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The Commons; in Halifax, and Elsewhere.

 In Halifax, the best way to arrive is by boat. Some 300 years ago, that was how the Europeans got here, and despite living in land-bound Toronto, I knew this to be a seaport city.

That’s why I took a 12-minute ferry across the bay to Dartmouth, just so I could come back into Halifax by sea.

At the ferry terminal, there’s a mural of what it might have looked like upon European settlement, with Dartmouth to the left and Halifax to the right. One of the first things I noticed is that both Dartmouth and Halifax were built with Public Commons, a large green space built up upon a hill.

The image of the Public Commons captured my imagination; the notion of a common resource for which all residents maintained stewardship. Perhaps once the community grew large enough, a governor might be hired, to ensure the stewardship was maintained and shirking kept at bay. At heart, a Commons is a place for coming together. My mind drifted to what this might look like in the classroom.

Imagine a hub where students maintain their own private workshop, and where all interactions take place within the Commons. Perhaps the partitions between workshop spaces are semi-permanent, so students can open up their ‘homes’ for view by their community. Wasn’t this what the European settlers imagined upon their arrival in the New World?

 

It seems not. My initial research (a conversation with a willing bartender) tells that the Commons was an open space used to reload artillery before battle. Approaching the Commons is a major effort, as it is well up a hill, and no early settler would have ever imagined building a home around the perimeter.

All the same, there is some evidence of Halifax leaning towards grass roots community building. This plaque commemorates a 250 year-old garden, a place where citizens yearned to present themselves and meet with others.

This spirit can still be found in the modern businesses that occupy the historic downtown buildings. Almost all the stores are maintained by independent entrepreneurs, and there seems an active public life in the streets.

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