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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Barrington 2010: ChangeCamp plans for a street in limbo

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photo by Tracy Boyer Morris

HALIFAX – It all began on twitter. Who knew the internet phenom that limits verbosity to simple, codified one-liners could spur the transformation of an actual, real, living (well, floundering) downtown street?

Well, all those social media folks, that’s who. But twitter was just the twigger. Those same folks helped to bring the conversation on the uncertain future of Barrington Street — dubbed ‘Barrington 2010’ — from virtual to empirical and back again at Halifax’s ChangeCamp this Saturday, Dec 5th at The Hub.

The basic premise of ChangeCamp is to engage public participation and collaboration around the challenges impacting our communities through an open, participatory event format that combines ‘web-enabled’ elements (i.e. twitter and wiki pages) with face-to-face discussion. Halifax joins a host of Canadian cities that have held similar ‘camps,’ including EdmontonTorontoOttawa and Vancouver — while smaller cities like Barrie and Victoria, will pitch their own tents on the campsite, with events in the works.

Barrington 2010 was just one among 10 or 15 discussions on Saturday, which ranged from sustainable transportation to municipal reform to mobility challenges in the city. Each session was unique: some lasting just an hour, and those requiring more developed strategies — like Barrington 2010 — spanning the whole day.

I stuck around with the Barrington team, inspired by The Hub’s Joanne Macrae, who, early in the first session warned us of the gravity of the street’s decline: “we’re at the perilous edge of losing a lot in the downtown core.” This set the scene, propelling a smaller contingent to use the second morning session to take to the street, taking video, photo and audio documentation of Barrington and its various travelers. The ideas garnered on this venture were then brought back to the Hub, where the afternoon was spent developing and mapping them out, with a new initiative set forth for Halifax’s precarious downtown street.

Signs of Barrington's former life
photo by Michelle Doucette

Ideas billowed forth with the power of a Dartmouth smokestack — both from ChangeCamp attendees and from the people encountered on the street.  This included a team of students making a film about traversing Halifax via pogo stick. The ChangeCamp group seemed to concur that it was these kinds of creative, lively usages — film-making and pogo-sticking alike — that Barrington should strive to encourage.

Another major theme of discussion was the slew of buildings under pending development, whose papered-up windows seem indicative of desertion and desolation — even if temporary. Of course, the most notable of these are the buildings owned by Starfish Properties, including the historic Roy Building, and its partners on the west side of the street — former home to the well-loved Sam The Record Man, Granite Brewery and Ginger’s Tavern. Starfish recently released their plans for the western buildings, which will house offices and ground-level commercial space, with a contemporary two-storey addition perched atop the old façades. Rumour has it the Roy Building is slotted for something similar to the Drake or Gladstone hotels in Toronto — trendy, multi-use converted old buildings, where music, food, drink, art, and a comfortable night’s sleep can all be consumed under one roof.

The blankness that now characterizes these locations, while depressing to some, for others provides a canvas for creativity. Arguably the most memorable of this year’s Nocturne installations took place in these storefronts — quirky living mannequins occupied the Roy Building’s display in Genuine Leather, while a projection of ocean waves onto the old Sam’s and Dooley’s windows captivated Haligonians in Tide’s Comin’ In….

These examples resonated with the Barrington 2010 group, overflowing with ideas for further arts installations, projections, and flash gallery exhibits that could potentially occupy the windows. One of these ideas now under pursuit is a live-stream projection displaying downtown street-life in other cities around the world.

Projects like these would challenge Starfish to live up to their rather apt slogan: “Our properties. Your space.”

The group also took art from funky to functional, discussing how the street features Barrington lacks — bike racks, street benches, etc. — could be seen as an opportunity to connect to Halifax’s vibrant arts and design communities through design competitions.

photo by Tracy Boyer Morris
photo by Tracy Boyer Morris

This kind of activity wasn’t limited to professional designers, however, as the group discussed interactive workshops where community members could come together to design, build, and decorate street furniture and other functional and/or fun items. Also potentially taking place in some of the empty street-level storefronts, such events would garner numerous benefits: creating real, useful stuff for the city; (re)connecting people with Barrington; and engaging passersby.  “You’re building a building out of lego, you’re building a bike rack,” said Macrae. “And with those big windows people walking by will be drawn in.”

These kinds of fun, populist ideas didn’t end there. Games, sports, scavenger hunts, and friendly competitions were proposed, including snowball fights, capture the flag, and sandcastle building. Some of these may become incorporated into a kind of Halifax ‘winter games,’ scheduled for the new year.

With developments pending and HRMbyDesign’s goals for Barrington yet unrealized, small initiatives like these could have real impacts in keeping the downtown alive in the interim. A calendar of potential events is in the works, with some of the projects already underway.

Interested in contributing your own ideas, thoughts, art, skills, networks, and/or energy to Barrington 2010? The next meeting will be held on Friday, January 9th, 1-4pm a The Hub. In the meantime, the conversation continues online.



  1. I eagerly participated in this workshop with growing excitement each minute we spent in conversation about Barrington (and the less I felt like a nerd for being so passionate about a street!).

    Since I came to Halifax for community design school 5 years ago I have been thinking up ideas to BRING BACK BARRINGTON. It hurts to experience an urban landscape is such disarray .. and hurts even more when I must go to the carbon-copied concrete deserts that are our malls (though I have managed to avoid being there in a year) to buy something basic. And, hurts to the edge of heart-break when I hear how many tax breaks these urban-sprawly malls get (ya, tax breaks to large corporate chains vs tax breaks to local businesses downtown).

    Whatever playful, interactive and fun actions we take to BRING BACK BARRINGTON – I will be pushing for us to aim it toward reforming the policies that keep our downtown streets suffering (not just Barrington though, it is really about the entire downtown).

    Playful policy reform! yah!

  2. What bothers me most about Barrington is that the current state is so unnecessary. Halifax’s economy is doing well and there’s lots of interest in the downtown, but for the past few years the street’s been in limbo because the HRM has had no clear policies regarding development and heritage funding. The HRM has promised heritage funding and streetscaping for years for Barrington but not delivered, and so building owners have held off on improvements; you don’t sink money into a building if waiting a year might get you an extra tax break.

    The Roy Building and Sam plans give me some hope. Add in those, fix the empty NFB facade, and the different will be like night and day.