On Monday, News 95.7 talk show host Andrew Krystal invited listeners to weigh in on that hoary old chestnut: Another kerfuffle over another plan to wipe out another view of Halifax Harbour from Citadel Hill.
I didn’t catch much during my commute, but I did hear Krystal noting that one listener said he had recently been to Calgary and witnessed a kazillion construction cranes rising up into the Big Sky from the thumping, entrepreneurial heart of Calgary’s build-it-and-they-will-come downtown. In Calgary, he claimed, he hadn’t heard one single, limp-wristed eco-preservationist freak protesting.
Uh … that’s the point.
Calgary has no views worth preserving (save of the far-off foothills of the Rockies, which are probably best seen from higher elevations anyway).
The fact we can still wander a livable city with its eclectic mix of old and new, walkable waterfront and, yes, even a few reach-for-the-sky downtown office towers that, thankfully, aren’t the only places from which we can view the harbour, is a tribute to our eco-preservationist freaks. Long may they complain.
During the 1960s and early ’70s, they waged a determined, multi-fronted campaign to save the city’s historic waterfront from the wrecker’s ball, stop big-dreaming bureaucrats from driving an eight-lane expressway through downtown and, in the process, protected iconic views of the harbour from historic Citadel Hill.
In January 1974, Halifax City Council unanimously approved a motion protecting 10 views from the Citadel affecting 300 acres of prime downtown real estate.
“In the larger sense,” author and activist Elizabeth Pacey wrote, “the decision represented a sweeping achievement in the pioneer field of environmental protection legislation.”
But not a permanent one.
Thanks to a Mack Truck-opening in Halifax’s new HRMbyDesign strategy, developers propose to build a $300-million downtown convention centre on the former Halifax Herald and Midtown Tavern lands, complete with a sky-jutting 14-storey office tower and 18-storey hotel.
Those structures, say members of the Coalition to Save the View from Citadel Hill, will almost completely obliterate the view of George’s Island from the Citadel. Their website offers a Photoshopped illustration of the result. It isn’t pretty.
One doesn’t have to want Halifax’s downtown to be trapped forever in Paleolithic splendour to wonder why we need another hotel and office tower smack in the middle of a significant viewplane when there are plenty of already-approved-but-unbuilt projects downtown that would not wipe out a view that won’t be replaced.
Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.