The green mile

A new plan for downtown Halifax includes a “green corridor” stretching from the harbour to Citadel Hill. Lis van Berkel reports.

photo Darryl James

The greening of the Grand Parade is an idea both promoted and protested—promoted by environmentalists who want to see it turned into a car-free space, such as a skating rink, and protested by some Halifax Regional Municipality councillors who don’t want to lose their parking spots.

But a “green corridor,” the result of a study commissioned by the city and the province’s department of transportation and pubic works and released in May, has the potential to satisfy both groups—and the business community, heritage groups and the province too.

The Grand Parade/Province House Area Joint Public Lands Plan position paper, the study preliminarily released by CBCL Consultants, has managed to mash different perspectives into a single, complex recommendation: the creation of a uniquely lush streetscape that would extend from Citadel Hill down past the Metro Centre and the World Trade and Convention Centre on Carmichael Street. At the Grand Parade, it would encompass a car-free “linear park,” then continue on the other side of Barrington, taking in the former Birks site—currently also a parking lot—and the run-down Dennis Building. From there, the corridor would extend down to Province House, where the grounds would be re-designed as a smaller park—perhaps with limited car use—past the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and continue down to the waterfront. Along the tree-lined route, signage would refer to important landmarks and historical events.

The idea of a green corridor is inspired in part by Boston’s $80 million Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, an urban revitalization success story—and one of several case studies appended in the CBCL report. Constructed in 1991 in Boston’s densely built business district, the park remediated a 1.7 acre swath of land that once contained a dilapidated three-level parking garage. Now, its seven levels of parking are buried underneath a large lawn that features a canopy of large trees, fountains, public art and kiosks—some of the recommendations discussed in the CBCL report as possibilities for the Halifax corridor. (Underground parking and either a park or a “modern sensitive building” are also suggested for the Birks lot.)

Parade Square already has other human-scale uses—as the report outlines, it’s a churchyard for Canada’s oldest Protestant church, St. Paul’s Anglican Church (opened in 1750); it contains the Cenotaph, a symbolically significant war memorial; and it’s long been a performance and gathering space. The green strip, which intends to “slingshot” people through the area, isn’t all going to be parkland, but a pedestrian-friendly space for cars and bikes—which seems like a good idea to one of the city’s longest-standing critics of the Square’s use as a parking lot, the Ecology Action Centre.

“It’s not only about a green space,” points out commuter challenge coordinator Lachlan Barber at EAC’s new digs—ironically, no longer downtown but in Halifax’s north end—“the plan is about turning it into a district that’s more attractive to people on foot and bike.... Get the parking out of city hall, and then look at how to make the area more attractive that way.” For Barber, that also means making strong links to the ferry terminal and transit buses.

The urban issues and TRAX committee member says he also likes another idea that came up at last week’s public consultation: a raised “traffic table”—essentially, a speed bump—which, in combination with bike paths and pedways, would slow car traffic.

With the exception of downtown councillor Dawn Sloane, who praised the plans last week, city councillors’ enthusiasm for the proposal will be unclear until at least July 4, the last chance for CBCL to present its final report before council breaks until September.

“Basically, we’re at a fairly preliminary stage,” says Jacqueline Hamilton, HRM’s capital district project manager. “We’ve heard some feedback on aspects and will make changes, and then we’ll consult with council and provincially.”

And how much money could the city expect to devote toward a green corridor? According to Hamilton, the figures are still unknown. “We haven’t done the dollars yet,” she says.

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