The Inevitable Duel between Progress and Sentimentality

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Perhaps one of the most predictable sources of anxiety in the city building process, is when a beloved building is dropped to the ground in favour of some other use.  A so-called higher and better use.    This was never more true than for me and my family and the house I grew up in.

There were four houses.  All identical mirror images of each other.  They were homes for generations of professors at Pine Hill University.  Known today as The Atlantic School of Theology.  They were built in the mid 1800’s and were stellar examples of  early Maritime architecture.  A step up from the predictable salt-box.  They were located on a quiet street in the south end and sat on a hill over-looking the northwest arm. It was the most magical playground you can imagine.  They were known locally as ‘The Gray Ladies” and in addition to their academic heritage, it was also widely known that they served as make-shift hospitals following the Halifax Explosion in 1918.

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We lived there until 1976 and then in the early 2000’s, learned that Pine Hill had sold the land behind the houses to a developer.   The city was considering a redevelopment plan at the time that would have seen all four houses razed in order to accomodate a new road that would bisect them.

My brother and I got wind of this and started a campaign….from Toronto….to try to save them.  Low and behold we were successful.  Sort of.

The city agreed to redesign the road in more of a laneway  configuration (which is not uncommon in that neighbourhood)  and this allowed the houses to remain intact.   The developer owned two of them and Pine Hill owned the other two.  Kudos are due to the developer who converted their two houses into duplexes and did a terrific job on their restoration.  The other two houses (ours and the Kriegers) went into a kind of limbo.

We later learned that a non-governmental agency had approached AST with a proposal to convert the two remaining houses into a single building designed to serve as a Hospice.  Something the city was in dire need of.

Ultimately it was learned that they had no choice really but to raze the buildings due to structural inadequacy’. A term I know something about.

While over 150 years old, these buildings could never be repurposed for any use more demanding than family life.  And even then, their continued existence was a problem as they were coated in layer upon layer of lead paint and by todays standards represented a most certain fire hazard.

When a friend sent the photo of our home being demolished I was greatly saddened.  And yet in spite of this sadness, today I donated money to the organization responsible for the demolition of my beloved childhood home. Hospice Halifax.

I can’t think of a more poetic outcome.

These beautiful homes served the United Church of Canada as part of the Atlantic School of Theology and Pine Hill for generations. Many families, including ours, enjoyed the houses and their grounds. They weren’t just houses. They were houses that meant something culturally, aesthetically, spiritually and sentimentally. Yet I have no choice but to conclude that a hospice is not only the ‘highest and best use’ for this property, it is the only one that expresses the same kind of generosity and spirit of care that justified the existence of the original houses including the one I called home.  It is a PERFECT re-imagining of this place.

To my friends and colleagues. Especially my Halifax based friends and colleagues, I would ask that you consider making a donation to this organization. I would ask that you help make this happen.

The link to their website is here:
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Author: paul nodwell

Paul Nodwell draws on almost 33 years of experience in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture. He is a passionate student of the public realm and believes that great 'place-making' cannot happen without listening to stakeholders, shaping the project around a big (not necessarily complex) idea, and wherever possible, introducing metaphorical and even poetic elements that engage the public in their own experience of the built environment. Early in his career Paul's work took him to Southern California with Peridian Group Landscape Architecture and to Paris, France with Walt Disney Imagineering, but he has enjoyed most, his participation in helping to shape the Greater Toronto Area. As part of the senior management team for the Town of Markham, Paul played a key role in bringing The New Urbanism to southern Ontario. In private practice, Paul has designed a myriad of public parks, streetscapes and condominiums. He has played a key role in the design of a number of new mixed use communities including Angus Glen, Cornell, The Galleria, Concord Floral, Vaughan Metro Centre and Markham Centre. Paul is the recipient of more than a dozen awards for urban design and landscape architecture. He has served on the City of Vaughan Design Review Panel for three years and continues to enjoy serving as adjudicator at the University of Guelph. Even more, he enjoys the dip of his canoe paddle in a northern Ontario wilderness and the challenge of paints and a blank canvas.

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