Street magic

This week’s Making Great Streets Conference re-imagines what could be possible on Quinpool. Or Spring Garden. Or anywhere.

Street meet Jennifer Pritchard and Ruby Attwood hand out neighbourly chow mein.
photo Francesca Tallone

For half an hour on Sunday afternoon, Jennifer Pritchard handed out free chow mein to anyone who knocked on her door. It was her way of making her street, Creighton, great—in an unconventional way.

It was all part of a performance series Pritchard has undertaken called “Displays of Affection.” She says the response from the free chow mein was wonderful, with “so many smiles, so many thank-yous!” (Although there isn’t any more chow mein, her neighbours can expect more performance work—like dancing—to come.)

Pritchard is a Dalhousie architecture student involved with this week’s Making Great Streets conference, hosted by Dal’s School of Planning and taking place primarily at Pier 21. The conference is designed to remind us to really think about the streets we walk down every day and the people we meet along the way.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you stopped and looked at one of the many multi-coloured houses in this city and thought it was charming, or shovelled the snow-covered sidewalk of a neighbour you don’t even know?

Kristin O’Toole is a student at Dal’s School of Planning and is also one of the student organizers for the conference. O’Toole says she got involved with the conference because she wanted practical experience in planning and knew the conference would be a new way to do it. She hopes the conference will generate interesting dialogue among community members, and that the following questions will be asked and answered: “Do we have great streets? Where are they? What makes them so great?”  

O’Toole believes that we often take our boulevards for granted, and that this conference will help us to appreciate what we have here in Halifax. For example, O’Toole really enjoys Agricola Street; “There is very little set back on the street so I find that there is an interactive dynamic between the street and the residents.” O’Toole says that our roadways ultimately reflect the way our communities interact with one another, “Streets are more that just a way to get around. They are where we meet people, do business and exercise.”  

 The conference will host a number of visitors and organizations who support the same ideals, including a Toronto-based group called Streets are for People. Pritchard says the group is an inspiration to their cause: “They’re actually doing something to make a difference on the street, as opposed to just talking about it. They are able to take over the streets in a playful, humorous and creative way.” 

The members of Streets are for People have adopted some crazy ways of making their streets more community-friendly. For example, they hold parking metre parties, where they encourage cyclists to park their bikes in car parking spots in order to “make a lot of strangers re-think their urban landscape.”

Yvonne Bambrick is a member of Streets are for People, and is excited to spread the word about great streets in Halifax.

“We’re always thrilled to talk with folks about what we do and how much fun activism can be.” Streets are for People will be hosting a parking metre party on Friday from 4-7pm, at Pizza Corner, to demonstrate how much shared space an automobile can take up—in a “fun, accessible, and legal way,” says Bambrick.

The whole logic behind the term planning is to make people think about urban landscapes. O’Toole describes it is a way to “create communities” by planning where roads go and determining how many people should occupy that road. O’Toole and her planning partners might do all of the heavy lifting, but it is community participation that is the real vehicle in the process.

Tonight, the community will be given a chance to participate, beginning at 6:30pm in the Ralph M. Medjuck building on Spring Garden Road: There will be a discussion about how to turn three key city arteries—Quinpool Road, Spring Garden Road and Portland Street in Dartmouth—into “street utopias.”

Pritchard says the conference is really about bringing community members together, to discuss issues that pertain to the streets they occupy and frequent every day.

“We want people to leave feeling inspired and optimistic about the future.”

Making Great Streets Conference: February 7, 8 and 9. Free events throughout. Check for more info.

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