Archives for posts with tag: hrm

the archives

As part of my professional life as an Urban Geographer, I recently finished up some work as a research assistant for Concordia Geography Professor Ted Rutland.

My research brought me to Halifax Regional Municipality’s Archives, which are located on the edge of Dartmouth in Burnside Industrial park.

Burnside is an awful place – a car-oriented mess of highways and warehouses. It is not a “place” in the traditional sense – only in that it occupies specific space on the surface of the earth.

The placelessness of Burnside is especially punctuated by the fact that no one is ever doing research on Burnside itself; almost everyone using the archives is interested in finding out about a very small portion of the HRM: peninsular Halifax, the traditional core of the region.

Eavesdropping on daily inquiries to the archivist, I would consistently over-hear people interested in Halifax-based avenues of research: the city’s former street car network, the Morse Tea building on Hollis Street, properties on Spring Garden Road. Even the internet password is “barrington”, downtown Halifax’s main shopping street.

It’s interesting that the HRM archives are located so far from the place that people are actually interested in researching. I suppose that the needs of the archives for immense warehouse space (data takes up a lot of room) logically pushed it into the lower-cost suburbs. It is a shame, however, that the brain of the city is located so far out, in the Burnside industrial mess – a place that, beyond the 52 Crosstown bus, can only be accessed by those with a car.

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Sept 19 Mayoral Debate poster

I designed a series of posters for Our HRM Alliance’s three councillor candidate debates during the 2012 HRM municipal election. The posters are meant to evoke the reality that each district is an essential part of the greater whole.

Spryfield

You may notice that the districts appear rather large: there are only 16 of them, down from formerly 23. The Nova Scotia Utility Review Board (the seemingly true decision makers in this town) decided last year that 23 districts was too many, and to be more efficient, the number would be widdled down to 16. Less people to argue, right?

South end

Also see the September 19 Mayoral debate poster.

Our HRM Alliance is hosting an All-Candidates Mayoral debate on Wednesday September 19 at the Lord Nelson Hotel in anticipation of the October 20 Municipal election.

It’s true that Halifax-the-City has a lot of untapped potential. It has unfortunately been the victim of corruption, political scandal and secrecy, and policies that continue to favour auto-oriented suburban development and generally developer-first policies.

Is voting in the hopeless state-of-our-contemporary-Canadian-democracy futile? Well, maybe… but you can’t deny the immediate nature of a Municipal election — the visceral voting process that has you as part of the conversation of Officially shaping-your-city. Provincial, Federal, these are abstract regional concepts… municipal politicians are the people that most closely effect issues that directly shape your life — things like public transportation! and liquor licenses! and development! and, other stuff directly experienced day to day!

Be even more part of the conversation, and participate in the Our HRM Alliance Mayoral Debate  — as the poster points out, questions will be taken from the audience, and, if you can’t make it, go ahead and tweet a question (#HRMAllianceDebate), or post one on Facebook and cross-your-fingers that it will be asked.

Our HRM Alliance is a fantastic organization comprised of over 40 urban, suburban and rural organization from across HRM, united in fighting for a more liveable, sustainable city.

Their efforts are valiant, and hope-inspiring: taking the enormous and somewhat ridiculous political entity known as the Halifax Regional Municipality, and transforming it instead into an opportunity for high quality, efficient, connected and sustainable regional governance with such issues as their incredibly succinct and no-doubt effective Greenbelt plan.

Plus, your Urban Geographer designed the poster for the event !

Inspired by one of the Our HRM Alliance’s Seven Solutions, and one especially pertinent to the location of the debate, Invest in Downtown and Growth Centresthe poster’s accompanying graphic and tag line “HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR CITY TO GROW” was designed to evoke reflection on the direction the city is heading, or could be heading. The green arrow is open to interpretation: after the election, and the new configuration of mayor and council, what will be this city’s official priorities? Social and ecological sustainability… or same-old same-old, i.e. money ?

UPDATE — Downtown Halifax didn’t like the original image… thought folks would confuse things and think the debate was exclusively about building height… sigh..I guess. Here’s the new design, complete with new illustration! A fractured HRM, unified by a strong core? Sure!

 

One more edit later, the final poster:

Your Urban Geographer has recently uprooted himself, again, and has moved back to his stomping-grounds of last-summer, Halifax, for — at least — another summer.

Coming back to Halifax doesn’t just mean I have to get re-aqcquainted with the peninsular city-proper — for, as you read my begrudging description from last summer — Halifax is part of the greater Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), an crazy-big political entity spanning 5,491 km² (compared to Toronto’s 630km²).  As I explained last year, while there is definitely a need for regional governance, it should not replace the local. The HRM has lumped together downtown Halifax, it’s surrounding suburbs, and extremely remote rural and fishing villages that have little connections to Halifax, yet are governed by the same council.

The very large HRM — dense peninsular Halifax is barely visible on the above map in a bay near it’s south-western edge.

Yes, coming back to Halifax, it’s about time I was re-acquainted with the HRM.

