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 – Halifax is well represented by the grid — a street pattern that is as symbolic of our British colonial past as the Citadel itself. And in many ways, the grid still serves us well today; the narrow blocks have contributed to Halifax having one of the country’s most walkable downtown cores despite it being situated on the side of steep hill.
But like any city, Halifax is not static nor immune to periods of growth, decay, destruction, [re]development and re-emergence. These natural processes of human settlement have produced a range of results – amputations, cancers, incisions, transplants and grafts in the urban tissue that both scar and reshape the city that we experience today. And depending on the resiliency of the system, the results can be immediate failure, slow decline or mutation. Throughout the life of the city, changes can extend or build on existing patterns, while others create notable exceptions to the surrounding ‘rules’.
Presented below are a series of ‘tissue samples’ taken from the Halifax urban region. All are drawn at the same scale — each being one square kilometre extracted from the surrounding territory. They are simple representations of space, showing only the road structure, which —despite the region’s dominant natural topography — is arguably the main structuring element most often used in planning processes (along with other anthropogenic objects such as trunk sewers).
These simple, pseudo-schematic representations of the city can reveal both a ‘pattern language’ for Halifax, as well as numerous notable places of exception. For those who are most familiar with the street network and traverse these areas regularly, points of segregation, fragmentation, congestion may be evident from the street patterns themselves, while other points of activity and conflict may appear as nothing more than a point of intersection among many others.
For this reason, it is important to remember that this is but one layer purposefully extracted from all other contextual qualities. And while it may suggest the success of certain circulation patterns over others, it is but one piece of a much bigger and more complex picture. It begs the question: why do we continue to structure our city primarily through standard streets? Are other types of connective paths more appropriate and successful in creating urbanity?
Without making specific comments on the samples themselves, I would suggest that this is too often the way the city is described — a shallow analysis of something much deeper. Using only roads gives the impression of a high level of connectedness in each sample space, but the situation on the ground is often much different. How different would each sample space appear if represented with other spatial and social elements, relationships, phenomena? Knowing that most maps show only a fraction of the conditions present in the space, what are the most important layers when discussing the future of the city? In an urban context, is the road network still the best base layer from which to identify and project the future form on the city? If not roads, what other basic identifying or vital elements would you use to facilitate a conversation about the present condition and future potential of Halifax?