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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Cogswell Interchange and the Ecology Action Centre celebrate 40 years

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HALIFAX – Forty years after its inception, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) is still fighting to make Nova Scotia an environmental success story. To mark the occasion, the EAC is undertaking a “40 Days of Action” campaign that kicked off with a picnic next to the Cogswell Interchange in Halifax today. The site was selected because it too is celebrating 40 years. The interchange was to be part of Harbour Drive, a highway to run along the waterfront, much like in Boston. The Harbour Drive project was halted thanks to the efforts of concerned Haligonians, while Boston’s went ahead only later to be moved underground.

Forty years ago, Brian Gifford was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Ecology Action Centre. “I feel very proud”, states Gifford. “I’m amazed at all the energy that has been put in to the Ecology Action Centre”. The EAC was founded on the need for a recycling program but has since branched out into seven committee focus areas—energy, wilderness, food, built environment, transportation, marine and coastal. Gifford continues, “It’s good to celebrate but things are more serious now. There needs to be more action.”

EAC’s Internal Director, Maggy Burns, echoes that the province has become a leader in many areas, much of it because of the EAC’s constant pressure. She emphasizes the need for unrelenting vigilance on environmental issues. She stresses that the small steps we are taking will likely not be enough to save humans from themselves. Burns states, “We need change”.

The Cogswell Interchange is an example of where change is needed. Kate Carmichael, former executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, called for change at the Cogswell site in 2001. A decade later, HRM is set to issue a request for proposals for a plan to move ahead with the redevelopment of “District 8”— the Cogswell Interchange site. Andy Fillmore, HRM’s Manager of Urban Design, stresses that redevelopment plans must reconnect the cities North end with the business core and must reconnect the Commons and Citadel with the Waterfront.

The call for proposals though is not a call for immediate action. The Cogswell Interchange will remain as is until one of four situations, outlines Fillmore. The four situations are:

1) the cost for maintenance of the current interchange outweigh what it would cost to remove the concrete structure

2) an engineering event happens with the interchange that would call for its immediate removal

3) an infusion of private capital occurs — the current owner of the site adjacent to the interchange wants to develop, triggering HRM to immediately level the site
4) an infusion of public money from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government

Any of these situations would lead to the much needed removal of Cogswell. A looming reminder of planning gone wrong and what can happen without public involvement. Whatever the cause of its removal, let’s make sure Cogswell’s redevelopment will better engage HRM citizens.

photo by Tom Elliott