Urban renewal

Mike Fleury gets all designy.

Here's why that headline is clever. One: HRM by Design, the city's ambitious design strategy, renews this week with public forum number four.

Two: it's urban—this time around, more urban than usual. The fourth public forum focuses on the downtown core, bounded by Cogswell, Inglis, South Park and the Harbour.

If ever there were a time for you to get out to a public forum, this would be it. If you have even a passing appreciation for downtown Hali, come on.

"We're taking the downtown to a super level of detail," says city urban design project manager Andy Fillmore, a level of detail that will be viewable on a large rendered downtown site plan.


"The downtown...represents the image people have of the city. We've really gotta get this one right."

As Fillmore explains, half of the design team's presentation will focus on showing three visions for the downtown's future—"all based around building height. Basically, the concept of short and broad buildings as opposed to tall and slender buildings."

And the second half of the downtown presentation, which will be based on what Fillmore calls the "10 big moves."

"They're all about improvements to the public realm," says Fillmore. "It involves everything from looking at how to pedestrianise the downtown, to capital investment new parks and new plazas, improving streetscapes...to removing the Cogswell interchange and re-knitting the historic block pattern back together."

This week's sessions comes on the heels of news that local historian and heritage activist Lou Collins passed away last Saturday at the age of 85. A member of the Heritage Trust, Collis was awarded the Order of Canada in 1996. He was also one of the first to argue that tall buildings should not block the view of the harbour from the Citadel—a fight that seems to play out again with every public planning forum.

"Like a good therapist, before we can have people get along, we have to be able to draw out the conflict," says Fillmore. "In no way are we going in there present an answer to please absolutely everyone, but there are some things in this round that will make everyone very happy."

Fillmore, clearly, is pumped. HRM by Design is now more than a year old, and more than halfway complete—a final report is expected by March, 2008. Still, 13 months into the job, Fillmore says the design team is managing to keep their spirits up.

"We're all best friends now. We all know each other's favourite sandwiches." And, the fact that the project has now reached the realm of downtown public space has a way of energizing urban designers.

"Streets, at the human level, are where we experience our city," says Fillmore. "For me, the more energy we can expend, and more money we can expend on that aspect of our city, all other things will flow from that. Businesses will want to move here, it inspires good development...if we get that right, we'll be fine."

Introductory presentations get underway this Monday at 6pm, held at Pier 21, followed by an interactive discussion about the direction of downtown development. For a full schedule of the week's sessions, check ww.hrmbydesign.ca

Dream big. Email mikef@thecoast.ca

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