Designed to fail

MacKenzie suggests that saving the neighbourhood may mean drastic measures.

“The experience in the States is (that) they go down and raze neighbourhoods,” he said. “ They knock them down and they start over.” MacKenzie believes if the city doesn’t take ownership of buildings and rebuild parts of the community, it will just have to wait until the buildings become unsafe, maybe in a couple of decades, and do the work then.

Other, less drastic,  options available to Halifax could include “trying to get a different mix of units of residential units in there and … reducing the densities in that particular area I think, or providing them additional amenities” he says.

Zinck believes the city and the province have both passed the buck on the problem of unbalanced development.

In an interview, Mayor Kelly said that the status of the neighbourhood is under review. He says the municipality will change some zones on some of the streets in the neighborhood to reduce population density. But he says this process is not yet complete. As for the development of the neighborhood he acknowledges mistakes were made but says what’s past is past and that the province also has a responsibility to the area in terms of schools, and housing stock. Halifax region has taken the view that the housing demonstration project would be a provincial responsibility.

In the meantime, ordinary citizens and the many helping agencies involved in Pinecrest-Highfield Park, such as the United Way, are working to make life better within the existing physical structure. These kinds of efforts have the strong support of the police, who as the “pointy end of the stick” deal with the assaults, weapons and drug problems that plague the area, but who also know there is only so much the law can do.

“If you can get neighbours to know one another, and to talk to one another, trust one another, fend for one another, you’ve gone a long way in terms of making your neighbourhood a whole lot safer,” said  Supt. Donald MacLean, outgoing east division commander for the Halifax police. “I would suggest these are some of the challenges we have in places where you have (people of) a transient nature living in apartments.”

Sylvia Anthony, a lifelong north Dartmouth resident who at 71 remains a tireless volunteer in the area, is a believer in what the neighbourhood can be when people band together. She started a community paper, the North Dartmouth Echo, seven years ago that focuses solely on good news stories from the area. She says the media often portrays the area in a negative light, so she tries to counter that.

“I mean you can’t expect a community to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect; nothing’s perfect,” says Anthony. “You couldn’t find a better place to live in for resources and helping and caring individuals.”

That said, the neighbourhood still offers some of the cheapest rents in metro–$700 will get you a two-bedroom apartment, unheard of in wealthier parts of town.

But while many people come and go, Lee has stayed, and she says her experience has, for the most part, been a good one, perhaps due to her own hard work. Her son Dean is now a high school teacher and a respected member of the community, an example to other young people growing up in the area.  Once, when Lee’s coat was stolen from the community centre, all she had to do was spread word that the coat belonged to Mr. Lee’s mother and it was returned within the hour.

She’s evidence that success is possible even in a neighbourhood designed to fail.

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