By donalee Moulton
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal
Reprinted with permission from TC Media
To encourage more people to live in the downtown, creating new accommodations is a priority. The city is currently saying farewell to the Roy Building and welcoming a new 150-condo development in its stead. One of the most recent developments to get a thumbs up from the city includes a 500,000 square-foot twin tower with 88 condo units in the centre of downtown.
Attracting people to downtown living, however, will mean providing them with the services they require.
“We need people living in the downtown to bring our city back to life, but it’s not enough to have a home, you also need easy access to a grocery store, a dry cleaner, a convenience store, and more,” says Rand Gaynor, owner of Drala, a décor and gift shop on Grafton Street.
To a certain extent, the issue reflects the age-old question of which comes first — the chicken or the egg, the people or the services? The answer, says Kent, is neither.
While services will attract more owners and renters, their presence, in turn, will attract more services. But caution is required: diversity is needed. A vibrant downtown community requires more than upscale accommodations.
“It’s critical that the downtown be home to an incredible mix of individuals of all ages, all backgrounds, and all incomes. A truly thriving downtown has room for everyone,” says Chris Hornberger, a partner with Halifax Global Inc., a management consulting firm.
Savage points out that revitalizing the downtown is not and should not be a competition between the suburbs and the urban centre.
“People have to have a choice,” he says.
Ensuring both diversity and density requires sound planning and a value judgment. Halifax has both, says Kent.
“Elected officials often favour proposals that allow low-cost options to co-exist with more affluent options.”
Still, he notes, incentives may be needed to encourage developers.
Such incentives need to be strategic, stresses Gaynor.
“Cities that develop naturally are stronger,” says the retail store owner. “Let lower-cost housing and more expensive housing evolve. If we force the issue, we will fail.”
There is perhaps one final ingredient essential to building a downtown that draws people, services and business. It is optimism, and it is currently lacking, says Kent.
“Confidence is so fragile,” he says. “When there is a lack of confidence, people are less likely to take a risk. An attitude transformation is necessary.”
The Greater Halifax Partnership and the City of Halifax are hoping to sow the seeds of that transformation by launching a movement.
Fred Morley, executive vice-president and chief economist of the Greater Halifax Partnership, says his organization recently challenged stakeholders to take an individual and personal pledge to embrace a positive attitude and take the first step towards a better innovative culture.
“Innovative economic ecosystems are built by people who commit to being bold, challenging activist pessimism, extending trust, innovating together, being a champion and paying it forward, and most of all celebrating success,” says Morley.