(Update: As described the March 2018 article titled LMST Open Space and School Construction, a favorable decision was made in late 2017 regarding providing a pedestrian-oriented site design and construction moved ahead in the Spring of 2018.)
The public has been excluded from participating in the design of LMST . The absence of public collaboration has produced a site plan that is incompatible with the pedestrian-oriented character of the surrounding neighborhood. What follows are points explaining why it is important to involve community stakeholders.
Cities Offering Highest Quality of Life Prioritize Pedetrians Over Cars
When considering the site design for LMST school, it's relevant to ask what makes a city a great place to live? For years, cities appearing at the top of Mercer’s annual Quality of Living Ranking have been widely admired and understood to provide some of the most desirable places to live around the globe. Currently, the top five are Vienna, Zurich, Auckland, Munich, and Vancouver. A shared feature across these cities is their pedestrian-oriented nature. They’re places where people using their feet to get around are prioritized over automobiles. Here in Canada, Vancouver has a stated urban design policy which mandates that pedestrians are considered above all else when evaluating development proposals.
HRM Center Plan Aims to Make City More Pestrian-Oriented
With the HRM Center Plan, Halifax has made its first decisive move towards adopting pedestrian-oriented development policies. In doing so, it takes a step closer to operating more like admired cities elsewhere such as Vancouver and Munich. This shift is widely embraced by Haligonians because they understand that Halifax offers a high quality of life in spite of its history of planning and development mistakes. With each of these mistakes, the city is degraded just a little bit further.
LMST Site Plan Undermines HRM Center Plan
Given the prominence of HRM’s Center Plan, it’s particularly tragic that the site plan for the first elementary school to be built in Halifax in over fifty years will be decidedly suburban in nature and prioritize the automobile over the pedestrian. From the beginning, the site plan for LMST (near Dalhousie University) was shaped by input from a handful of abutting property owners and a few people on a school committee.
LMST Had No Open Public Collaborative Design Process
The continued absence of an open, collaborative design process for LMST Elementary School is troubling given the school’s central importance to the community. It is a public building of interest to thousands of people and its construction is funded by taxpayer dollars.
Site Plan Unveiled to a Small Audience - General Public Remains Unaware
The 15-December presentation of the LMST building and site design was unveiled to approximately three dozen people. The small number of attendees is a direct consequence of there no being no formal, clearly defined stakeholder engagement plan and execution. The broader public—beyond adjacent property owners and a small number of parents on a school committee—was never considered relevant to the process.
Province Used Open Collaborative Design Process for Citadel H.S.
The province has executed two public charrettes in the recent past. One of these was for Halifax Citadel High School and the second was for a school in Porters Lake. The fact charrettes took place indicates provincial staff recognized the importance of public input in the recent past.
Pedestrian-Oreiented Nature of LMST Site Warrants a Public Process
Given the pedestrian-oriented nature of LMST and its surroundings, site design is inherently more complex/contentious than either Citadel or Porters Lake, demanding the creativity that accompanies collaboration.
Small Group of Individuals Shaped Site Design
The absence of a public process has resulted in a small group of people whose homes are adjacent to the site to shape the design without considering the broader needs of the larger community.
Latest Site Design Replaces a Playground with a Parking Lot
A subsequent redesign of the site plan was delivered to adjacent property owners in February 2017. Like the first site plan, this plan was not developed with public input. Additionally, it was only shared with adjacent owners who enjoy special access to decision-makers.
No Project Artifacts Have Been Produced
There are no publicly available documents of the sort typically produced for a project as visible as LMST. What’s missing entirely are documents that should have been prepared by provincial staff which:
Document the planning process to apprise the public and other stakeholders (e.g. teachers, HRSB administrators) regarding the overall approach to the plan’s development.
Document who was involved and how decisions were made to establish a permanent record of accountability. In practice this means the plan should identify all members of the project team as well as stakeholders identified by the team (both individuals and broader categories of people) that need to be contacted in order to give them the opportunity to participate in the process.
Establish a timeframe of activities to clarify when and how stakeholders will be engaged in the planning process. A schedule should follow as soon as practical.
High Rates of Participation Empower Communities
Stakeholders go well beyond a small group of adjacent home owners and include:
1. Families of all current students at the school
2. Teachers at the school
3. Every household in the area bound by Oxford/Robie and Quinpool/University *
4. HRSB administrators
5. Provincial staff
6. Municipal staff **
* Everybody in the community has a vested interest in how the school is designed regardless of whethter they presently have children attending.
* Coordination exists between municipal/provincial staff in other provinces
Bottom Line: The public deserves a seat at the table.