If you are not familiar, VivaCity hosts developers and key stakeholders in urban development to present their projects to the broader community. Walking from booth to booth, you can see what Halifax will look like 5, 10 or 20 years from now. One of the booths I was particularly interested in seeing was the Dexel Development Bank of Canada re-development on Hollis St, adding arguably some of the most geographically “downtown” residential units we have ever had in the city.
I am not an urban design expert, but I see common design themes in the way developers are approaching new projects here. For starters, most are mixed-use (commercial, retail and residential units in one project.) This style of build gets right to the heart of how you build a successful downtown: by fostering an ecosystem of mutually supportive elements:
- Residents who can successfully live close to work and who have world-class shopping, dining and entertainment services close by;
- Commercial buildings that are full due to the proximity to where people live and the amenities and services available;
- Successful retail, restaurants and amenities that benefit from the density of workers and citizens around them.
There is also a lot of green and public space in projects like King’s Wharf, the Motherhouse Lands and the Nova Centre. The prevailing theory seems to be that bricks, mortar, steel and glass are functional elements but people are attracted to interactive environments where they can work, shop, play and live. In the Halifax Index, we noted that one of the most important things we need to do is to attract and retain more people. Mixed-use, interactive housing that matches the income profile of the workforce is a critical element to making Halifax an attractive place to live.
Development is also a major economic driver. An economic impact analysis performed by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council for the Urban Design Institute showed that between 2006 and 2010, private development construction supported over 6,400 jobs and $316 million in income per year in Halifax. Including indirect and induced impacts, private development represents over $650 million in GDP annually in the city.
VivaCity gave a glimpse of what the future Halifax will look like and the discussion regularly convened by FUSION Halifax and other urban development advocates are helping shape what Halifax will be like. It’s hard not to be inspired when you can fill a large train station full of people eager to see and discuss what their city will be like in the future.
David is the Economist and Project Development Specialist at the Greater Halifax Partnership and the lead researcher for the Halifax Index. He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Prince Edward Island, and has experience working with private, public and non-profit organizations.