all of these experiences. I mean, why not? Just imagine what we might create!
… what story are you telling?