Vision for Halifax

What’s your vision for Halifax?

That is the central question behind a whole series of events that have played out in the local papers culminating in an open spat between the Mayor of Halifax and a group of “disgruntled” business people. Even to the casual observer its clear that Halifax has reached a transition point and the city is having some growing pains.

At times there is something sarcastically appropriate that the HRM was born on April Fools Day

In reality since the forced & surprised amalgamation of the region into one municipality on April 1 1996 the Municipal Government has been coasting with out any real direction of vision and the administration has been nothing more than a caretaker. The Halifax that we now inhabit is the Halifax that was designed in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s. The little bit of new construction in the downtown were all projects that had been in the planning stages for years.

There are many proposals in the planning & development stages that have the potential to change Halifax, for the better. I’ve personally been involved on the fringes of one project that if used as an example of the HRM Planning process we’re in trouble. The Build it Right group was formed as a result of poor planning and community involvement by the City.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC) was established as a corporate body pursuant to the Planning Act of Nova Scotia. MAPC includes the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Chief Magistrates of the four municipalities and one additional elected representative appointed by each municipality.

The mandate of MAPC was to advise the Minister of Municipal Affairs; to prepare and revise the Regional development plan; to facilitate consultation; to assess opportunities for collective action, and to provide input to long range planning activities.

All that research was put into the Regional Development & Land Use Strategy for the city of Halifax, The city of Dartmouth, The town of Bedford & the surrounding areas. After the forced amalgamation of the Region much time and effort was used coming up with a new Regional Plan. Growth in the new Regional Municipality has been consistent and rapid, to the point that major growth – rate controls on new lots were instated to allow a more orderly infrastructure costing for the City. Below is a summary of their findings:

Balancing Development and Environmental

Protection in a Rural Commuter Belt: The 2006 Halifax Regional Plan

In 1996, partly to deal effectively with the uneven and costly impacts of sprawl (though there were other reasons: see Millward, 1996), the provincial government mandated amalgamation of the four Halifax-area municipalities, thus opening the way for a new regional plan and a unified vision of where to develop and where to prevent development.

As a stop-gap measure, growth-rate controls on new lot approvals were instated in three areas in 1998, as was master planning of key areas for new serviced development. However, a formal regional planning process was not approved until November 2001 (French and Millward, 2007). During Phase 1 (November 2001 to December 2002) the project team was strongly influenced by the somewhat amorphous concept of “smart growth” (Daniels, 2001; Danielsen, Lang, and

Fulton, 1999; Filion and Hammond, 2003; Pim and Ornoy, 2005), as well as the more focused notion of “transit-oriented development” (TOD: see Calthorpe, 1993; Cervero and Kockelman, 1997; Dock and Swenson 2003). They thus identified four strategic areas for planning: growth management, integrated land-use and transportation planning, healthy communities, and environmental asset management.

The 2006 Regional Plan was a collaborative effort of many people over a period of five years. The authors are grateful to their colleagues on the Regional Planning task force and Regional Planning Committee for their professionalism, diligence, insights, and good humour.

After the completion of the Regional Plan it was evident that there was much more needed to ‘define’ what it is that Halifax will become so in February on 2007 the Regional Municipality commissioned a modified Community Consultation program to be referred to as HRM by Design.

HRM by Design

Approved by HRM Regional Council on February 27, 2007.

Urban Design Vision Statement

The Urban Design Vision Statement provides a broad mission for the function, look and feel of the Regional Centre. It builds on the area’s inherent assets and potential strengths to set the overarching intent and objective for urban design. The Urban Design Vision Statement was prepared in the context of Forum 1 and was derived from workshop outcomes. It is an important direction setting tool that is the basis for all subsequent urban design initiatives.

• The Regional Centre is the symbolic, historic and functional heart of the Halifax Regional Municipality. It is distinguished by its rich past as is evident in: its historic architecture, traditional neighbourhoods and national landmarks; its natural features as shaped by its grand parks, harbour, lakes, waterways and rolling hills; and its regional importance as an economic hub, capital district, educational centre, health focus and cultural heart.

• The Regional Centre will build on its distinctions and assets to nurture an urban context that enhances quality of life, enriches urban living and becomes a global destination.

