Downtown advocate Paul MacKinnon wonders why businesses in the core must subsidize urbal sprawl
Growing in all the wrong waysBy Jon Tattrie | Jan 4, 2012
Tags: Halifax, urban sprawl
Halifax has a “world-class” urban sprawl problem and its downtown may be falling into the type of unsalvageable urban death seen in Detroit, according to two visiting experts on the growth of cities.
David Donnelly, an environmental lawyer and government advisor, and Bruce Lourie, co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, were in town to speak at the Downtown Halifax Business Commission’s Carmichael Lecture.
“Halifax has a world-class sprawl problem. Just because you’re not the size of Sao Paulo or Mumbai doesn’t mean you don’t have a sprawl problem,” Donnelly says. “The proof of that is that your commute times are virtually on par with the city of Toronto, and that’s absurd.”
He suggested Halifax create a greenbelt like the Greater Golden Horshoe in Southern Ontario. This would set aside a wide area of land and legally prevent developers from expanding on it. It would target ecologically important areas like wetlands, forests and coastlines and drive development downtown. “It stops sprawl dead in its tracks,” Donnelly says.
An advantage Halifax has is one central municipal government that can set bylaws and tax rates for the entire area, thus encouraging targeted smart growth rather than sprawling dumb growth. “There’s no reason Halifax can’t continue to develop, create jobs and grow and do it in a smart way that people are going to actually prefer,” says Lourie. “It will create more jobs and a better future for Halifax.”
Donnelly says HRM by Design is a step in the right direction but it lacks teeth. He urges it to chew into “sacred cows” like Citadel Hill view planes and restrictions on buildings heights in the downtown. “I don’t blame the developers for fleeing to the suburbs,” Donnelly says.
An aura of mystery pervades city planning, Lourie says, with ghost buildings approved and never built while others are torn down or gutted, but not replaced. Instead developers “land bank” and bide their time. Meanwhile, the downtown withers.
A vibrant downtown with a good public transportation system draws students who stay and turn into adults who make the city thrive, according to Lourie.
“Every mature urban centre in North America is on its way to solving its problems because they’ve realized they can’t keep going in the same direction,” Donnelly said. “What I’m surprised about in Halifax is that the problem isn’t even articulated.”