A city pushed to the limit

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Halifax Common a crime centre?

HALIFAX - The Halifax Common is a sprawling, open green space that has hosted royalty, a pope and the Rolling Stones. But in recent months the city park has formed the backdrop to darker activities: muggings, stabbings and the random beating with metal table legs of an elderly woman.

HALIFAX - The Halifax Common is a sprawling, open green space that has hosted royalty, a pope and the Rolling Stones. But in recent months the city park has formed the backdrop to darker activities: muggings, stabbings and the random beating with metal table legs of an elderly woman.

It was that latest shocking act, for which three teenage girls have been charged, that seems to have pushed this small port city to its limit.

Two local citizen groups have announced intentions to patrol the park, while from New York, the Guardian Angels - another citizen patrol group with chapters in nine countries and 86 cities - have said they will visit Halifax in late October to gauge interest in a patrol.

On Facebook, outraged Haligonians have launched Halifaxs Group Against Random Violence, attracting 275 members in just a couple of days. And in an effort to curb crime within the green space, all manner of solutions are being discussed, from improved environmental design to a nightly curfew.

Ive seen the fear level go up, says John Gillis, an emergency physician at Dartmouth General Hospital. Gillis lives on a street adjacent to the Common and, with city councillor Dawn Sloane, is forming a citizens patrol group.

Gillis says since he moved beside the Common two years ago, he was warned about walking in the park at night. But he says it is the more recent crimes that have spurred him to action. By spring he hopes his group will be equipped with walkie-talkies and be able to report any suspicious activities to police.

Curtis Sliwa, founder and president of the Guardian Angels, calls Halifaxs violence Clockwork Orange-like, and says what prompted him to explore setting up a chapter is not just requests from local citizens, but news of the elderly womans vicious beating on the Common.

Thats a headline that I would be used to reading in the Buffalo Evening News or the Boston Herald or the Detroit Free Press. Hell no, not in Halifax.

Bordered on three sides by residential development and stretching off into more park on the fourth, the Common is further cut off by four lanes of traffic that run parallel to the park. Sloane believes that isolation is what makes the Common so susceptible to crime.

Even so, the city councillor - who has lived two blocks away from the Common since 1990 - says that fails to explain the unnecessary violence occurring in the park. Violence just to perform violence is whats happening.

Sloane requested city staff do an environmental design review of the Common last year. The results of such a review could mean the trimming of trees and bushes that could conceal people, and the installation of lighting, call boxes for emergencies and video cameras. Some trees are already being cut back and Sloane says she hopes some other measures will be put in place soon.

Organizations: Guardian Angels, Rolling Stones, Halifaxs Group Dartmouth General Hospital Buffalo Evening News Boston Herald Detroit Free Press

Geographic location: HALIFAX, New York

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