Culture Before Governance

As I’ve said, I went to Toronto and noticed a few things that are bloggable. One of these is the Ontario Art Gallery. Actually, not the Art Gallery itself, but the community around it. Essentially, if you go to Dundas and McCaul (between Spadina and University) you are in Artsy-fartsy town. The small businesses organized themselves around the concept that you are in a “Art” area of town.

There are similar associations. Dundas and Spadina proper is China Town, for instance. College Street between Bathurst and Ossington is “Little Italy.” There’s a financial district and a fashion district. If you have a cultural interest, you generally know where to satisfy it in Toronto.

I live in Halifax. Halifax is still stuck on the idea that it is a number of small municipalities amalgamated into one. There are alot of different cultures in Halifax, but there is no “China town” or “little Italy.” Basically, you have good quality products and services “on the peninsula” (basically downtown Halifax) with some cultural icons (with broadly cultural names like “Historic Properties” and “The Waterfront”). Everyone else provides a “second tier” of services, struggling to survive.

My view is that a sense of culture in Halifax is being twarted by ties to political boundaries. Dartmouth has a slate of programs that imitates Halifax, but just doesn’t do it as well. Take the popular Natal Day Parade or the Dartmouth Christmas Tree Lighting. These programs are well-attended and good for politicians to show their community that Dartmouth is getting its fair share of tax dollars, but in the end, it’s not very good cultural planning.

Bedford has its comparable festivals and parties. So does just about every community. Politically, every community thinks it needs its own top-notch hospital, library, museum, art gallery, tourist trap, playhouse, heritage house, music hall, design studio, sports stadium, exhibition hall etc. The problem is, these all compete against “big boy” Halifax.

The status quo is that Halifax has the top money-earner; one of the outskirts, usually Dartmouth or Bedford has the second-place service (which sometimes breaks even) and then everyone else struggles to survive. Recently, some industrial parks have overtaken the peninsula business, but let’s not even talk about the sort of cultural offerings the “big box” stores have to offer.

A possible solution in my view is to give the community a heart-to-heart and say — Ok. What is it that Dartmouth does really well? What is the major theme of Dartmouth for which we can build a community on? I think Starr’s Bakery on Portland Street has the right idea. Like Toronto, it has chosen a cultural theme to build its business around, namely that of the Heritage Starr property (and old Skate factory). Today I saw it was selling calendars for the Dartmouth Heritage museum. This is a foundation for a good community theme. Downtown Dartmouth is about remembering old industry. It has the look of something out of A Christmas Carol, so why not? Why not develop community around the theme that Downtown Dartmouth is a Victorian/Georgian Mecca? Why not let Dartmouth handle “Historic Properties” and let Halifax handle the pub-life (like “historic properties already appears to be doing anyway).

Why can’t a place like Bedford be the “Theatre district?” And NorthEnd Halifax be the “home improvement” district.

But more importantly, Haligonians need to re-think their regional allegiances and give up dreaming about the “good ole days” when Halifax was all small municipalities. No way. Halifax is a growing city and it has to start behaving like one. Part of growing up is finding your special interests and establishing an identity out of what you already know and intend to know in the future. I don’t see why a community needs to be any different.

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