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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Time to give Citadel Hill a facelift

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HALIFAX – Last week, WebUrbanist published a neat article on old star-shaped fortresses still kicking around in the US, Europe and Asia. It struck me that while all the other forts in North America (and some in Europe) looked strikingly similar to Halifax’s Citadel — pulling off the “frozen-in-time” look in an equally successful fashion — others in the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, France and Japan looked far more alive and integrated into their modern sites, not just as museum pieces but active urban spaces.

That’s not to say that Halifax’s Citadel isn’t active or entirely a museum piece either. During weekdays the monument might attract mostly tourists, but walk up the citadel on a weekend morning and you’ll find plenty of locals out for a leisurely stroll; walk up late at night and you’ll likely meet another group of Haligonians, this time using the site’s isolation to work more illicitly as prostitutes or in other illegal trades. Yet this isolation from the rest of the city surrounding it means the Citadel can be a dangerous place to be at night, for both workers and recreationists alike.

So maybe it’s time to update our old fort. Our worries of attacking cavalry and need for spaces where cattle can graze are long gone, so why not add trees, benches or even a pond to the currently barren grass fields (specifically near Bell and Sackville streets) surrounding the site — a replacement body of water for the lost Egg Pond now buried under the Commons skate park.

Or what about enlarging the sidewalk along the west side of Brunswick Street to create space for outdoor stalls, vendors and buskers to set up in the summer and reanimate the streetscape during the day? Or terraced platforms on the hillside for picnics and views of the city?

Screen shot 2010-04-06 at 5.50.11 PM
Brunswick Street today

Or, maybe even look at using some of the natural topography of the site for…an outdoor concert venue instead of the one that’s going to be built on the Common? Think of the old Greek and Roman amphitheaters with a modern twist, using the grassy slope of Citadel Hill as informal seating — a Roman Woodstock. Granted, it won’t entirely mitigate the noise for nearby residents, but if the stage was built, for example, on the parking lot next to Centennial Pool in between Cogswell Street and Rainnie Drive and faced the Citadel, it would definitely help lessen the noise by blasting music straight into a grass hill.

Building a permanent stage here would also mean that currently well-used green space on the Common would not be lost. The unnecessary Rainnie Drive could be closed and re-landscaped (which could improve the 5-way nightmare intersection at North Park Street) and in the place of a parking lot, Halifax would have a well-integrated outdoor concert venue overlooking the North End, MacDonald Bridge and the Harbour.

In central London, England, every summer for over half a century concerts have been staged on Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, which overlooks the city. They have been hugely popular with both locals and tourists alike. In fact, previous concerts on the Garrison Grounds — the southeastern side of Citadel Hill — have likewise been big successes, although smaller in scale than concerts on the Common.

Concert on Parliament Hill, London

Think what an improvement that would be from what the site is like today (see Google’s streetview). Maybe a few shops or a much needed grocery store could somehow be built into the concert stage too — possibly under it, because of the elevation drop — that would open onto Cogswell Street and the North End?

If we started looking at the Citadel area as a part of present day Halifax and not just as a historical relic to be left untouched for tourists and history buffs, we might be able to create solutions for some of the city’s currently unresolved social, environmental and development issues. It’s time to make Citadel Hill a safer and better used place for everyone to enjoy.

photos from Google Earth, Google streetview and Epochend


One comment

  1. Great article Jake – I couldn’t agree more. I have always felt that the citadel site is an incredibly anti-urban construction in our city, and desperately needs to be updated to suit the needs of a 21st century populace. There are a few other sites in this city that we could awaken from their Victorian slumber as well. You should run for mayor – I’ll vote for you….