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Letters to the editor, January 12, 2017

These are the letters and comments from the print edition


Charrested development

People have good reason to lament the state of urban design in Halifax. The Cogswell Interchange is just one example in a decades-long string of mistakes that includes Fenwick Tower, the Maritime Centre and the new convention centre ("Somewhere over the Interchange...," Feature by Jacob Boon, January 5). In each case, when the project was being presented to the public, politicians and officials were smiling and heads were nodding up and down in agreement. Each time they claimed a good decision had been made and that there was a public process which produced an optimal outcome. In actuality, because Nova Scotia seems willfully ignorant of the standard architectural practice of design charrettes, nothing could be further from the truth.

The latest example of pedestrian-unfriendly design was unveiled in a public meeting on December 15, 2016. Government and design representatives introduced plans to replace LeMarchant St. Thomas elementary school with a new building that is conspicuously separated from the sidewalk by the large parking lot. This suburban-style site plan will be imposed on one of the few neighbourhoods left in North America where people can raise children with the ability to walk anywhere they please: Movie theatres, grocery stores, restaurants, the library, a skating rink, museums, the waterfront and more.

The process that produced this flawed site design excluded the vast majority of the community. Tellingly, only a couple dozen people attended the presentation in December. And the process, to the extent one existed, was poorly executed. Differences of opinion quickly devolved into squabbles. The project's management team failed to realize that everyone who lived in the neighbourhood was a legitimate stakeholder. Importantly, neither the province nor the design firm they hired was trained to facilitate a design-centric process that produces a pedestrian-oriented site plan.

The correct approach is to execute a design charrette, a structured approach that could have allowed a broad range of stakeholders to participate in a multi-day, design-focused process to produce the kind of pedestrian-oriented plan that is needed on the LeMarchant site. Charrettes have proven successful to overcome a range of barriers and complexities associated with pedestrian-oriented design. They don't produce buildings separated from sidewalks by large parking lots.

We live in a time where information is at our fingertips, yet planners and architects in Nova Scotia remain blithely indifferent to the design charrette. That is a loss for all of us. Research has shown that people value two things above all else in a community: The first is basic services such as roads, affordable housing and health care. The second is aesthetics. It's why we prefer travel to Europe over New Jersey. So why are we replicating suburban New Jersey in our urban neighbourhood?

A lack of inclusion, communication and commitment to good urban design will always produce negative outcomes. Planners and architects need to work much harder and more collaboratively with communities to build places that make people on sidewalks feel better about the spaces they inhabit. Nova Scotia needs a cultural shift to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. —Patrick Moan, Halifax

Shot in the dark

Here's what Halifax Regional Police said after last weekend's incident, where a picture of a guy with his paintball gun caused the police to evacuate part of Saint Mary's University: "HRP would like to remind people not to post pictures of themselves with firearms or guns that appear to be actual firearms. Police have to treat these investigations as if they were firearms which could potentially lead to dangerous situations. It also ties up police resources and could result in various charges for the person posting the pictures."

In the summer I visited HMCS Sackville and took a picture of myself with the 20mm anti-aircraft gun. I posted it to Facebook. Should I take the picture down?

Given that the Canadian Charter, in section 2(b), guarantees "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication," do you think a Canadian police department should tell the public to NOT do something that is legal, and protected by our charter? —Darren Parks, Halifax

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