Perhaps the most pointless expression of the "green wilderness before people" sensibility is the "green space" requirement the city places on property developers. In theory, the idea makes sense: development leads to the "concrete-ization" of the city, and we're tying to blunt the edges of that with some green here and there. In practice, however, we get a ridiculous strip of bushes in front of a building, providing a people-unfriendly separation between the public and private realms.
There's an apartment building on Cunard Street, across from the Common, for example. The crappy little bushes out front allowed some planning official at city hall to check off a "green space" box on a development application. No doubt, on the architectural renderings of the building, the bushes are gloriously green and gigantically pleasing, which allowed the developer to hide, on paper anyway, a horribly rotten facade.
Far better to ditch the green space requirement entirely, and require builders to build decently designed street-level interfaces between their buildings and the public sidewalk.
Developers, too, dislike the green space requirement, and so are attempting to tweak the HRM By Design planning rules in a cynical way: they should be allowed to place their green spaces on the roof, they say. In effect, they want to privatize the green space requirement, giving more value to their buildings so they can charge higher rents.
Councillor Jennifer Watts rightly opposes this idea. "I certainly support green roofs," she says. "But for me it's not an either/or. It should be, yep, we should be doing green roofs because they're the environmentally sensitive thing to do, but we also want to have access to green space at our street level."
Of course, nothing stops developers from building both ground level green space and green roofs. But is requiring developers to put that ground level green space immediately in front of the building the most sensible route? Watts and I discuss the issue at length.
"I guess it's the concept of our urban design," she says. "There's a lot of discussion of having our buildings right up to our right of way, and having tight corridors, which is one way of looking at it, but I sort of like the intriguing small little nooks and crannies of green space which I think actually give some visual attraction but also different kinds of relief for how people experience a densely populated area."
I suggest that instead of requiring developers to put that little row of crappy bushes in front of their buildings, we also allow them instead to pay into a fund that can be used to build pocket parks. Watts tells me that one of her favourite green spaces is at the corner of Dublin Street and Chebucto Road. "That's a beautiful little park. I do see people sitting in there, but it's mostly for people to walk through. It's a lovely little space."
In my view, charging developers a fee to build more of those kinds of pocket parks makes lots more sense than telling them to erect a row of crappy bushes, but Watts is ambivalent: she calls back later in the day to extoll the anti-graffiti virtues of a row of crappy little bushes. --TB
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