• The Regional Centre will assert and affirm a legible and ordered urban structure that will reinforce the best qualities and characteristics of its unique neighbourhoods and districts.

• The Regional Centre’s cultural vitality is rooted in its diverse population and accordingly it will strive to be an open, safe, affordable, accessible and welcoming place to people of all walks of life.

• The Regional Centre’s vibrancy, animation and economic health will be strengthened through the cultivation of a compact, civic inspired and human-scaled urban fabric of streets, blocks and buildings.

Guiding Principles

The Guiding Principles for Urban Design give direction to the broad cross-section of components that are the building blocks of the city and that work in concert to establish the function and the “look” and “feel” of the Regional Centre. The principles, prepared collaboratively by workshop participants, were a central focus and outcome of Forum One.

These principles will guide decision-making according to their respective themes. They reinforce the Vision Statement and are the ‘backbone” to the Campaigns for a Great City. Although these principles apply broadly across the Regional Centre, they can be further articulated and tailored to local area conditions and objectives when Neighbourhood or District Urban Design Guidelines are prepared.

1. Sustainable

• Design, plan and build with respect for economic, environmental, social and cultural sustainability.

• Create resilient communities that adapt to evolving opportunities and needs.

2. High Quality

• New development should be of high quality and compatible with other high quality developments.

• Promote high quality architecture and urban design that respects great heritage resources, including neighbourhoods.

3. Heritage and Culture

• Heritage resources, including heritage districts, buildings, landscapes and cultural heritage, should be recognized, used, protected and enhanced.

• Ensure lasting legacies (buildings, open spaces and streets) are maintained, and new ones are created.

4. Movement

• Integrate land use planning with transportation planning in such a way that
alternatives to driving become an easy choice. Transportation options should be efficient, pleasant and readily available.

• All streets should present an inviting barrier-free environment that considers the comfort, convenience, safety and visual interest of pedestrians.

• The Regional Centre, in all ways, should be conducive to, and supportive of, active transportation movement. It should provide people with choices that are viable alternatives to driving.

5. Complete Neighbourhoods

• Support safe, mixed-use and diverse neighbourhoods, including:
o Affordable housing and a variety of tenures;
o Residential, commercial, employment uses; and
o Visually and physically accessible amenity space, including schools and parks within walking distance.

• Ensure the necessary public services and amenities to support quality of life, cohesive communities and creative places.

6. Growth and Change

• Ensure that new developments respond to the natural, cultural, historical, and urban character of their context.

• Direct change and intensification to areas that will benefit from growth.

• Every new building should contribute to the betterment of the public realm.

• Design should support accessibility, active transportation and transit (i.e. streets, land uses, neighbourhoods, open spaces, circulation systems).

7. Process

• Foster a culture of support for the building/ construction of quality urban design.

• Recognize and reward design excellence.

• Involve neighbourhood communities in local planning matters.

• Maintain opportunities for public participation in the implementation of HRM by Design.

• Foster predictable outcomes that have been tested to be achievable and fair.

8. Connected

• Prominent views to prominent natural and built features should be recognized, protected and enhanced.

• Enhance safe and appealing connections within the Regional Centre including to and from the waterfront, open spaces and neighbourhoods.

Five Campaigns for a Great City

The urban design approach for bringing the Vision Statement to fruition is organized around five key “Campaigns for a Great City”. These Campaigns serve as the broad yet tangible objectives for shaping future growth in a manner and character that is desired for the Region Centre. These Campaigns are the themes that emerge from the Guiding Principles and became evident in the Urban Design Framework for the Regional Centre.

As the historic, cultural and economic heart of the Halifax Regional Municipality, the urban quality and character of the Regional Centre touches the lives of most residents and makes the greatest impression on the image of this “city” to visitors. Hence, in many ways, these Campaigns are not just about the Regional Centre, they are also relevant and meaningful to the entire urban area and the communities that comprise the Halifax Regional Municipality – a potential next Great City.

The future of Halifax is being decided by the present counsel & administration … what that future will be is still open for discussion. There’s still time to get involved in the process and have input where & when it counts. View other HRM By Design Links


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