March 2020 Update: UDI continues to work with a group of stakeholders led by the Downtown Halifax Business Commission to facilitate discussions around the redevelopment of the Cogswell District to ensure that Halifax advances with the best overall urban design vision possible for the project.
February 2019 Update: HRMS’s 90 per cent report was released on Friday, February 22, 2019, and was adopted by HRM Council.
UDI of Nova Scotia is part a group of stakeholders that commissioned New York and Copenhagen based urban design firm, Gehl, to research, collaborate, and produce a Cogswell District recommendations report. The Gehl report is available for download at www.downtownhalifax.ca/cogswell. An executive summary is also available for download.
The report reviewed HRM’s 60 per cent design with an objective eye. The report is not an alternate design to what HRM is currently working on, but rather a study that includes strategies, best practices, and design recommendations as well as the downtown plan and the seven district goals for the project. The main design recommendations fall under three categories: connectivity, open space, and urban block. HRM has agreed to consider the resulting recommendations in the 90 per cent plan.
Background: In March 2014 HRM released a report prepared by Ekistics Planning & Design entitled “Cogswell Transformed: A Plan for the Redevelopment of the Cogswell Interchange”. The report outlines a plan to remove the Cogswell Interchange and to replace it with a comprehensive mixed development envisioned as the ‘gateway to downtown’. Since then HRM have hired John Spinelli as the Project Director , and have proceeded with public and industry consultation sessions. HRM anticipate the project will release six acres of land for mixed-use development.
UDI supports the redevelopment of the lands currently occupied by the Cogswell Interchange, however we have had ongoing concerns that HRM have not thoroughly explored the consequences of the redevelopment. In February 2015 UDI asked for feedback from our membership, and subsequently hired leading planner Ken Greenberg to prepare a report. We also hired Turner Drake to report on absorption numbers for both commercial and residential aspects of the project.
After meetings with HRM staff we forwarded the Greenberg report to the Mayor and John Spinelli in Fall 2016. UDI have made the following observations:
- The design as presented in the Ekistics report resembles a city within a city and does not meet the objective of connecting neighbourhoods;
- There is not a strong market analysis in the Ekistics report to conclude that this development will, at 2,500,000 square feet, be absorbed in a “reasonable” timeframe, as opposed to being a 20-year construction site;
- It is important to compare buildout timeline scenarios while being mindful of interrelated considerations such as; size of density allocation per lot, tenure of realistic density on each lot, civic goals for ownership versus rental, and other related absorption considerations;
- The backbone of financial support for sales generated by density on the site is based on residential density. There is no consideration for tenure of the residential sales, be it ownership or rental, and no stated objective by the report for a preference of whether the city should want a mix of ownership or rental, nor a stated understanding of the pros and cons of one versus the other, and in what size of built form a mix would be possible;
- It has been observed that Halifax is a city with many interesting places that are not connected or joined together. This does not look like a good design for a people-friendly walking neighbourhood as discussed in the Ekistics report, and the report does not demonstrate how it will connect to Halifax’s iconic and neighbouring Citadel Hill and the Halifax Waterfront, let alone connecting the downtown core to the ‘North End’.
- The visual illustration in Ekistics Option 2, if accurate, does not suggest anything that plays into Halifax’s historic aesthetic as described in their report. The development form is, for Halifax, extraordinarily high density and would seem to shut off all but the front row of buildings from the waterfront.
- There is no analysis on the impact that 2,500,000 square feet will have on the holistic development of the rest of Halifax, particularly neighbourhoods on the Peninsula.
- The financial analysis is singular in its assessment of viability. That is, it equates density sales with infrastructure funding, and does not assess the long-term financial and aesthetic benefits of place-making.
View the full UDI letter to John Spinelli here.