Have you seen the proposed design for the new harbour security fence? It’s an eight-foot tall security enclosure, much like a customs checkpoint in an airport, and it will be used to accommodate tourists coming off the cruise ships and other international security issues. According to the Port Authority, the “post-9/11 world” has seen Transport Canada tighten up its regulations for port security, and that means we need to have this secure area on the harbourside.
The design has met with little resistance. Reactions has mainly focused on 1) the cost of the fence and 2) who’s paying for it. It will cost roughly $800,000 with the bill being split between the city and the Port Authority.
I am surprised there hasn’t been more of a public reaction to the fact that this fence is being built at all. Think about it: our harbour, from Pier 11 (at the bottom of Prescott Street, near the Luben Boykov sculpture) all the way down to the Lyubov Orlova (near the Keg) will be behind an eight-foot fence with a brick base, brick posts and wrought iron railing, complete with plexi-glass windows as “viewing areas.” Are we seriously okay with this?
It’s true that the area has been fenced off now for a few years, behind a temporary, galvanized wire barricade. By comparison, a new brick fence doesn’t seem so bad, but the question of design is a red herring I think. The real question is: should we really be blocking off such a huge part of the harbour?
The problem is complex. The harbour is a working harbour after all, from the fishing vessel docks at Pier 19 next to Fort Amherst, to the container dock at Pier 4, to the oil industry docks near The Battery at Pier 17. There is a limited amount of dockside due to the naturally enclosed, long and narrow shape of the harbour. Erecting a giant fence along that dockside might seem to be the only solution.
But it’s a patchwork solution, one that underscores the absence of large-scale vision for our harbourfront. Reconfiguring the harbourfront itself could eliminate the need for this barricade.
Back in 2007, a local design charrette was held to generate ideas and master plans for a new harbour area. One that would accommodate public use rather than turn its back on it. This harbour charette saw local architects develop a number of interesting conceptual designs, more than half of which incorporated finger piers—piers that project out perpendicular or diagonally from the harbourside, increasing the amount of dockside space. There was also the idea of a small cruise port, which could accommodate all the needs of disembarking tourists, such as tourism info, money exchange, tour bus parking, and customs and security checkpoints.
Ideas like these could deal with the present-day security problem without shutting the public out of the harbour area. But the results of the charrette seem to have been forgotten and we are left with the current proposal: an eight-foot tall fence along Harbour Drive that will eliminate any possibility of a future promenade, and substantially block views to the water and the Narrows from street level.
I find it hard to believe that this fence is an inevitability. Let’s solve this problem in a way that doesn’t erase the harbour from the urban environment.