Designed to fail

Of the 3,800 private dwellings of  what Statistics Canada calls census tract 114, more than 75 per cent are found in apartment buildings of five or fewer stories.

Grant Wanzel is professor of architecture at Dalhousie University, and an advocate for low-income housing. He has organized not-for-profit housing coops all over the HRM, but he balks at ever launching such a venture in Pinecrest-Highfield Park.

To Wanzel, a healthy urban environment is analogous to a human circulatory system. Blood flow to all parts of the body is paramount. If one part of the body is cut off from the rest the result is a big angry clot.

Grant Wanzel (Brittney Teasdale photro)

The Peninsula could be said to have a healthy circulatory system. All the streets pass through one another creating a grid. Within the grid, low-income neighborhoods are interspersed with high-income neighborhoods which makes for a mix of people from different socioeconomic strata. The dwellings include single-family homes, duplexes, sixplexes and eightplexes. Not so in Highfield Park.

Ninety percent of people in census tract 114 rent their homes, according to the 2006 census. Five hundred and ten families out of 1,740 were single parent families headed by women. The median income before tax earned by these single parents, was less than $23,000 a year. Out of the total residents in the area, around 27 per cent had low-incomes. People also move in an out a great deal. Of the 6,880 residents who lived in tract 114 in 2006, only 2560 of them had lived at the same address in 2001.

Jerry Pye knows all about the troubles in this area. He got involved in politics in part because he was opposed to pattern of development in Pinecrest-Highfield Park. In the late ’80s he was elected to the old Dartmouth City Council running on a platform that promised to do something about the high-density development.

By 1991, Pye helped put together the Pinecrest-Highfield Park Neighbourhood Plan. The document was the result of an eight-month planning process including extensive community participation and consultation. The number one thing residents demanded was “no more apartments.”

The plan envisioned a ten year strategy to address the problems in the area and a lot of work was done before Dartmouth was amalgamated into Halifax Regional Municipality.

The  community centre was built on Highfield Park Drive, albeit a smaller one than planned because there wasn’t enough money to build the complex originally planned. Streets were altered to allow for better traffic flow, sidewalks were added and a pedestrian connection established between the Pinecrest and Highfield Park areas.

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