What's the most beautiful neighbourhood in Halifax?
Is this a question of opinion, taste or preference?
Is your neighbourhood the most beautiful to you?
Does the market price beauty?
When it comes to neighbourhoods is beauty in the eye of the beholder?
Who says "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"?
People who want to end discussions. People who want to close off lines of inquiry. The uncurious, the uneducated, and the unscrupulous. People who want to destroy the struggle of art and understanding. People who are jealous. People who don't have any eye to perceive. People who haven't "looked under the hood" of beauty and learned... thereby rejecting nearly 40,000 years of the study of beauty.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
It implies an acute sensitivity to conflict and a fear of being rude or mean to others. However, by resorting to the phrase, what we actually do is unleash a stranger and more reckless situation: what we’re in effect stating is that nothing is ever really more beautiful – or uglier – than anything else.
Once it's said it marks the end of rational discussion and a retreat to relativism that is anachronistic in the scientific age.
It's important because it's relativitism that powers the worst aspects of our age. What is "fair and balanced" news when someone is actually right and another is verifiably wrong? Where Liberalism has meant easygoingness and acceptance it's also opened the way for the age of Trump. A world where nothing we say or think can really be wrong or right. A world where there are no lies because there is no quest for truth. Everything is in the eye, or ear of the beholder.
Science, even social science, is about the study of objective truth. We have everything that is good about the modern world because people have struggled, worked, lived and died for belief in certain objective truths. "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The Declaration of Independence, um, declares that even within the minds of humans there are some thoughts that are objectively true... that are beautiful.
It's important to distinguish between beauty and adornment... prettiness. Beauty is a universal aspect of life. A painting can be aesthetically pleasing regardless of the fact that an individual says that it is not. And no amount of millions paid for a painting that rejects beauty can make it beautiful. More painfully, no amount of adornment or prettying can make something beautiful. Mokita is a word used in the Kilivila language of the island of Kiriwina on one of the Trobriand Islands near Papua New Guinea, it means a “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.” We all know the difference between beauty and adornment. We just don't talk about it.
Tastes, preferences, familiarity, convenience, and politeness are all real things. But they don't speak to or change anything about beauty.
The Book of Life argues that we should never say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". The phrase has a way of implying that the whole subject of beauty is essentially trivial. We’d never say that truths about the economy or justice were in the eyes of beholders only. We know that big things are at stake here – and over time, we’ve come to positions about the right and wrong way of approaching these topics, and are ready to discuss and defend our ideas. We wouldn’t ever say that ‘the treatment of the poor is just a subject best left entirely to the eyes of beholders’ or ‘the best way to raise children is in the eyes of beholders,’ or ‘the future of the environment is in the eyes of beholders.’ We accept that there are dangers to arguing in aggressive and unfruitful ways; but we are confident that there are sensible and polite ways to advance through these tricky yet vital debates. The same should feel true around beauty.
Calling for an end to discussion about beauty may seem a kindly, generous move. But the cost is a burden to every aspect of our society. It is extremely convenient for property developers to operate in a society that has no confidence in people’s ability to make judgments about whether or not things are beautiful or monstrous. It means these hucksters don’t have to worry about going to the expense of trying to make anything look good: because no one knows what that is anyway!
In the 2016 election campaign Hillary Clinton responded to a heckler saying "You're entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts." In some ways this often repeated phrase is the question of the age.
We're all free to think and feel how we like. Today pressing facts is seen as the tyranny of the educated elite... the snobs.
Our problem is not that we'll be oppressed by snobs. Our problem is that beauty, the driving force of all of history up to the last 100 years, will be lost, because of a culture obsessed by quick profits and a refusal to engage in a dialogue about what those in power are up to. Closing conversation down with ‘beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’ can make an already tricky situation far worse. A city that can’t talk sensibly, publicly and perhaps at length, about beauty will inadvertently condemn itself to ugliness.
If you foolishly ignore beauty, then you will soon find yourself without it.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959)
So which is the most beautiful neighbourhood in Halifax?
I'm not going to put any pictures in this article because I'd like to encourage people to go see it for themselves. Because most people who live in Halifax have never seen this neighbourhood.
The most beautiful neighbourhood in Halifax by a wide margin is Uniacke Square.
Uniacke Square was opened on May 7, 1966 as a 250-unit housing project. A library sits to the southeast, on Gottingen St., and a community centre, the George Dixon Centre, to the northwest. It was built to house the displaced population of Africville whose roots go back to refugees of the War of 1812, the Underground Railroad and American Civil War period. Homes in Africville were torn down as part of an urban renewal scheme between 1964 and 1967.
The neighbourhood around the Square is home to a number of social service agencies, groceries, restuarants, and other small businesses. There's a satellite police station, a parent resource centre, a small church and an office of the Salvation Army.
Most people have only heard of Uniacke square in the news when there's a crime. It would serve us all well to get a better understanding of what's great - what's beautiful - about Uniacke Square.
What makes Uniacke Square the most beautiful?
It's brick. We all know the story of the Three Little Pigs.
It's connected. Loneliness and isolation is the fastest growing public health problem.
It's human scale. We don't feel overwhelmed or overlorded by the buildings.
It's Positive Space and Good Shape are aspects of beauty. Positive Space is that well-formed things create well formed spaces around them. Neighbourhoods are in the service of humans. Trees, ground, grass and sky are framed by the things we build. Good shape is mainly about Compactness. A well organized kitchen, an auxiliary sailboat capable of sailing the fiercest seas. Compactness is a measurable quality of beauty. We've recognized that density is part of beauty - it's a social, environmental, economic, and practical concern.
We've recognized that completeness and walk-ability make neighbourhoods beautiful.
We've agreed that usefulness, flexibility and adaptability are aspects of beauty.
We've agreed that proportion, symmetry, and strength are aspects of beauty.
These are all attributes of Uniacke Square
Vincent Van Gogh's great insight was that great things are created by a series of small things brought together. This is a pretty good artistic description of fractals - the most fundamentally beautiful building block of the world we know. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar. Nature is full of fractals. Trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes... all formed by fractals. In The Square each building, each property, lives in consciousness with the others. They fit. They are whole. Ultimately, that makes Uniacke Square the most beautiful neighbourhood in the city.
And though beauty is not defined by adornment it can be fit to it. The adornments of gardens, art, and music - countless personal touches - fit in Uniacke Square.
So. Take a walk through. Behold. Discuss. And together we can all learn. The question is, once we come to terms with the fact of beauty, what is the moral obligation beauty holds over us and what should we do about it?
A city filled with ugly things is the fault of poor craftsmanship and narrowness of purpose. It's about greed. A city built by low-bid contract will never be beautiful. It will be a first little pig city. It's about political manipulation and compromise. It's about design by committee. Most of all though the enemy of beauty is mediocrity of thinking and effort.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.