During my years as editor of Halifax Magazine, I’ve written a lot of these year-end messages. The theme is usually something like “Halifax really needs to do better next year.” We’ve devoted a lot of ink to how Halifax is governed and the kind of city we’re building: the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of Halifax Council, the leadership at City Hall, the glacial pace of downtown development, and the inadequacies of our transit service.
2014 saw Halifax make great strides in all those areas. Mayor Mike Savage and Halifax Councillors are more than halfway through their terms, and have continued to do a much better job governing fairly and effectively than their predecessors did. In our cover story, Jon Tattrie cites a couple examples. The most striking is the way this municipal government handled the debate over the future of the Halifax Forum. Past governments have tended to defer to staff (which wanted to shutter the Forum) on issues like that, paying lip service to public consultation and then doing what staff intended in the first place.
In this telling case, there was a surprisingly helpful and conciliatory public meeting, in which Council actually seemed to listen to its constituents and respond to their wishes. It saved the Forum, and it will be renovated instead of closed. As Tattrie says, it’s just one of many examples of how things have changed in Halifax in the last couple of years, and it’s a good sign for the future.
But it’s not all roses. I’m still concerned about Halifax Transit. Earlier this year, it announced it would be doing a dramatic service overhaul, to a transfer-based system with frequent service on shorter, simpler routes. That came after a lot of public consultation that had a lot of people excited. And then this fall, manager Eddie Robar told Council that his team had reconsidered, and weren’t doing such a dramatic revamp after all.
And then Halifax Transit kind of backed away from that, and said things will still change a lot. It just won’t be a totally revamped system. A lot of people are now frustrated and disenchanted with Halifax Transit, and unclear on how it’s changing. Great cities need great transit systems. The core of the city is wedged onto a small peninsula with a road network that predates the automobile by decades: the only solution to getting more people are the city faster is beefed up transit service. This issue bears careful watching in 2015.
Recently on Twitter, a reader suggested another topic Halifax really needs to make progress on in 2015: Shannon Park. That prime real estate at the foot of the MacKay Bridge is largely disused, filled with dangerous, deteriorating buildings that used to house Forces personnel. There has been talk of redeveloping the area with a sports stadium, a new Exhibition Park and countless other projects. It’s a highly visible mess and a wasted opportunity. It’s time for Halifax to find a solution. I hope I can report some progress on this in 12 months.
And what do you think? What issues should be Halifax’s top priorities in 2015? Write a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share your thoughts in our next issue.