rough notes

Architecture, Halifax and Urban Stagnation: The TexPark Site

with 2 comments

Residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who believe in neighbourhood development and hope to see the city’s downtown core restored to its once vibrant state can breathe a sigh of relief this autumn. It was announced on October 12, 2007, that the vocal Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia has finally backed down on its opposition to United Gulf‘s proposed development of the former Texpark site in the city’s downtown core.

The Texpark site, a former parking lot in downtown Halifax, has been a vacant hole since 2004, Texpark sitewhen the structure was demolished. It is not an example of architectural heritage, but of urban blight. Development of any kind at the busy corner of Sackville and Granville Streets has been stifled whilst City Council, the Heritage Trust, and the developers have argued in and out of court about the correct interpretation of the municipality’s urban development regulations. Even though Council approved in principle United Gulf’s proposed 27-story condo/hotel development by Hariri Pontarini Architects, the Heritage Trust has incessantly argued that any such development on the site will ruin the viewplane of Halifax Harbour from The Citadel, a historic fortress situated at the centre of town. They have gone so far as to introduce vitriolic rhetoric in the process, naming the development’s two towers “The Twisted Sisters”, a derogatory name which has stuck in the reports by local media.

Halifax’s viewplane regulations are the primary concern for all urban planning issues in peninsular Halifax. The City generally limits development in its downtown core in a manner that protects viewplanes of the harbour from the historic fort at the centre of town. The exact limitations have always been up for interpretation (i.e. will a tower impede viewplanes from the inside the fortress, or from the top of its earthen walls?). Let it be said here and now that such restrictions, in spite of their originally good intentions, today stifle economic development in Halifax, and prevents urban neighbourhood renewal in a town that is rapidly succumbing to the power and tax drain of its suburbs. It is curious that Halifax, the purported “financial engine of the Maritimes”, has an urban development policy based primarily on the viewplanes of an obsolete fort whose main purpose today is limited to tourism and winter fairs. Whatever interpretation one chooses, The Heritage Trust, along with several other interest groups, have consistently argued against any contemporary development in downtown Halifax, in deference to these historic viewplanes.

The Heritage Trust charges that these viewplanes must be protected at any and all cost, and so should Halifax’s 19th century aesthetic charm of stonework and wrought-iron. While the City’s Parade Square, for instance, or its Historic Properties district do have a particular appeal to the eye, The Heritage Trust’s refusal to envision Halifax beyond this antiquated charm is holding back the city’s urban and community development. Peninsular Halifax, generally, and downtown Halifax, specifically, is suffering from a development crisis. While a vocal minority holds that Halifax has a vibrant archaeological heritage unfettered by contemporary development, a quick review of the downtown will hold otherwise. Brutalist Fenwick Tower is a tasteless monstrosity at the fringes of downtown, and the Aliant building builds a cement wall on the vital street corner of Barrington and Spring Garden. The Cogswell Interchange, meanwhile, separates the city into an affluent south end and “not so affluent” north end (a false dichotomy, to be sure, but one that pervades the city’s sense of self), and, as so many others have noted, the TexPark site itself sits at the heart of a neighbourhood of 1960s office towers, hotels, and parking lots. Halifax still has some feel-good, old-time architectural wonders, but it has already, and long ago, torn its heart out in the favour of failed development. Urban Gulf is not a pariah in this matter, but a chance to fix the errors made in the past.

The Heritage Trust has so far stifled development on a demolished multi-level parking lot, allowing the corner and its neighbourhood to stagnate. What Halifax needs right now is capital and investment in its downtown – under guidelines that serve the community as opposed to the sitelines of an antiquated tourist site – that can provide its residents with a place to once again live and work downtown. Its current guidelines have done nothing but prevent development and reduce affordable housing on the peninsula. Market rates on the peninsula today price too many people out of the local market, forcing them to live too far from their work, or rent from absentee landlords. By aiming to protect the architectural charm of Halifax, the Heritage Trust has done nothing more than protect the property values of an affluent minority. Hopefully, the approval and development of the United Gulf site will precipitate further neighbourhood renewal in downtown Halifax, along the likes of HRM By Design‘s intentions, and bring forward an urban Renaissance not seen in decades on the peninsula.

(1) Pictures of the TexPark site graciously photographed by the do-gooders at Halifax History. HH is a great pictorial history of Halifax – please surf over and check it out.
(2) Do check out Skyscraper City’s Halifax/Eastern Canada forums to follow a debate on this and similar issues.
(3) you are commodified.

Written by mitchellirons

October 13, 2007 at 11:19 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Hi,

    I saw your blog and thought you might like to know about, a new website I’ve started about Halifax.

    The site organizes blog posts by category so local bloggers are easy to find. So you could put this post about the twin towers into out architecture blog and when a user clicks to read it your blog page opens in a new window.

    We also list every event going on in metro and news headlines that link to national, local and world news.

    I hope you will take a look.

    Ted Sutcliffe

    Ted Sutcliffe

    November 10, 2007 at 11:58 am

  2. I am interested in finding information on a demolished building on Gottingen Street, does a database of some kind exist to search this?

    The archives are closed due to the easter holidays.


    Tom W

    March 21, 2008 at 6:41 pm

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