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Growth in HRM: How to Do It Right?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

The Halifax Regional Municipality is growing. The HRM's population grew 4.7% between 2006 and 2011, with most of that growth taking place in the municipality's suburbs.  Just how Halifax should grow has become an issue of often passionate debate in the past several months, and October's municipal elections will likely be fought over differing visions of what the future of the HRM will look like.

So what is and what isn't a sustainable path for growth in the HRM?

As every person, animal, and plant in Halifax knows by now, developer Joe Ramia's dream of building a new convention centre in downtown Halifax is now a reality.  I don't believe that the Nova Centre is the best use of public funds and resources.  The business case is at best questionable and the tax deal is not in HRM's or the province's best interest.  

All that being said, the Nova Centre is still more economically viable than a hole in the ground.  The fact is that the convention centre is being built, so the public should make full use of public consultations and www.buildyourcentre.ca to make the NC as good as it can be for Halifax.

It's here that I have to respectfully disagree with Ardath Whynacht's argument that progressives shouldn't participate in the public consultations because the consultations are designed to serve as a PR campaign for the developers and their government supporters.  As flawed as these consultations are, they're not going to be improved by people voluntarily limiting the means by which they can have their voices heard.  Participating in the consultations may or may not have any substantive influence on what form the Nova Centre finally takes, but not participating will certainly have no influence at all. 

The Skye Towers project is, on other hand, simply a bad idea all around.  More residential space downtown is great, but overpriced condos are not the way to do it.  The plan violates HRMbyDesign, for seemingly no reason other than, "just because."  By failing to stick with its own urban development plan, or any plan for that matter, the Halifax Regional Council is not only guilty of poor governance, they may discourage future developers from looking at Halifax as a safe investment.  After all, would you want to build something in a city where the municipal government might decide to change the rules halfway through the process?

Rent-controlled properties would be a much better use of that space, but unfortunately the provincial government has recently decided that re-introducing rent control is not on its agenda for the time being.  I like you, Nova Scotia NDP government, but I can't say I'm not disappointed here.

Making Halifax a better place to live and work is dependent on four main principles:

  • Developing a transit strategy that aims to make getting around by car in metro Halifax unnecessary. Right now this is theoretically true, but anybody who commutes to Bayers Lake or Burnside by bus on a regular basis knows just how impractical getting around Halifax via Metro Transit can be. Building a light rail system that would horseshoe the harbour and Bedford Basin would be a huge step forward. An actual monorail would be a great investment for Halifax.
  • More designated green space, and more importantly, a designated greenbelt around the municipality to rein in urban sprawl. 
  • We already have a downtown development plan (HRMbyDesign), now just sticking to it would be nice.
  • Improved services and housing for low-income communities.  The fact that the federal and provincial governments might not be living up to their obligations on this front doesn't give municipal governments an excuse to slack off. 
Committing to these principles will, I believe, do a great deal to improve the quality of life for all people in the HRM.  Realizing these principles depends partly on how we vote in October, but also on making sure that we keep the pressure on our elected representatives, whoever they turn out to be.


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