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Well Developed? Halifax's North End and The G8

G8 ministers meeting provides the opportunity to reflect on our own development agenda

by Emma Feltes

Condo development looms over Halifax's North End. Photo: Felix Kannemann
Condo development looms over Halifax's North End. Photo: Felix Kannemann
The 'Walk and Talk' traverses Agricola St.  Photo: Felix Kannemann
The 'Walk and Talk' traverses Agricola St. Photo: Felix Kannemann
Condos for sale on Cunard.  Photo: Felix Kannemann
Condos for sale on Cunard. Photo: Felix Kannemann

This piece is cross-posted on Spacing Atlantic

Following a stream of events in opposition to the G8 meetings in Halifax this week, Monday night's 'walk and talk' through Halifax's North End helped to bring the discussion down to the local level. A crowd of approximately 50 people snaked their way through the neighbourhood, stopping sporadically along the way to share information, criticism and personal anecdotes about changes affecting the community — with new condo developments the major target of attention.

While highlighting signs of gentrification in the North End — an increasingly  complex  and  contentious debate — more broadly, the walk drew attention to the parallels between the G8's international development agenda and the private sector approaches we're seeing deployed here in Halifax.  "The contextual difference is disturbingly slight," said Brad Vaughn, organizer with the Halifax G8 Welcoming Committee and the walk.

"It's clear that this version of diversity, of development, prioritizes what is clean and safe and profitable for a certain economic class and a certain set of consumer preferences," said Vaughn. "It doesn't clean it up, it makes it stagnant, it makes it expensive, and it pushes the locals into homelessness," added another walk participant, Vince Vining.

This message resonated with Dalhousie Legal Aid's Fiona Traynor, who took the mic at Sunday's march and rally to address housing issues in Nova Scotia. Traynor criticized the Province for downloading affordable housing responsibilities to the private sector, where accountability becomes a crucial challenge.

"We see a move towards having the private sector provide affordable housing for people in the province," says Traynor, "When you leave the development of affordable housing and an affordable housing strategy up to private individuals who are mostly driven by profit, then I think that leaves a lot of people who badly need affordable housing very vulnerable to being at the vagaries of a structure that might no have their best interests at hand."

During Sunday's speech, Traynor cited a number of affordable rental developments slated for Gottingen Street under the charge of newly formed non-profit organization, the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia, whose board is largely made of up Halifax's private real estate executives.

Meanwhile, long-standing affordable housing organizations and community members aren't being consulted.  "If we want to leave it up to the private sector then the provincial government should be supporting organizations who work with people everyday on the street, on the ground, and know the issues very well so they can build appropriate types of housing that's not just going to be, at the core of it, profit driven," says Traynor.

Gathered in front of the Halifax North Memorial Public Library, Monday's walk-and-talkers stood face-to-face with the Creighton/Gerrish Development Association's future condo project. Even given the C/GDA's explicitly community-focused mandate — touted by many as a creative approach to the gentrification issue — the price tag continues to pose a barrier. "We're now standing across the street from an affordable housing development," commented Vaughn, scorning the $128,900 asking price on a one-bedroom townhouse. "The idea of affordable housing for profit is not affordable. The private sector is not an effective means of providing anything other than for the interests of the private sector and this parallels solutions to the crisis of poverty in the third world, the crisis of health care."

A chief proponent of privatization in the name of poverty alleviation, the G8's stint in Halifax provides a key opportunity to draw attention to the impacts of privatization here in our own context. Many arguments have been made for the importance of mixed-income neighbourhoods and potentially beneficial partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector. But without a leading policy, accountability remains the big question mark. While the Province has been downloading responsibility to private developers, Halifax MP Megan Leslie has been pushing for a national housing strategy that would anchor affordable housing in the political agenda.

It all comes back to local, creative, and context-appropriate approaches to development. Returning to the hopeful sentiment that concluded Traynor's Sunday speech, and vouching for the lived experiences and expertise of community members and local organizations, Traynor asserts, "we're the ones with the solutions."




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