New report redefines the role of Main Streets

    HALIFAX: Local communities and groups helped with the compilation of a study redefining the role of Main Streets.

    The report, “Nova Scotia Main Street Initiative Community Workbook,” released by the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) and FBM Architecture, Interior Design and Planning is the result of months of research and hands-on study, including a workshop in St. Peter’s in late February.

    The FBM team – including urban planner and designer David Paterson and Kieron Hunt, planning studio lead – met with close to 100 community members to discuss the goals and challenges of their Main Streets.

    “That engagement was really to understand the issues that those communities were having with their Main Streets; to really think of Main Street as a defined area, and how they can be improved, or what their issues are. It’s really interesting because the Main Streets really are connected to the highway network,” said Paterson. “In almost every small community, their Main Street turns into the highway, so there are a lot of issues with through-traffic and safety, and noise, essentially the lack of sidewalks in some cases. We just really wanted to recognize a growing urgency within small communities to improve their walkability, especially with an aging population and the needs of accessibility.”

    Paterson explained FBM had already participated in a series of engagement events in St. Peter’s called “Community Conservations” on topics like beautification and other projects. He said the company worked with the Cape Breton Partnership to identify St. Peter’s as a community to work with.

    “The Cape Breton Partnership recognized that St. Peter’s Main Street is going through some changing times,” Paterson noted. “The experience in St. Peter’s has been that traffic has been generally increasing a little bit on [Highway 104]. They’re getting a little bit more traffic heading through town as the highway has been improved overall and they’re finding while that it was good for business, they were finding that there were a lot more issues in terms of traffic and pedestrian safety there.”

    Because of the pandemic, Paterson said they had to change their plans to meet with more communities but what they got from communities like St. Peter’s was valuable and can be used elsewhere.

    “But what really came out of those meetings was a number of really unique approaches that some communities were taking,” Paterson recalled. “So in St. Peter’s, there is a lot of little, small-time beautification elements. The youth in St. Peter’s will paint each of the fire hydrants as little cartoon characters. It’s one of those things that stands out and really makes that community look unique.”

    The funding for the project was from the Department of Energy and Mines Connect2 Program. NSFM’s Active Transportation Committee made the application for the project, and secured matching and in-kind funding for a total of $38,000.

    “Their focus is on walkability and cycling and sustainable and active forms of transportation,” Paterson explained of the province’s role.

    After funding was approved, a team was then assembled – including FBM, Bicycle Nova Scotia, Development Nova Scotia, the Ecology Action Centre, Regional Enterprise Networks, as well as community groups – in a grant designed to give Main Streets a “new rethink,” according to Paterson.

    “We’re really thinking about a defined area for Main Streets, rather than having development that really sprawls along a long corridor,” Paterson explained. “We’re also thinking about Main Streets in contrast to the Big Box shopping areas.”

    The project was also supported by the Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Dalhousie University School of Planning students, the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Municipality of Chester, the Municipality of East Hants, the Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network, the Town of Westville, the Municipality of the County of Richmond, and the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization.

    “The Municipality of the County of Richmond, they helped us host our event our event, and they attended our workshop as well,” Paterson said. “They really gave us advice and background on some of history of the community and what’s happened over the years, and how things have changed on Main Street. There’s so much unpublished history about decisions that went into what happened where and they were really helpful in that.”

    The resulting 72-page Community Workbook provides principles, approaches and policy considerations to foster vibrant Main Streets throughout Nova Scotia, with a focus on community-based initiatives and considerations for government strategies and programs.

    Paterson added he is optimistic that the recommendations in the report can be achieved because they are realistic.

    “It’s an initiative to really enable communities to take control of Main Streets and think about their Main Streets as their front doors,” he added. “And to really celebrate them, rather than turn their backs on them.”

    To read the report, go to: https://www.nsfm.ca/main-streets.html.