Why do they hate us? Part 2

The day after the Legislature finished its fall sitting, the government suddenly announced they had approved $29.5 million (let’s call it $30 million) to build another parking garage on the Halifax Common. The new structure would provide 900 parking spaces and address one of the major agonies of people visiting the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Parking is often stressful for folks visiting the hospitals, so many people will applaud this proactive move. I choose to mourn the location, on Summer Street next to the Museum of Natural History, and encourage you to walk the site before that earth is scorched.

The official architectural rendering of the garage sets a new standard of accuracy, in a medium that is noted for being fanciful. No mature trees drawn in, the building punched right out to the sidewalk, and it appears to be sited hard against, and looming over the existing Museum of Natural History.  A building designed to start a fight.

I worked in the museum for 30 years or so and over time developed a deep appreciation for how well its landscape had been designed. This is the earliest modern institutional landscape that I can think of, and it set a standard that has not often been equaled since.

In the photo below you are looking at the Museum’s public parking lot. Don’t see it? That’s because it is sunken, and screened from the street by a berm (what they call a grassy knoll in Dallas). This is exactly the site of the new garage.

The Museum opened in 1970 and the layout of the parking lot and plantings that surround it have changed some, but the intent remains: a large parking lot that is not particularly visible from Summer Street or Bell Road.

On the north side of the building is a staff parking lot and service bay that is set into the landscape, so that it is invisible, because the public does not need to know that it is there.

A rose hedge surrounds the sunken parking lot to make it beautifully invisible in the summertime. That’s the sort of rose hedge the city likes to remove along Dunbrack Street.

And the great lawn above? Why it’s about to be ripped up to provide a “temporary” parking lot while the other parking lot is ripped up. The Domino Theory of Parking Lots.

So fifty years ago. the designers of the museum and its landscape understood and responded to the site. They created a pavilion in a field knowing that it would be viewed from all four sides. The land around was molded and manipulated to reduce the visual impact of a hundred cars. Before the Museum was built this location was City Field, the place where snow plows were stored behind a high fence.

Like I say, take a look; it’s going to be gone in a matter of weeks. And don’t start singing Joni Mitchell. I’m not in the mood.

Random thoughts

  • This post is entitled “Why Do They Hate Us? Part 2” because it feels to me like the provincial government goes out of their way to mess with urban design in Halifax. They thumb their nose at the idea of making the city more livable.  My Part 1 post was written after the announcement that the new outpatients centre would be blasted out of solid granite in a soulless business park. Again parking was paramount, with the tone deaf province not understanding this huge investment was an opportunity to build a more livable community.

  • As I walked around the museum site a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Citadel High, across Bell Road, also has a berm that screens some of a parking area from view. It is good but, because times have changed, my overactive mind thought of the blast barriers found in front of American embassies or military bases, to protect against truck bombs.

  • The present hospital parking garage on Robie Street will be demolished after the new one is built. It is just 16 years old and has spaces for 673 vehicles. A clever planting has matured so well that much of the building is now totally screened from the street. Also, the garage is next to the Health Centre’s main entrance; can’t get more stress free than that.

And when they kill the 16 year old building, will the body be dumped into Bedford Basin?

  • The new garage will be built atop Freshwater Brook. The museum is also on the buried brook, which has led to issues in the past. The garage site is more or less marked in red on this 1878 map. You can see that Jubilee Road was once intended to punch through to Bell Road.

H.W. Hopkins Nova Scotia Archives Library O/S G 1129 H3 H67 1878

  • Maybe the garage could be built over Summer Street. Works great at the Nova Centre.
  • Pity the therapy horses at the Bengal Lancers, exercising in the valley of the shadow of a multi-story car park.

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.