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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A view worth saving?

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HALIFAX – Halifax is deadlocked in yet another polarized development debate. Pro-heritage people oppose the proposed World Trade and Convention Centre, on the grounds that it would ruin the old-world feeling of our city, while many in the business community dismiss heritage folk as naive sticks in the mud.

The municipal government, under HRMbyDesign, has approved the development of two new skyscrapers downtown. The Hardman Group developers proposed to tear down the unsightly Cogswell Interchange and somehow “reunite” the north end with the south end by putting a couple sky-scarpers between the communities, but the deal was awarded to Rank Inc. Rank plan to build two glass towers, standing at 18 and 14 stories each on the blocks spanning the former Halifax Herald and Midtown Tavern buildings. Aside from housing the World Trade and Convention Centre, Rank’s plans include a 600-car-parking garage, residential units, office space and a hotel. The buildings will be taller than Citadel Hill and block the view to George’s Island from the top of the hill. Concerned citizens won’t know the full details of the plan, including how much the project will cost taxpayers, until February.

Not everyone’s thrilled. The Coalition to Save The View from Citadel Hill, spearheaded by Peggy Cameron and Beverly Miller, is petitioning Premier Darrell Dexter in hopes that he won’t give the development the final go ahead. The coalition gained recognition by circulating leaflets featuring alarming images of somber-black boxes blocking our skyline, warning citizens that their view was “going, going, gone.” Rank’s own mock-ups feature shimmering-glass buildings, reflecting the surrounding blue sky. It’s probably safe to assume the aesthetic reality lies somewhere in the middle.

Cameron is concerned that a public view is becoming privatized. “No one gets to see that view any longer, other than the people who are renting those spaces,” she laments. When the former owners of the late Midtown Tavern tried to save downtown’s best watering hole by building a hotel to increase revenue, they were shot down because the municipality has policies in place protecting the view planes from Citadel Hill. However, HRMbyDesign includes a notwithstanding clause, doubling height limits for buildings constructed in the view-planes, if government funds are poured into the development project.

Cameron’s concerns are also environmental. Both the Ecology Action Centre and Save The View critique HRMbyDesign for not having mandatory regulations requiring developers limit greenhouse-gas emissions. The EAC’s Built Environment Committee decided last week to support Cameron’s group, based on shared concerns that the new World Trade and Convention Centre would not be as green as it ought to be. Cameron points out that materials used in the construction of high rises, such as concrete and steel are less efficient to produce than wood. “Once constructed, high-rises use more energy, are more costly to maintain, are less adaptable in their use and have shorter life spans,” states the Coalition’s website.

Green or not, modern high-rises will always seem out of place downtown to heritage enthusiasts. It would be nice if heritage folk and the business community could compromise, but the two groups appear diametrically opposed and more likely to perpetually shoot each other down than invigorate and revitalize the downtown.

photo by Seamus McGreal



  1. Hey, I like that view, but seriously, you can just walk to the south side of the Citadel (looking over Spring Garden) and get an even better view of George’s island – there is even a bench there.

  2. “HRMbyDesign includes a notwithstanding clause, doubling height limits for buildings constructed in the view-planes, if government funds are poured into the development project.”

    This statement is absurd. HRMbyDesign maintains the view planes. No project is allowed to build into them, especially not government ones. The WTCC was grandfathered into HRMbyDesign, and is allowed to proceed under the old development process (with public hearing etc.). There is no such thing as a height doubling “notwithstanding” clause. Please consult the plan documents when writing about them.

  3. Do the EAC and Save the View people really think that high rise buildings aren’t environmentally friendly because wood is more efficient to produce than steel? So, essentially, if we all decide to move into spread out log cabins in the suburbs this will somehow make HRM more sustainable?

    The WTCC towers will be the first substantial building with office space to open in downtown halifax in over two decades. This means that for the first time in 20 years, old and new businesses alike won’t have to go to HRM’s suburbs for office space.

    That means there will be less cars making long commutes to and from work each day.

    That means that living downtown will all of a sudden be way more appealing for more people, meaning they won’t be so car-dependent.

    And, that means that more people who don’t live downtown will be able to take public transit to and from work each day, rather than having to drive out to somewhere like Dartmouth Crossing.

    So tell me, what does this have to do with wood, carbon fibre, glass or whatever material these towers get built with? In the grand scheme of things, it’s small potatoes. And anyways, I very much doubt that HRM would let a developer build a flagship ‘energy pig’ right in downtown Halifax. Not in this age of “sustainability.”

  4. If that photo accurately represents the view, then I can’t for the life of me figure out what the fuss is about. I’d guess the buildings would be better looking than the view.

  5. Frank B: I may be incorrect, but my impression is that there are a number of underused and vacant buildings downtown and elsewhere on the peninsula that could be used for offices, based on the principle that “the greenest building is the one that already exists.” For large corporations with hundreds of employees, there might be an argument for more high-rise space (and I agree with you, I’d much rather see those businesses locate downtown than in pedestrian- and transit-hostile business parks), but I think a number of mid- and small-size businesses could fit into what is already there.

  6. There are many different view planes from citadel hill and this one is probably the worst (in my opinion). I could not tell you the last time I looked longingly at the oil refinery or Eastern Passage or Woodside, most likely because it hasn’t happened. I understand that this could set a precedent and that the much nicer views to the south (out the mouth of the harbour) could be jeopardized but in reality, the chrinicle herald building is old, abandoned and unsightly and I will be very pleased to see this new development in the downtown, so long as it is planned well at the street level.

    As far as building things from wood as being more sustainable because wood is more efficient to produce… Someone already mentioned the environmental benefits of high density developments (ie towers full of apartments/condos) when it comes to, urban sprawl, traffic…

    Also! The more people fight about this, the longer it is going to take, the more money will be spent on appeals and whatnot, all while we have a nice city block of half demolished building…. Maybe they should just make it a parking lot instead… It certainly would seem contentious. I wonder how many people would be happy to see that?

  7. Shit, when I said the parking lot would be contentious, I meant less contentious (than the proposed development for the site).