View from afar

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder about some of the ridiculousness standing in the way of the city of Halifax. It’s a city that has grown a lot since I’ve moved here nearly nine years ago but at the same time, a lot has fallen down. Essentially the entire street of Barrington downtown has closed its doors over the last half decade leaving entire blocks nearly empty with previous store-owners either closing down or moving out. Barrington Street could be an awesome location with some awesome high class store-fronts. The street itself is the heart of the downtown, the buildings have tons of class and character and could rival streets in Toronto as far as shopping goes. As of now, when it comes to downtown, we have Spring Garden. Which in itself is my favourite street in the city but after spending a week in New York, coming from a city with endless streets, roads and blocks of huge buildings, lots of shopping, lots of people and lots of activity, somehow, Spring Garden Road and the surrounding areas just don’t cut it anymore.

This past week, I was browsing through the newspaper like I do most days and noticed that there was a potential obstacle standing in the way of the new YMCA building proposed for the corner of Sackville/South Park Street. At a height of 46 metres when finished, the The Nova Scotia Heritage Trust has claimed that such a height for the building would block the view of the Public Gardens from Citadel Hill. This is the same people that has intervened at the suggestion of other buildings proposed to be built around the downtown core over the last few years, including the highly publicized Twisted Sisters’ building to be put up on Granville Street (which I think has since been passed although construction hasn’t started yet).

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree completely with holding onto our heritage. There are some very beautiful buildings in downtown Halifax that remain because of the presence of a Heritage sign on them that I’m sure at one point or another were to be torn down that have since been put to new use. But I strongly disagree with holding on to things for the sake of heritage. If you have an old building that no longer serves a purpose and nothing good can come of it but it happens to be two centuries old, it’s a strain on potential.

Going back to the view from the hill, which is the point of this post. It’s argued that the view of the harbour from the top of Citadel Hill is important for the heritage and history of Halifax because of the service that the fort on the hill has provided over previous centuries. That’s respected. However, when is it too far that such a detail can prevent Halifax from progressing? I’m not saying that building tall buildings is the only way a city can progress. It’s naive to think so. But preventing the building of buildings on account of protecting a view isn’t progressing either. I’m sure many people (mostly tourists!) are amazed at the view from the hill of the harbour but how many of those tourists come to Halifax just for that? I’d like to think that we have more to offer people than the view of a large-sized harbour from the top of a medium-sized hill. I strongly believe that there can be a back-up plan to provide an equally impressive look-out of the harbour (and maybe a full 360 view of Halifax-surrounding) in one or more of the proposed buildings once completed. Maybe provide a green rooftop and tourist setting as a destination for people to go to, and gaze out over the harbour. The hill can remain a destination for history as it applies to its role in past wars with its museum and greenery but no longer should its presence as a past marker halt what could be.

As it applies to the YMCA building, the last thing I think of when I venture up to the top of Citadel Hill is how much of the Public Gardens I can see. And I love the Public Gardens! Even if I wanted to look into the gardens, most of them are blocked by trees. If I’m that concerned with seeing the gardens, I’ll actually walk INTO the gardens and see how magnificent it is up close. The ridiculousness of this argument astounds me. Halifax could continue to move forward with new ideas, new attractions and build/fix-up the downtown area that is in desperate need of new life. We need to cater to a wider range of people, and not just the few that desire to see the Public Gardens and the ocean from afar.

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen time and time again with the city of Halifax is that there is so much talk and so little action. I can’t even begin to count the number of projects I’ve heard about since moving here and how hopeful they sounded that are either still in talks or seemingly forgotten about. It just seems so ridiculous that so much time can be wasted putting things on the table, passing it back and forth and doing nothing about it. Halifax is falling behind.

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