Sunday, January 15, 2006

From the Cave: Commons


A couple of weeks ago I sat at the seminar of a famous Iranian poet who said, “A writer should never be afraid to write”. He faced greater fears and hatreds than I do. I hope I never will. Now I sit next to Halifax Commons. I wonder what was first granted and what has been slowly whittled away to the tiny patch, ill kept, and ill respected by the public councils and will of private developers who would profit from our historical birthright over the centuries.

Is it a desire to save money that leaves the Sobey’s Parking Lots as better lit places, for the mere parking of cars at night, than the Commons Grounds? Does the Legion of Canada, have the moral right, to tear down its own buildings, and profit instead? Does the Municipality have the moral right, to just rebuild an old school? Let’s first try to figure out why old buildings last centuries in Europe, and are in public use? But some public buildings in Halifax can not seem to last beyond a mere thirty or forty years of moderate usage?
Should the Commons Grounds be a place where dogs without licenses roam free? A place where none should fear being struck upon by night? Why does the Municipality limit the granting of housing permits, but permits the reconstruction of cheaply built structures on lands that were meant for everyone to enjoy? This is a city that continues to pour its whole sewerage into the sea, and then wonder why fish stocks are dwindling. That has identified the problem, but has yet to staunch the flow.
Consider the case of Chinju City in South Korea. A medieval castle stands on the river side in the centre of that city. Thirty years ago, the castle was a wreck, filled with a jumble of private dwellings, its residents having lived there for centuries. It was considered a cultural landmark, one of the few fully walled Korean fortresses intact. With much pain, the residents were relocated, their lands expropriated and compensated. There is now a memorial park, with well groomed, well lit paths, wrought iron fencing, lanterns, and interpretative displays. In all seasons it is a place of civic pride, a showpiece for the modernization and respect for the cultural history of the place. Perhaps councilors should make a visit?
What can be seen in Halifax Commons Grounds today? It is the kind of place, where wedding parties could have their ceremonies and pictures. Horticultural, beautiful shrubs and flowers could litter the place. A portable but tasteful seasonal kiosk there located for food and drinks? Similar to those sponsored by food grocers. At night, a dark place transformed, with creative lighting. Why not a surrounding portico development of beautiful brass Turkish lanterns perhaps, individually sponsored by the same kind of development that made Robbie Burns Park a reality? A more permanent coughing up of financing provided on the part of the corporate elites.
A place for many banks and investment houses to park a premium of their record returns in recent years. A site where developers could contribute generously and to make hefty contributions to civic pride? They would be appreciated for their concern for less wealthy residents of this city? A corporate business community could maintain cultural and civic development requirements, to even allow their multi-million dollar constructions to take place, on or around lands granted to the common public, nearly three hundred years ago. There are those who mourn the loss of non-native trees and species lost in the Public Gardens. But what of the general neglect of this city’s Commons Grounds? Even a few token solar powered LED lights could mark its current periphery. Such sparkling transformations would do much for the area.
With proper sightlines, even the Police could reduce patrol by merely observing from closed circuit cameras as surely is the case with development ripe Gottingen.

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