Environment featured

Letter to Halifax leadership on a golden opportunity to revisit the Cogswell development

Martyn Williams’ letter was sent to peninsula councilors Lindell Smith, Waye Mason, and Shawn Cleary in view of the decision to delay work on the Cogswell Interchange project given the COVID-19 related budget pressures.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Racism has been on all of our minds and has caused us all to review circumstances taken for granted and given us new perspective on what we could and should challenge. Of course the aspects of most immediate concern relate to policing and discrimination by a predominantly white society.

This period does give us an opportunity to reflect on past decisions and perhaps gain support to review them. I followed the Cogswell decision making process closely, wrote about it, and asked councillors to take more time to review key decisions relating to land use and street planning. I was concerned that the specific latter-stage consultations were limited to input on public spaces (excluding streets), and did not invite the public to comment on whether the proposed plans met core requirements identified through public consultations in 2013 – who will live and work there, who will run businesses in Cogswell and what essentially what will underpin and define Cogswell as a place. 

I remain unconvinced that Cogswell will work as a diverse and welcoming place to live and as a place to support a range of businesses. It is built around an uncompromising street network where the public were not invited to provide feedback. This was justified at the time on the basis of commercial transportation requirements, which may in time become redundant as rail alternatives come to fruition. It will benefit from pockets of public spaces where significant public input has been gathered. But without those spaces being easily connected as walkable destinations to key residential zones including the North End, they could be isolated and end up lacking the bustle and energy associated with our best walkable locations, including the Waterfront. 

There were numerous core concerns raised by stakeholders (and also by design experts Gehl in their comprehensive report) regarding Cogswell’s lack of connectivity, lack of character associated with Halifax and lack of genuine buy-in and involvement from the community and stakeholders. Gehl concluded decision makers must return to stakeholders and seek to move forward a shared overall vision for Cogswell. I do not believe that has happened other than some limited in scope consultation.

Whether the new Cogswell perpetuates the racist decision to destroy the community in the first place is absolutely not for me to conclude or make any representations to you about. Clearly it does at least bring back housing and commerce to Cogswell. 

I do think that we have moved on significantly from where we were two years ago, and that we have time to re-involve key groups and reconsider Cogswell, before mistakes are made. The new Cogswell just exists on paper right now. Nothing is irreversible.  It was finally approved in a hurry after some changes were revealed just days prior to the final decision, under a different context at the time – federal funding for a rail link had not been announced and it was understood work to demolish Cogswell could commence as early as last Autumn.

I believe given the extended time-scale for this project, we have time to do far better: By first and foremost re-involving people and key community groups to review plans, and make unrestricted suggestions on what could and should be improved. From the initial consultations in 2013 I understand that the project isn’t just about building another jewel for Halifax’s Downtown. It is also about reconnecting Downtown with Haligonian identity and residents, particularly the North End. The current project plans seem disjointed, reluctant to embrace the established character of Halifax, unable to reconnect with the past, and a (difficult to achieve) attempt to define Cogswell by itself as a destination.

I hope this is taken the right way and as intended; to provide constructive input. I request simply that you explore this issue further with key members and groups in the community who have been outspoken about Cogswell. Depending on what those person(s) feed back to you, perhaps it could be proposed that Cogswell should be holistically reviewed by the community and stakeholders. 

With best wishes

Martyn Williams

If you support an open, full and community led review of the proposed Cogswell plans, please contact your councillor.

See also: We’re missing an incredible opportunity to make Cogswell people-friendly

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