My comments on the draft Common Master Plan

I submitted this as an email to staff as a part of the ongoing review and creation of a Common Master Plan. You should comment too!  More info here at Shapeyourcity.

This is a great plan for a great space and I love the direction.  In no way take my many comments as a rejection of all this great work!

But it is a plan and a space worthy of serious thought and input. It is interesting to really dive into this again after participating in the 1994 plan.

1 Vision and Guiding Principles.
I support everything here, but I am forced to ask, will there be a more directive policy set?  For example, the 1994 plan was very clear on things that needed to happen in more directive language.  I am concerned that so far there are no statements so far as mundane as 3.4 Convenient parking should be maintained… (page 13) to longer range strategic policies like 5.1 specifically talking about special events concerns public gatherings being anticipated uses (Page 33) and onward, which were critical in the decision making path for allowing Hfx Wanderers FC.
I hope that is coming, or are the 1994 policies remaining? This level of detail also require public feedback and engagement.

2 Land Use Character Areas
I would like to see this plan address built form on the public institutional and private, and talk more about how to make it feel like a more cohesive district.

For public institutions, tremendous work has been done for half a century to make sure public institutions were set well back from streets with large lawns and green space (QE2, Citadel, museum) so while there are public buildings, they contribute to the park like feel. Given the risk of some future government moving to 100% build out on their hospital and museum properties, the informal guidelines, while non binding on the province, feds and others, need to be articulated clearly.

For private lands, similar concerns, though relaxed and recognizing the built context.  The Commons plan should endorse protecting the heritage streetscape on Carlton Street.  The plan should talk about shadow impacts of tall buildings not just on Commons north and centre, but Camp Hill.  It should reflect the language currently proposed in the Centre Plan.
I would love to see guidance from common street furniture to lights to street sign blades identifying the area as part of the Common.

Of special note – University Avenue median is huge and should be classified as a part of the public municipal space.  That green strip can over time be used to extend that common public space vernacular to the the lands at the southern limit of the historic Common land.

3 Rebalancing uses and 4 Recreation Experience
A principle here has to be that no changes happen until the accommodation for the users is available somewhere else.  So to that end while I love in principle the Great Lawn concept, I cannot support losing all those playing fields, unless there is a plan to replace them 1 to 1.  I know lights and whatnot will extend playing time, but not sufficiently to cover off on this level of loss.  I also cannot support building 4 fields in an industrial park or something, this needs to be on the peninsula.  Similarly, can’t shut down the Pavilion for a decade while we get around to building in Citadel.   More on these later.

5 Circulation
Excellent to see this so well articulated.  I note though the multiuse path on Trollope west and on North Park west side are missing.  Additionally, the plan may want to indicated the option of a College/Victoria Park/Breton/Clyde protected bike lane, as that has also been discussed over the years and discussions are still underway.

I would like to see the Common Links project reflected in the plan and made a permanent part of the Common way-finding and identity.

In the private lands and institutional lands I would like space identified where benches can be placed for people to rest or just take in the sights.  We should have a network of sitting areas (like the one at the corner of Summer/Spring Garden on the Summer Gardens corner) up and down Summer, and other places, put as one resident suggested “just as far as a very old person who gets tired easily might walk”.  I would like to work with staff to identify some potential sites… partners would be NSHA and Dal, and University Avenue is ideal for this as well.

6 North Common
I am okay with moving the playing fields around the site. As mentioned above, I do not support reducing the number of fields on the peninsula. I think if one or more ball fields got lights you could justify removing one field, probably the north west gateway area.  If the Great Lawn stays in the plan, as an interim step I could see the proposed Great Lawn being one of the last features added, and three softball/baseball fields being maintained.

I know from the engagement that you have not heard from recreation league/field users.  I urge you to spend a weekend or two and an evening or two doing intercept surveys on those fields with those users.

The removal of the paths that connect from the centre of the North Common to the mid block crossing on Cunard and to Agricola is ill advised. My own use and observation is they are all used reasonably heavily and trying to remove them will result in new desire lines in new places from where they are now.

A plan to control vehicle access and design consideration for the repeated and dangerous access of cars and vans on the playing field areas needs to be a part of this plan.

The moving of the fountain, the north west gateway, and the realignment of the paths are all delightful.

7a Central Common 7b Building
So much good here, it feels almost silly to critique it. That pool is essential and wonderful.  Love it.

My notes – basketball and skateboarding do not mix.  Please consider proposing a half or full court, fenced, over where the viewing hill (9) is proposed. Naturalize the proposed basketball area on bell, so there is more open space on the south side there.

The skate park will need to be recapped in the next decade and that should be reflected in the plan.

I would like to hear from baseball folks about fencing or not.  I suggest checking in with Canada Games folks to find out what current standards are and then adhere to those standards during a rehabilitation.  I am fairly certain that fencing is required.

Multi-weather sports field – of course this is amazing but when?  I’ve been pushing these last two years for that lawn we call South Common 16 to get redone with proper drainage etc to be the primary field for Citadel High as well as other users.  If the multiweather field is 10 years out, I want to do that anyway.  We need that field in some kind of adequate condition, right away.  I would like to see bleachers for 300 or so people there.

Parking and Loading – staff parking at the Oval and Pool and Pavillion is real.  Loading and somewhere for bands to park, maintenance to park, the pool chemical truck to park is real.  Cleaners for the bathrooms, the changing rooms.  Here and in Wanderers the lack of parking while laudable in principle is a problem operationally.

The Pavillon – I look at the really nice plans for the pool building and feel that the north west side of the building can be reconfigured as a public multiuser space that can support the Pavillion’s programming (see attached).  I want a room that can hold 200-250 people and have adequate back of house for Youth Art Connection and Pavillion in the new build.  The several million dollar reno of citadel is a decade away if that.

My final observation as someone with a long three decade history of all ages shows is this – the kids who go to the pav and YAC are very often the kids who CANNOT WAIT TO GET AWAY FROM THE HIGHSCHOOL each day.  To say that the safe and cool space for them could be in the high school is to profoundly misunderstand the clients that programming is trying to serve.  So redo the building to meet that need, please, thanks.


8 & 9 Wanderers/Camp Hill/Public Gardens
Love it.  We need an interpretation plan in Camp Hill.  I like the idea of lights, and moving car access to off of Carlton only though we have decided to fix and close the gates at night again, have we not?

Junior Bengal Lancers – there are practicalities here – moving the paddock over means horses are being walked across a public path all day… this is unwise.  I do not support that.  The Paddock is a character defining element of the heritage building that is Lancers, so I don’t think you can even propose that change, really.

They need to be able to have accessible parking and loading on Bell, that is an operational requirement.  They need dedicated parking, that is an operational requirement.  I think moving the parking to the back is fine, I support reducing traffic movements across the bike lane and sidewalk on Bell, and near the crosswalk and intersection.  It is important to make those changes, but we need to work more closely with Lancers to not end up damaging their ability to operate.

Similarly – Lawn Bowling needs its parking and loading.  That needs to be restored to the plan.  That parking space is also being used to support Wanderers Ground operations, so I don’t think that change is practical either.

10 Victoria Park
Love it, has their been close dialog as required by the MOU with the Scots North British Society?

11 Community Spaces
I have already commented on the need for a largish multiuse space to mirror the current Pavillion space.

I really want to see Citadel Rec done, but right now that project is after replacing Needham and recapping Dixon… and I would argue recapping St Mary’s Boat Club. How realistic is it to get that space done in the next year or two?  The pool is going to happen really soon, as the current leak is showing.   My strong desire/insistance on keeping the pavillion programming on the common does not mean that I think the Citadel Rec centre should not happen.