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Icey Sidewalks and the Culture of Government Decision Making

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Residents of Halifax are fed up with the state of the city's sidewalks.  Photo: Christopher Majka
Residents of Halifax are fed up with the state of the city's sidewalks. Photo: Christopher Majka

BY CATHERINE ABREU

Today, on the short walk from the Ecology Action Centre offices to the Carrot Co-op on Gottingen St., I helped an older man with a cane, a middle-aged man on crutches, and an older woman move from the dangerous sidewalk to the middle of the road. I held the hands of that woman as she gingerly moved from a sidewalk covered in inches of impacted snow and ice and now a layer of water, over a thigh-high snowbank, and into the street facing oncoming traffic. And then I had to leave her moving along a narrow strip of ice-free asphalt in order to make my next work commitment on time.

In that moment, the disgust and stifling frustration I've been feeling about the state of our city's sidewalks flared into burning outrage.

What the fuck, Halifax?

It has been 6 weeks, ONE AND A HALF MONTHS, of accumulation and calls for improved service. And today, as the ice warms and rivers run through the streets, I have not seen a single crew of people or machines taking advantage of this great weather to get some work done. Tim Bousquet has done good work documenting the ill-conceived budget cuts and foolish private contracting that have gotten us into this mess. Read this series if you haven't yet.

Here are some ideas on how the city can make sure to avoid this kind of unjust appalling fiasco in the future.

1) INVEST IN THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE HERE

One of the most frustrating things about being a young person that moved from elsewhere to work in Nova Scotia is hearing constantly about how no one works here and everyone leaves. It's true that there are some major population and workforce challenges for us to confront in this province. But here's what I think is one of the biggest problems facing us:

Every level of government worries more about how to attract people and investment from outside the province than about how to make it feasible for those of us that are already here to stay and prosper.

I struggle regularly with whether I should stay here because there are so many moments where it feels like on some structural level, I'm not wanted. And nothing's made me want to leave more than being unable to walk one block safely.

There are several examples of recent municipal spending that are, to put it politely, questionable when we ask who they're for. A second convention centre that's all about attracting groups of people that stay here for 5 days max? Seriously?

Let's reassess those spending priorities.

2) TAKE CLIMATE CHANGE SERIOUSLY

Cuts to snow clearing budgets were in part justified by a few warmer winters. This winter articulates why we stopped using the phrase 'global warming' and started using the phrase 'climate change'.

Weather is only going to get more extreme and less predictable as the impacts of human-caused climate change become more pronounced.

At this point in the history of our species' relationship with this planet, it is absolutely irresponsible and arrogant to base plans and budgets on one year's weather. Our planet is changing and we need to adapt. That requires foresight, leadership, and built-in flexibility in the ways that we manage our homes, our communities, and our cities.

Halifax's Climate Change Risk Management Strategy hasn't been updated since 2007. The city's 2010 "HRM Climate SMART Community Action Guide to Climate Change and Emergency Preparedness" doesn't seem to have made it into the city's planning framework in any real way.

Let's be real and get down to business.

3) MAKE SOCIAL JUSTICE VALUES THE HEART OF MUNICIPAL DECISION MAKING

Access is a right.

Humans build cities. Cities are formed by complex infrastructure that large populations living in high-density communities rely on. Municipal governments exist to make sure that infrastructure serves the people that rely on it in the way it is designed to. At a philosophical and practical level, enshrining the right to accessibility is actually the only justification for the existence of municipal government I can think of.

This isn't a bunch of people whining about winter. This isn't some freak event where winter is suddenly upon us and we've never experienced it before. This is a series of decisions and non-decisions that did not take the right to access into account and have resulted in a city where many of us can not go about our days contributing to our society in the ways we normally do.

I suppose I should say that the rights of people in cars have been better considered than the rights of people on bicycles or foot or chair or cane or crutch. That's a whole ball of pathetic sadness I'm loathe to get into further right now.

I love Halifax. I love Nova Scotia. I love this place because there are a bunch of badass people doing incredible things here (on that note, shout outs to Kaleigh Annie and Adnama Snevets and others for their organizing efforts on this issue). We deserve to live in a place that works for us as hard as we work for it.

I want a Halifax that loves me back.

Catherine Abreu is the Energy Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. 

 


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