The following is a guest post by Urban Geographer brother, designer and artist Jonathan Rotsztain. He is the publisher of the West Dublin Monitor and is currently training in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont

ships_start_jonathan

Jonathan aboard a visiting Japanese warship in the military
Halifax Harbour, 2011

harbour-600x398

Halifax/Dartmouth from above

Halifax, Nova Scotia was laid out in the interests of Empire. Following the successful English conquest of former French and Mi’kmaq lands—but before the expulsion of the Acadians—conquering army engineers superimposed a neat street grid over the lands west of the Halifax Harbour up until the Citadel defensive position. According to Halifax Street Names: An Illustrated Guide, “Town was laid out in squares or blocks of 230 by 120 feet, the streets being 60 feet wide; each block contained 16 town lots, 40 feet front and 60 feet deep, the whole divided into five divisions or wards.” How proper.

It may be apocryphal, but it’s said that the Halifax street grid was superimposed by surveyors looking at maps from London, England who never even set foot in the garrison during its 1749 founding and planning. The legend goes, that the powers-that-be didn’t anticipate the very steep hills up from the harbour and that during the cold Atlantic winters horses pulling heavy carriages were known to lose their foothold on the ice and go pummelling from the Citadel in the freezing water below. Whether this is true or not, having spent much time on the Halifax peninsula, it’s clear that its original architecture was indeed entirely military and that its civilian character has only evolved in that powerful echo.

Beyond its violent imperial roots, I spent much of the last four plus years living in Halifax marvelling at it’s apparent total lack of planning. Like much of North America, haphazard civic, industrial, business, retail and residential space butt-up and jut-out against each other. The impression I drew from navigating Halifax streets was one of short-term priorities triumphing over longterm planning, where consideration of how regular folks move and thrive in urban settings has been totally ignored.

This continues as the Halifax Regional Municipalities ignores its own design and regional plans and continues to encourage unbecoming sprawl. The result is areas like Hammonds Plains, where along its main artery, the Hammonds Plains Road exists as a kind of area I struggle to describe as sub-rural. On the outskirts of urban Halifax, it’s too agrestic too be properly suburban and yet it has many of the hallmarks of that kind of space. Residential sits atop business with many forests, fields and farms in-between. This is the outcome of a sparsely populated outpost growing for the sake of growth without thought to how different land uses interact with each other and the whole.

More recently, moving outside of Halifax and two hours down the South Shore another form of human geography struck me. Living in the LaHave area off Highway 331, I was faced with another kind of organic/haphazard human development. The 331 is given the tourist moniker “The Lighthouse Route” and it weaves its way close to the LaHave river in an organic rhythm that may date back to when the area was capital of French Acadia or even earlier to before European conquest.

The river road stands in contrast to the backroads. These I can best describe as spaghetti. They curve, narrow and bend in an even more organic fashion that was clearly the mother of necessity. As I travelled these often unpaved connectors I would wonder at how I could start in one area and end up in another. That these distant places across Lunenburg County were accessible to each other was one thing, but the journey along such unexpected paths add to their unreal feel.

south_shore_lahave01

 photo south_shore_lahave.gif

The drive from Bridgwater to Petite Riviere takes about half an hour but consists of 10 place names. This stretch of Highway 331 made up my immediate South Shore universe. Note: not all these photos of road signs are taken from the same direction.

When I first started visiting the Shore, trips contained to driving down the river road, I would laugh at the speedy and seemingly hilarious progression of multiple places names. One minute you’re in Pentz and the next LaHave, followed quickly by Dublin Shore and West Dublin. Yet once I relocated to the area and began to travel by the slower bicycle or on foot, I came to realize how reasonable these distinctions are. Indeed traversing the length of West Dublin by foot takes at least 25 minutes and it’s further still to come to the edge of Dublin Shore. In this case, my judgement was obscured by the mode of travel: the car. The original settlers were correct to consider their relatively small areas distinct because indeed they were isolated from each other, especially in the winter.

The South Shore too suffers wayward development, but like rural poverty it’s more hidden, except in the regional metropolis of Bridgewater where lack of planning is glaring on display. This is to say nothing of the relationships between the areas centres: the aforementioned Bridgewater, the town of Lunenburg, Mahone Bay and Chester (because I won’t be addressing them any further, but believe me there’s an interesting story there.)

My experiences in Nova Scotia—in Halifax and on the South Shore—has been one of grappling with the built environment and its organic and inorganic forms. In Halifax a garrison town has unintentionally grown into a minor regional metropolis while in the LaHave area the settlement has for the most part retained its original colonial feel. Both present distinct economic and infrastructural challenges and can be great cultural places to live. I’m glad to have taken this opportunity to share with you as I’ve sketched out some long brewing thoughts.

Advertisements