Why doesn’t Quinpool live up to its promise? – updated

TV producer John Wesley Chisholm,  whose Arcadia Entertainment production company is located on Halifax’s Quinnpool Road, wonders why the street never quite achieves its potential as a great urban neighborhood.

In some ways it’s a classic mainstreet. But it’s schizophrenic. It’s a highway with a hundred hidden driveways. It’s a shopping district and residential street. It’s six lanes wide in places, narrow in others. It’s a pedestrian arcade yet almost impossible to cross conveniently. It’s highspeed traffic and slow drag. It’s a parking lot and a thoroughfare.

One thing is certain, it’s tired. The faces of the buildings are tired. The wires, poles and transformers are the distinguishing architectural feature of the street.

But it’s great! It’s connected to some of the nicest neighbourhoods you could imagine anywhere. A wonderful mix of families, young and old. Single houses and apartments. Students and seniors. Folks of all varied mind and manners.

Recently RBC and the Empire theatre have put new facades on their buildings. Many of the small businesses on the street do their best to spruce things up a little. This year some bike racks were installed. There is, by Halifax standards, lots of pedestrian and bike traffic. There is a mix of businesses, services and food more diverse and established than most places in HRM.

But one look with a critical eye and it’s clear things could be better. Over the seven years we’ve been located on Quinpool I’ve been very hesitant to speak out strongly. In spite of the mish mash it all kind of works… at least as well as any other spot in town. Rents are reasonable. There are few blank spots where developers are holding properties empty. I don’t have a great idea about how to ‘fix’ Quinpool without introducing other problems.

It’s hard to leave well enough alone though. There is some kind of Quinpool Rd. development association and they are busy beavers. Early this summer they put up stylized banners on the poles with a graphic interpretation of the street’s name that simply says “QUI”. This week, at great expense I’m sure, bathtub sized plastic planters arrived.

Is mainstreet beautification in the eye of the beholder? Does adding banners and plastic crap, holding casino nights and car meets improve a business district that has seen little capital investment since the seventies? Could we go the other way? Bring in developers, take out all the stops and let them build some highrises, condos, whatever?

What do we really want? What is the best thing for this mainstreet? The people? The neighbourhood? The city? Should the road be narrower? Wider? On-street parking or not? What would really ‘beautify’ the place? What would make it more useful and prosperous?

Chisholm’s right about the wonderfulness of adjacent neighborhoods. When in Halifax, I live two blocks from Quinpool in what I think is one of the best neighborhoods in Nova Scotia, for all the reasons Chisholm cites, but I almost always pick further away streets for eating and shopping, because Quinpool is somehow mildly off-putting.

The Coast’s Tim Bousquet points out that Halifax has a Quinpool Streetscape Project in the works, but it’s stalled. A Contrarian reader notes:

City staff and contractors prepared a detailed design for Quinpool, and the Merchant’s association was eager to proceed with construction. Unfortunately, our deadhead mayor and the council failed to acquire the needed money — they built a 4-plex hockey arena and a new library instead — and nothing has been done. If you ask business owners, they’ll tell you the street is simply a source of tax revenue for the City, but receives nothing but neglect in return.

At least Quinpool’s merchants were on board. A similar plan for Spring Garden Road, in desperate need of a facelift, was reportedly torpedoed by some of that street’s Neanderthal merchants, led by the owner of the always inaccessible Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia.

[UPDATE] Via Twitter, Tim Bousquet says HRM Council did make it a priority, but the federal  Conservative Government killed it by denying federal funds.