Trouble in the Spring Garden

Recently the winners of the Halifax Urban Design Awards for 2023 were announced at a swell event in the Central Library. Projects big and small were recognized including Kinney Place (a reimagining of the old Home for Coloured Children building), the Explosion markers sited around town, the Healing Centre developed by the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, and The George apartments overlooking the Commons and hospital.

It was a moment to celebrate creative people striving to make Halifax a more livable and delightful place. The photo was snapped at the end of the event when winners mingled with the jury, embracing the joy of recognition.

Reminded me of my melancholy feelings about a big investment in urban design, the streetscaping of Spring Garden Road business district. I appreciate what was built: wide sidewalks, narrowed street, abundant seating, interesting materials. And what is no longer there: no overhead wires!

HRM photo

But to me it feels like the space is not cared for or valued. Many of the surfaces are really grimy and dirty. There are good practices that can keep sidewalks and building facades clean, but they have to happen often. Very often.

Garbage containers are essential, but if they leak gunk onto the sidewalk there is an additional disgusting mess.

Many businesses have clearly not bought into the cared for streets concept. An obvious “crime scene” are the long dark trails left by restaurant waste bins dragged daily to a garbage truck. It is obvious who is creating that stain and that they do not care.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the planters that were intended to soften the hardscaping. Beds that should be lush and verdant are empty wastelands. It looks like folks involved gave up or perhaps don’t know much about urban horticulture. The city has lots of staff who do know how to make and maintain public landscaping so there must be a bigger story here. Hey, the street actually has “garden” in its name, try a little harder.

Sometimes the weeds coming up in between the pavers are livelier that what’s in the planter.

So what?

When I walked by the library there was a crew washing windows. I assume this happens regularly up and down the street, but more than glass needs to be cleaned.

In the 1970s I lived across the street from Mills, a big shop that was just east of Birmingham Street. Early every morning their maintenance man, who was a bit of a character, would wash the sidewalk in front of the store. He would chat and banter with people walking to work and create a sense of a community well cared for.

I rarely walk the business district of Spring Garden these days. It feels like it is struggling and I do wish it well.

Clean sidewalk in front of Mills c1969. That’s the way you do it.


  • I have had issues with the Spring Garden district in the past. In 2015 I wrote a post documenting the dreary parking lot on Dresden Row. Now that the apartment building on this site is nearly finished it might be useful to recall how little the developer of this project cared about their community when they operated the parking lot.
  • Just outside the business district of Spring Garden the world is quite different.

  • And a block further up the street the big condo and apartment buildings demonstrate what well maintained commercial landscaping can be. I also stopped to admire the renovated Spring Garden Terrace. Over 50 years old and still looking great.

  • A towering figure in Nova Scotia landscape design died recently. Reinhart Petersmann was really the first landscape architect in Atlantic Canada, coming here to work for Parks Canada in the late 60s and starting his own firm in the early 70s. As his obituary says, “if you live in Halifax, you are surrounded by ‘his’ trees, bushes, and flowering shrubs.” Whenever I see a mature tree in the downtown I suspect Reinhart had something to do with it. Think of him when you pass the pines and other plantings along the waterfront.

As a way of remembering Petersmann the obituary suggested we “plant a tree, rose, or flowering shrub (or tend to a neglected one).” Maybe new energy could be brought to the planters on Spring Garden as a way of remembering and celebrating Reinhart. He would have some gruff things to say about what is there now.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.