Imagine Halifax in 30 years.

If you’re like most people I’ve talked with lately, you picture a future where development continues in fits and starts, with little cohesive plan. You see young professionals, continuing to head west. The health of our environment remains an afterthought, and car culture is entrenched—crumbling roads jammed with cars, burning ever-more-expensive fuel.

But instead, why not envision one of North America’s most livable cities, a melting pot of new Canadians, a haven for the arts? Is it really so hard to see a city with a compact downtown, where students, young professionals and families with roots generations deep live side by side? Why can’t we imagine clean air and water, lovingly restored heritage buildings and state-of-the-art green designs? Rather than more and wider roads, we could see deep green belts, an efficient transit system that makes the personal car obsolete for city dwellers.

This isn’t a think-positive pep talk (ask my friends—this is about as positive as I get). This isn’t about attitude or community spirit. I’m talking about city building, creating the city we want to live in, now and well into our futures. If we aspire for Halifax to be anything more than what it is, we have to have a vision in mind. Projects like the new Halifax Central Library, and the recent plans for a mammoth revamp of Metro Transit’s future, show the way. Despite Halifax’s trademark pessimism, people are becoming excited about these steps to build a more progressive city.

So is now the time for another bold step? In his cover story “The rights of nature,” Chris Benjamin looks at a simple yet dramatic step Halifax could take to be an environmental leader. Why not extend legal rights to nature, in the same way we do to people? Can we really argue that a river doesn’t have a natural right to be clean and unpolluted? Is there a logical argument that some species don’t deserve to exist?

Jurisdictions around the world are taking the bold legislative step. The legal consequences are still being tested. But the message it sends, to citizens and other governments, about a city’s priorities, about the kind of place it wants to be, are unmistakable.

Crazy idea? Hamburg, Germany recently announced plans to become car-free within the next two decades. “The goal of Hamburg’s project is to replace roads with a gruenes netz or a green network of interconnected open areas covering 40 per cent of the city,” reports BBC.com. “Banishing the car from urban areas is becoming a common trend in many European cities. London imposes a congestion charge on private vehicles entering the city centre during peak hours. The Danish capital Copenhagen is building bicycle superhighways radiating out from the city centre.”

Other cities are dreaming big. Why can’t we?