East Preston is one of Nova Scotia’s oldest Black communities. Located along Highway 7, the community has been rallying for the services needed to make East Preston a safe place to walk, bike and roll.
East Preston, a tight-knit rural HRM community, has a deep history. Much of it has been fraught with racism and injustice, but also with resilience and perseverance. The story of how the small community stands up for safer streets is the latest example of persistence in the face of inequity.
Understanding local needs
A few years ago, United Way Halifax worked with partners in the community to identify barriers to physical activity. Walking is typically the easiest and most accessible kind of physical activity. For most of us, lacing up our shoes and heading out the door is a simple way to get our steps in without having to spend lots of money. For the residents of East Preston, it’s not that easy.
The number 7 highway – with narrow shoulders, speed limits of 70km/hour and no crosswalks – runs through East Preston. Community members have been saying for years that it isn’t safe to walk there. Cars travel too fast. Pedestrians are often forced to walk on the road. They especially fear for the safety of children and seniors.
The East Preston Rural Access to Physical Activity committee (RAPA) was formed to bring attention to the issue. The multi-sectoral team of community members, local agencies, HRM recreation, public health and United Way staff wrote letters, met with government officials, did a walkability audit and developed an Active Transportation Plan.
People expressed sympathy for the situation, but there wasn’t a lot of commitment to addressing the problems. The team members wondered if creating a video might help demonstrate the issues.
With a grant from Recreation Nova Scotia, they hired a local Black filmmaker, Tyler Nadolny, to produce a video in the summer of 2019. The result is The 7 – a short film that shows the unsafe road conditions and features East Preston residents sharing their fears and their hopes for change.
The video was part of a presentation to Halifax Regional Council’s budget committee in December, and the impression was significant. RAPA committee member Tammy Ewing spoke to councillors about how East Preston has been continuously overlooked.
This is an important cause for us. We want our children to grow in a community where they can walk, be healthy, connect with one another.
The councillors were clearly moved by their presentation. They immediately started asking questions about how they could help. In July 2020, Halifax Regional Council agreed to apply for funding from other governments to cost-share the construction of a multi-use trail system. The multi-use trail will make it possible to walk and bike or use a scooter, stroller or wheelchair between hubs in East Preston. It will take pedestrians and cyclists off the dangerous road, giving them a safe place to be physically active and get where they need to go.
Tammy Ewing spoke to Portia Clarke on CBC’s Information Morning about the decision and the work the committee has done. “It’s a major step forward, getting that approval. I’m so excited,” she said.
Facts & Stats
East Preston's walkability score
the speed limit along East Preston's main road
population of East Preston
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