Placemaking on the Halifax Waterfront

How small, incremental changes can create vibrant places.

1 minute read

October 30, 2023, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of Halifax Waterfront with people milling around on docks among yellow umbrellas and business patios.

Build Nova Scotia / Halifax Waterfront

In an article for Happy Cities, Tristan Cleveland describes the transformation of the Halifax waterfront from a declining post-industrial area to a vibrant hub of public space and amenities that now attracts over 100,000 visitors per year, despite its somewhat inconvenient location.

Cleveland describes the efforts of Build Nova Scotia to improve the waterfront and make it more welcoming to the public, which include simple, affordable steps like adding public furniture and kiosks for small businesses. “Every corner offers a half-dozen things to do—thanks to the cumulative impact of decades of small investments.”

Cleveland contrasts the success of the Waterfront with Halifax Commons, a vast green space in the middle of the city that is easily accessible but often underused. The difference, for Cleveland, is the small things. Although the city has big plans for the future of the park, “It is not currently anyone’s job to ask, each spring, whether any areas of the park are underused, and what can be done to bring life to them.”

This underscores a common problem in park planning. “Cities tend to make major investments in headline projects, but struggle to spend on small, cheap projects.” Cleveland argues that these small, incremental investments in placemaking “need not be expensive, and they generate disproportionate value in new developments and businesses.”

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