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Dare to dream

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Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

Trevor J. Adams, Photo: Tammy Fancy

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 “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?

  • Jason S

    “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.”

    Yep – it shows that yet again, Halifax is more interested in the symbolism and making itself “world-class” than actually dealing with its real issues – an economy that grows only for a few, opportunities that overwhelmingly skew away from African Nova Scotian and Aboriginal communities, a frosty attitude to anyone who isn’t “from here”, and the view that people moving from Glace Bay to Halifax is a bad thing by most of the province.

    This city and this province suffers from the continued belief in “the big thing” that will help. A bold statement. A huge shipbuilding contract. A new vision. Now or never. Turns out, though, that Copenhagen’s bicycle superhighways aren’t a “big thing”, but a continuation of a path they’ve been grinding out for 70 years.

    Fuck bold visions and sending a message to unknown parties elsewhere. Start living the dream now – create a good paying job for someone else, move somewhere you can ride your bike everywhere, and take care of your trees and property. Convince someone else to do the same. Stop spending so much time trying to bring home the “big win.” Now you’re on the Copenhagen route to success.

  • Jason S

    Oh – and per a Twitter comment from the editor regarding misinterpretation – perhaps if this was actually about grinding out a better city, it could’ve been written without the “Dare to Dream” or “Imagine Halifax in 30 years” or the various uses of bold, envision, imagine, or dreaming big.

    Want a car-free city? Figure out how to give yours up. Tell others. Stop waiting for a direction from your government on who to be. This city is plagued with thinkers and a lack of actual do-ers.

  • Trevor Adams

    Haligonians aren’t giving up their cars, despite the ever-increasing cost of operating them, because there isn’t sufficient transit infrastructure in place for most people to live their lives without cars. First you need a goal (a “vision,” as it were), then you need the infrastructure to make it all work. Then people will give up their cars. That’s what they’re doing in Hamburg, and that’s what Halifax needs to do, even if it’s on a different scale. “Dream” and “imagine” are perfectly good verbs to describe that process of thinking about the future and figuring out what we’re working towards.
    —Trevor Adams, Editor

  • Jason S

    I think it’s much more complicated than you make it.

    70 years of planning in Copenhagen mean the Wal-Marts, Costcos, etc. have not taken hold the way they have here. People here expect to drive to a huge supermarket to get their groceries, often in bulk so we can eat more. Pre-made and processed over fresh. Wine sold on every street, rather than in huge stores blocks away. Everyone buys a higher quality and does without a little more.

    There are people today, of all ages, incomes, and lifestyles, living without a car in Halifax today. Their lifestyles are different, almost European in nature. Smaller houses and apartments. Very little time in malls or big box stores. Sometimes they say no to things because it’s too inconvenient to get there. There’s a Carshare if you need one.

    If you’re not one of them, you can be today. It’s all in your mind that you can’t. Someone, just like you, is doing it in Halifax today. Will it be easier with better transit? Maybe. But it doesn’t mean the rest of your life isn’t going to fundamentally change.

    But if you’re expecting a day where you can commute from all directions quickly to Halifax, and shop in an entirely different place, and to do it all by transit – sorry, that’s not what Copenhagen is like and isn’t what the experience will be here either.


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