Designed to fail

In 1973, it was sold to CADAC Development Limited, which then sold it to Market Malls of Canada Limited in 1976. In 1986, it changed hands again, with the sale to Dorchester Properties. By then, the lands had been zoned for medium to high-density residential or commercial development. It was Dorchester that would receive permission from Dartmouth council to build Highfield Park Drive and subdivide the area into large lots for the apartment blocks that today dominate the streetscape.

Improvements were made after the 1991 neighbourhood plan (Brittney Teasdale photo)

Dr. Jean Hughes, former president of the Dartmouth Family Centre, has worked in the larger north Dartmouth area for almost a decade. She says the speed of building has made it difficult to cultivate a community spirit.

“A lot of people compare north Dartmouth and Spryfield,” she says. “But Spryfield is a different community in that it has a history.” But Highfield, “ that came out of nowhere…There was no history; no buildings existed; no one was living there.”

“This whole thing come up,” Lee remembers. “It just seemed like there were more people and that’s when it seemed like there was a lot more problems.”

Over time leaders have emerged, but it’s been a challenge trying to build a community from scratch. (You can meet some of the people who are trying to better the neighbourhood in a series of audio slide shows available here).

Foster MacKenzie, an architect and former president of the Nova Scotia Association of Architects, is not surprised with the state of the neighborhood. During its development in the early 1990s, MacKenzie warned Highfield Park would turn into a “high-density slum.” Looking back he thinks the word slum may have been a bit strong, but notes that the problems he expected indeed came to be.

“Start erecting these high density housing units, four and five stories, very close together, with very few amenities and you start putting in low to middle income families in those areas with lots of children, you’re going to end up with problems.”

He doesn’t see any turning back. “I think the die was cast on that particular piece of land.”

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