The SMBSA has been one of the leading organizations forging Our HRM
, a broad coalition of organizations united to affect the first 5-year review of Halifax’s 25-year Regional Plan. Business groups, environmentalists, cultural groups and social organizations, rural, urban, and suburban, an amazingly diverse alliance focused on HRM, helping it realize its potential as one of the country’s best places to live, work, and play. The alliance is determined to direct smart development to the right places and to stop our current pattern of over-extending infrastructure, depopulating our downtowns, and creating an unhealthy, unsustainable city.
In 2006, HRM’s Council approved the Regional Plan. It prioritized sustainability. It called for walkable neighbourhoods and a better transit system. It called for investment in growth centres and a nodal development pattern. Five years later, few of the Plan’s hard targets are being met. For example, the Regional Plan calls for a split in residential development of 25 per cent urban, 25 per cent rural and 50 per cent suburban, but in 5 years these numbers have already gone seriously awry and the trends are getting worse. Only 16% of development has been urban while rural swelled to 28% and suburban to a whopping 56% making Halifax’s growth patterns totally unsustainable for the downtown cores of established communities, for the Municipality to finance, and it threatens our green spaces. Council seems set on making decisions in direct contravention to what they agreed in 2006.
Developers say they are producing homes that people want – houses on large lots in picturesque locations. Their proof? The units are selling. But the Alliance counters that these sales may be more a result of perceived and perhaps misconstrued affordability where the true costs of over-extended infrastructure are borne by taxpayers, and the home buyers are not taking into consideration the full costs of commuting, or moreover, the health costs of a sedentary suburban, car-reliant culture. It’s a proven fact that obesity, heart disease and related illnesses are far more common in suburbia than in walkable, bikeable downtowns. Exacerbating this rush to the suburbs, the municipality has been slow to support affordable housing in our urban centres.
The Our HRM Alliance offers Halifax Regional Municipality seven solutions, all within the scope of the five-year review. They are not brash. They are not radical. They all build on what is in the Regional Plan already, but has yet to come to fruition. This is what they propose:
- Concentrate growth and preserve ecosystem services by connecting natural areas
- Invest in the downtown core and town centres
- Prioritize transit and active transportation
- Direct residential development and strengthen targets for where growth occurs
- Ensure that new development is financed by developers – not by taxpayers
- Protect water resources
- Commit to measuring successes and deficiencies
The Alliance knows that the finances in the Municipality are tight, and money must be pulled from one department if another is to get “extra dollars”. This is simple reality – but it should not prevent HRM from realizing its potential. The SMBSA and its Our HRM Alliance sister organizations agree – let’s get on with the job!