And this summer, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be getting to know it in a very meaningful and thorough way.

In response to the positive elements of such a large political entity, the networks of communications that have inevitably emerged between Halifax and it’s surrounding communities, and the Halifax Regional Municipal Planning Strategy (RMPS), which outlined targets for smart growth, the Ecology Action Centre’s Built Environment Team (specifically, the wonderful Jen Powley) has established the Our HRM Alliance.

Unsurprisingly, given the pattern of politics in Halifax and environs, much of the development since the establishment of the RMPS has been anything but sustainable. Sprawl and thoughtless car-centric growth — large private homes, business parks, and shopping malls built over formerly undeveloped land — continue to define the growth of the HRM and the actions of very powerful developers.

And that’s where Our HRM Alliance plays an important role — acting as a watch-dog of HRM development and giving people a platform to mobilize on issues of growth and sustainability.

The Our HRM greenbelting strategy

As Jen Powley’s assistant, I will be helping her combat the desires of non-progressive developers as the thoughtful of HRM try their hardest to hold back the loose and undisciplined tentacles of sprawl that continue to spill out of Halifax. I will be getting to know these areas, hopefully visiting them, and will be attending many-a-urban planners’ meetings, public consultations, and mayoral candidate panels.

Helping Jen the last few days has lead my imagination to picturing a Halifax that had a chance to be better designed.

HRM’s population is 390 000 people, but spread over a density of 10.4 persons/hectare (compared with London’s 49 and New York City’s 104.3). Imagine HRM’s population with a greater density. Imagine if the patterns of growth of peninsular Halifax spilt out over the arm and into Sackville, Fairview, Bedford. Imagine if the density of Dartmouth was not stunted by narrow minded developers and it continued to build a city in its immediate surrounding areas. Imagine if Halifax’s streets were as endless as Toronto’s — streets like Manning and Palmerston that extend infinitely north of Queen — and interesting, dense, messy urban blocks spread throughout the area, beckoning exploration, fostering rich communities.

Imagine that the previously independent small towns of the HRM bled more gracefully into each other, rather than the cut and dry dramatic intervals of hostile suburban sprawl that are now in between them.

This line of thought lead me to thoughts of reclaiming the Mackay bridge from the exclusive use of cars. This bridge is beautiful, but deplorable. A glorified highway in the sky, it terminates on the Dartmouth side at a highway exit, an impossible environment for a pedestrian. What if we were to extend residential and commercial out and over the bridge, serviced by pipes and wires dangling high above the narrows? It would be whimsical, reminiscent of the Parisian residential bridges of the 19th century — and so symbolic of a movement of smart, thoughtful growth.  An urban geographer can dream… can’t he ?

Living in Halifax has given me first hand experience of the “HRM”, the Halifax Regional Municipality. The HRM sort of seems like local politicians saw other Canadian regional governments, such as the Toronto “Mega-City” and the unsuccessful merger of municipalities on the Island of Montreal, and applied it to a region that doesn’t make as much sense.

The HRM, as you can see, makes up a significant portion of the province of Nova Scotia. But size doesn’t matter in agglomerating political districts: what matters is flows — if the flows of peoples, goods, traffic and communications begins to spread widely, over formerly significant geo-political boundaries, that’s when an urban amalgamation makes sense.

But — the HRM — it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, a new-comer to this city. Beyond its immediate neighbours, the towns surrounding Halifax seem pretty disconnected from the Peninsular City. And, whereas in Montreal and Toronto, you have a certain degree of suburban sprawl that sees a significant number of commuters travelling between places, in Halifax, the sprawl is relatively limited, and you reach rural land quickly once leaving the city.

The HRM is an astonishingly big political entity, where people from extremely different walks of life, with extremely different needs and political attitudes, have to somehow come together and make decisions that affect everyone. The consequences are broad ranging, an example being that wealthy suburban, or otherwise interested rural voters will have more influence on city council and consequently neglect the needs inner city urban folk, as we saw in Toronto’s last mayoral election.

Indeed, I believe in the need for regional government. It makes sense that a forum be established where plans regarding such problems as energy and transportation infrastructures, issues that make sense at a regional scale, be discussed and plans executed. But regional government should not replace local, autonomous government. I may go so far as saying local government should have the most influence, nested within regional, provincial and federal levels of governance.

The seeming ridiculousness of the HRM presented itself the other day, when, driving back from Tancook Island, many signs announcing towns along the highway, like the one in the first photo, boasted the HRM logo, with the phrase “Welcome to Our Community”.

It was incredibly strange realizing that we were already “in Halifax”, even though our surroundings included sea side cottages and farms. Most ridiculous was the repeated notion of “our community” — what are these communities, and who established them? What happens to the meaning of “community” when it is constantly repeated in the same monotonus fashion, and is imposed from some distant, top-down governing body? What does it mean when we enter the Community of Halifax? These signs betray the non-sensical logic of the HRM and speak of the continuing trend of potentially harmful centralization in Canadian governance.