[Re]Presenting Halifax #5: Waterfront [Re]Visions

The [Re]Presenting Halifax series revisits historical and contemporary maps, diagrams and other interpretive readings of the Halifax region. See my first post for the full aims of this project and more information about contributing to the series.

HALIFAX – Waterfront redevelopment has been a major focus of cities around the globe for decades. In the case of Halifax, it has been a process that has spanned decades. Halifax, much like Toronto, has struggled to find consensus for a waterfront redevelopment strategy. The plans and images presented here show two early visions for the renovation and revitalization of the Halifax waterfront. Although both plans may have had some influence on subsequent development, the future of the waterfront remains a contentious debate.

The redevelopment proposal from the 1971 plan. In addition to the highrises along the waterfront, it is interesting to note the terraced residential infill proposed at the base of the Citadel (much of which is occupied by the Metro Centre today).

This photo of the model prepared for the 1971 plan gives a clear idea of the proposed residential infill.

An alternative configeration for the ferry terminal is evident in the lower right-hand corner of the model. Much attention is paid to increasing public access to the waterfront, but access is not a continuous boardwalk as it is today.

This final image from the 1971 plan shows an artist's perspective of the area now home to parking lot (Salter Street).

Another plan from 1972 outlines an extensive pedestrian-oriented network (pictured below) that extends from Dalhousie’s Sexton Campus on Barrington street, through the Keith’s Brewery site (now Salter’s Gate), and extends north along the waterfront to where Purdy’s Wharf is located today. A noticeable addition is the extended path up George Street towards the Citadel clock, linking a series of larger open public spaces. This pedestrian path has been once again proposed by consultants in the recent HRMbyDesign process.

This artist's perspective illustrates the system of open spaces and paths outlined in the previous plan.

While these redevelopment plans are interesting due to the high-desity development that they propose, it is perhaps more interesting that both were commissioned by the Metropolitan Area Planning Committee within one year of each other. Despite the seemingly close relationship between the studies, the 1972 plan makes no mention of the plan commissioned in the previous year.

Yet, the plans call for similar action: encourage waterfront development; increase public and pedestrian access along the waterfront; reject the proposed Harbour Drive and the widening of Lower Water Street. Today, these broad objectives have been achieved, but significant gaps still remain in the built fabric. Two significant approved proposals meant to fill some of the largest holes (currently parking lots) – the Salter Street project and Queens Landing – now seem headed towards a similar fate.

A major difference between the early 1970s proposals and more recent ones is the shift in focus from an urban develop strategy for the waterfront to the addition of strategic urban projects. This shift is not unique to Halifax, but the apparent lack of a broader development strategy with which the urban projects fit into is cause for concern. Cohesive visions have been replaced with piecemeal, almost ad-hoc projects. Which leaves us with the question – when they don’t proceed (a common outcome), are we left to, once again, start over?  With the city frequently commissioning studies on issues that affect development, how many previous studies are being ignored? What role can previous plans play in subsequent visioning exercises? What is the value of past analysis in the projection of our present visions for the future of the city?

One comment

  1. Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I guess someone could argue that all these studies plans are part of a democratic development process.

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