Every city has to have a loud, pumping heart that never stops, with a lot going in and a lot coming out. The downtown of a healthy city is alive and humming all the time. There’s traffic all day and all night and even in the slowest hours when some traffic lights blink red, there’s always somebody going somewhere, places to get a coffee or newspaper, taxis prowling like cats. People are at work, in the streets, at bakeries, in call centres. All kinds of places.
There is always sound and noise. Music pounds out of the bars. And when the bars close, there is a flurry of activity — yelling and cars starting up — and then the smaller flurry an hour later when bar staff finally go home. Sirens of police and fire vehicles wail. There is the deep whirr, like a dull throb, of helicopters coming in to land at the QEII Sciences Centre.
Very early in the morning, so early that it’s still night, trucks begin the rounds of deliveries, of emptying dumpsters, engines rumbling, their arms screeching as they latch onto the metal bins, raise them up, tip the load. The load falls into the truck and then there’s a clang clang clang of the last banging of the bin before its lowered back to earth.
In Halifax, living downtown means living close to various kinds of transportation. To the north the bridges funnel traffic all the time. In the harbour the ferry chugs in the day, like a stately aunt. Big vessels of all kinds — frigates, tugs, submarines, cargo ship — slip in and out. On the Dartmouth side, the rolling stock of trains creak and moan in and out of the autoport.
To the south, ships at the Halterm terminal are loaded and unloaded by giant machines from HG Wells’s War of the Worlds. The bus station is at the train station now. Out back of the train station, locomotives chuff and purr and roar in the cold.
To live downtown is to be close to all of this, and it’s not always peaceful. Four years ago, residents of the Barrington Gate residential complex at the corner of Barrington and Blowers streets complained about the noise coming from The Blues Corner, a bar with loud music at the corner of Argyle and Blowers streets. The bar closed. Now, there are many more people living downtown. Developers are seeking to put multi-story housing wherever they can. Condominiums line the Lower Water Street near the Farmer’s Market and along Barrington Street south of the train station.
People who choose to live downtown need to embrace the heart and muscle of the city. Trucks will come and go at all hours. Bars will be noisy. There will be crime, parades, protests and panhandlers. People who live with a view of the harbour should like boats and water and accept what it is to run a busy harbour like that of Halifax. People with the train station in their backyard should like trains and accept that they make noise and emit fumes.
The downtown is the heart and guts and sinew of Halifax. Living there isn’t for everyone, and that’s the way it should be. It should feel different to live downtown. This is a big city — Hubbards to Enfield to Ecum Secum: sea shore, farmland, suburbs, villages and city. There’s lots of choice, and the downtown should be encouraged to be as brash and lively as it can be.