Radio — More than just a building: Friends of the Khyber defend a community resource

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Rebecca Rose and Susan Wolfe of Friends of the Khyber about their efforts to preserve an important community and grassroots space in downtown Halifax, the historic Khyber Building.

Usually when we talk about privatization, we focus on the transfer of government services and assets to the private sector. We less often think about it in terms of space. Yet even a cursory glance at history shows the shifting of space from common or public hands into private hands was central to how our current world has come to exist — it took one form in Europe, with peasant communities getting kicked off the land in centuries past so big landowners could take over, and another form — a colonial form — in the Americas. And it still happens, not just in the ongoing struggles between Indigenous land defenders and resource extraction industries, but in a different way in cities. However else you understand them, the shopping mall replacing the public square, the suburban becoming the dominant built form rather than the urban, then more recently the gentrified urban replacing the what and displacing the who that still remains in many urban environments, are all examples of privatization of space. Access to public or common space is restricted in a way that forces us, increasingly, to access space, community, and the broader spectrum of things we need to live our lives via the highly limiting logics of the market.

A recent example in Halifax of struggle over community-grounding public space has focused on a particular building — the Khyber building. From its beginnings as a Church of England property in 1888, this elegant three-story structure has become a beloved community space in downtown Halifax. The combination of low rents and an amazing location have meant that, particularly from the 1960s onwards, and in a different way after the City of Halifax bought it in 1994, the Khyber Building has housed an astounding range of community spaces, arts groups, musical venues, queer endeavours, businesses and services grounded in immigrant communities, offices for community groups, and much more. Yet after years of deferred maintenance and ongoing uncertainty around governance and use of the building, on January 13, 2014 the city abruptly ordered all tenants of the building out and closed it down. At the end of July of last year, city staff recommended that the building be declared surplus and sold. And in response, an intense grassroots campaign emerged with the goal not only of saving the building but of finding a way to make it a sustainable and accessible hub for a diverse range of community endeavours well into the future. Rose and Wolf are both active members of Friends of the Khyber, and they talk with me about the history of the building, their successful initial push to fend off the city’s attempts to sell it, and their ongoing work to find a lasting way to preserve this important public space.

To learn more about Friends of the Khyber, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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