Community Collaboration: ‘Placemaking’ Brings Halifax Neighbourhood Together

Kate MacLennan, the Community Arts Facilitator for the Halifax Regional Municipality, submitted this story in response to my post ‘Friday Morning Coffee: Inviting Stories About Community Arts.‘ Find out what ‘Placemaking’ is and read how city engineers and staff collaborated with community artists and residents to unite and strengthen one Halifax neighbourhood after a devastating car accident. If you have a personal story about community arts that you’d like to share, please contact us at
(Cora-Rae Silk, ArtBridges)

Courtesy of Halifax Regional Municipality.

“If only you could have seen it firsthand. The music and dancing in the street, overtop a freshly painted, community designed mandala. Everyone was encompassed by signs of celebration: personalized flags, glowing lanterns, candles, sparklers, colourful paint brushes, decorated chalk boards, smiling faces and new friends. From young artists to young families, residents from the seniors home to city Councillors and community leaders; the event drew neighbours and friends of all kinds. Everyone was a witness. We all knew something powerful had just been accomplished and that this Placemaking project was the beginning of something even bigger.


The journey began with seeds of inspiration in 2010 when Michael Cook from City Repair, in Portland, Oregon, came to the ArtsEngage! Symposium to tell the story of street painting in Portland. Finally, after a car accident in the summer of 2011 at the corner of Black Street and Northwood Terrace in Halifax, the community decided it was time to organize. A Placemaking project would revision the role of the street in the neighbourhood and strengthen social collaboration in this diverse community.

By the fall of 2011 the community approached Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) through our Community Art Program. Painting on the street had never been done in Nova Scotia. It would be a long road to developing a process that would work for both the community and satisfy the reservations from city traffic engineers. The community was determined and the engineers were open minded. Their success would open the doors for other neighbourhoods in HRM to create their own Placemaking projects.

Key players internally in HRM were the Traffic & Right of Way engineers and Risk & Insurance staff who looked at potential risks related to such a project. Their willingness to engage in discussion and consider solutions to their safety concerns made it possible to create parameters that allowed community to come together while keeping pedestrians, cyclists and drivers safe. The HRM Community Arts Facilitator was the link between the community and internal staff, providing evidence of best practice from other cities and negotiating the needs of all parties to establish a final format for the pilot project. Some guidelines included painting only intersections with no bus routes, choosing an intersection with 2,000 cars or less per day, 1.2 metres of unpainted surface around the circumference of the design and using silica sand between layers of paint. These specifications and others were captured so they could be repeated in potential future projects.


A small but mighty team of community members led the Placemaking project. This ‘Core Team,’ as they were called, began hosting community gatherings in March of 2012. Neighbours shared their love of the community and, most importantly, exercised their imagination to dream of what could be done in their neighbourhood if money, or even physics, couldn’t stand in their way. Using these visions and points of appreciation people sketched ideas for what the street painting would look like. Experienced community artists lead the expansion of ideas and eventually the boiling down of key elements into one design. This final design was submitted to HRM for approval. Minor adjustments were made to the design as a result. Volunteers knocked door to door collecting signatures from residence, confirming their support for the one day street closure and community created design. With the generous support of the 4Cs Foundation, a private granting organization for community art projects, the Core Team was able to give honorariums to the artists and volunteers, and provide food during painting day.

Over 400 community members came out on July 14th to help celebrate and test their hand at street painting. Participation was a smooth process. A team of artists chalked out the design on the road in the morning creating a paint-by-numbers template. By noon chalking was completed and a ceremony kicked off the afternoon, including instructions on the process and technique for painting. Volunteers at the paint tent handed out materials and artists hosted the four quadrants of the design to ensure hands on help was available when it was needed. The evening was all celebration with music, dancing and congratulations before the street opened up again to vehicles.


To quote one Core Team member, Eli Gordon, “In most peoples mind painting on an intersection is a crazy idea. But to show that it does happen, and it can happen, and that this crazy idea is a wonderful idea, I hope inspires other people to think that their own crazy ideas could very well be possible. And even in a governmental structure such as the HRM, that some people may feel is completely immobile, there’s room for that. There’s room for crazy ideas that can make a crazy impact.”

We are proud to say that as of spring 2013 Placemaking has become an official program in HRM. Neighbourhoods can apply to the municipality to paint their street. Core Team members are coached through the process of how to organize and host a successful Placemaking project.

The streets are changing here in HRM. To see it happen come visit a project here in Halifax or connect with us to bring Placemaking to your own city.”

– Submitted by Kate MacLennan,
Community Arts Facilitator, Halifax Regional Municipality

All photos courtesy of Halifax Regional Municipality

Visit or connect with Placemaking Halifax on Facebook.

To read ArtBridges’ profile about the Halifax Regional Municipality Community Art Program, please click here.
See ArtBridges’ Google map for contact info.

For ArtBridges/ToileDesArts sponsorship opportunities: Simon Constam, Sponsorship Director,, 905-537-7227
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