The community of East Preston is a tight-knit Black Nova Scotian community in HRM. While more rural than other parts of the municipality, the community is not far from Cole Harbour and has its own school, community centre, daycare and other services. These places are all within walking distance of each other – except, the number 7 highway runs through the centre of East Preston. With a 70 km/hr speed limit, no crosswalks, narrow shoulders and limited bus service, the community has been fighting for safe active transportation options for decades.
A new partnership
In the spring of 2017, we partnered with the East Preston Daycare Centre/Family Resource Centre, the Ecology Action Centre, HRM Rec and Nova Scotia Health Authority to form a group to address this issue. The group is called RAPA (Rural Access to Physical Activity) and together we gathered the necessary facts and data and engaged Upland Design and Planning to create an active transportation plan. When it became clear that more community input was needed, an advisory committee of community members and local organizations was established to help ensure community needs came first. That committee eventually became the East Preston Community Active Transportation Committee.
Armed with a detailed plan, RAPA members began meeting with elected officials and government departments to have their voices heard. The cost of the first phase of a multi-use pathway was an estimated $1.5 million, so they hoped for support at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.
RAPA member Tammy Ewing is from East Preston, and spoke to Halifax Regional Council.
“We have been historically overlooked. This community has been waiting decades to overcome these challenges.”
Despite their best efforts, it wasn’t until the group received a grant and hired local filmmaker Tyler Naldony to make a short video that people outside the community really started paying attention.
“The 7” highlights the inequities of East Preston, as both a Black and rural community in HRM. The visual of cars speeding by, children from the daycare trying to cross the street, and heartfelt stories of the barriers to physical activity, is moving to many. It also included a message from Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health: “We know all the things we should tell people to do for their health. We say things like you should eat better or exercise more. But what worries me is when people can’t do that because it hasn’t been built. It doesn’t exist.”
The video created momentum for the group, who began presenting it regularly. It helped to demonstrate that it wasn’t just that East Preston is a small, rural community. Other rural communities have managed to lower their speed limits or have a sidewalk or trail created. The primarily Black voices raising this need have gone unnoticed for years.
Collaboration leads to success
First RAPA secured support from HRM council, who agreed to cost-share the project with the federal and provincial governments. At that time, Tammy Ewing spoke about the experience with Portia Clark on Information Morning. She was emotional.
“To see this a major step forward getting that approval, it’s just amazing. I’m feeling so excited.”
This spring, the federal and provincial governments agreed to contribute their share of the funding. A multi-use pathway will become a reality for the community by 2023.
But that’s not all. After years of outcry a petition was circulated, and the province finally agreed to lower the speed limit to 50 km/hr, from 70 km/hr in April 2021.
As momentum on the initiative continued to grow, leadership was passed on to the East Preston Community Active Transportation Committee. RAPA is still available to support them when needed, and we’re proud to continue to be a part of this collaborative work. We look forward to seeing East Preston flourish with these critical changes to their built environment. And we hope we can continue to help elevate voices advocating for equity.