HRM By Design hearing | The Coast Halifax

HRM By Design hearing

Despite increasing public engagement and concern, it's hard not to be cynical about HRM By Design. It's still politicking and networking business over the substantive changes that need to take place downtown.

Over 60 people have signed up to speak at the public hearings this week for HRM By Design---the planning strategies that will control the development process downtown for the next 25 years.

With such public engagement and concern, I had to wonder where my increasing cynicism about HRM By Design comes from.

Maybe the oft-repeated claim that HRM By Design will “take the politics out of the development process” pushes me over the edge; anyone who says as much is either a naïve fool or (more likely) a liar---development has always been at the heart of municipal politics and always will be, and you can bet bottom dollar that Halifax won’t be the first city ever to find some secret route out of that reality. In fact, the grandfathering and exempting and loopholing began even before the ink was dry on the proposed bylaw changes at the heart of HRM By Design, and there’s no reason to think such political monkeying around won’t continue into the future.

Or maybe I’m simply irredeemably biased. The “young professional” group Fusion, which has come out in support of HRM By Design, annoys me; while they present themselves as some new breed of uber urbanists, its members are the same brownnosing networkers we’ve known forever, and they’ll join the same highly compensated and yet utterly incompetent managerial class that just destroyed the global economy and otherwise give meaning to the word “bullshit.”

But fools and bullshitters have always been tied up with city politics, and still I think we can get better public policies despite them. HRM By Design has its merits---a lot of them, actually. So while some annoyance with proponents is warranted, it doesn’t fully explain my cynicism.

It wasn’t until I heard Ron Colman speak Tuesday night that I figured it out. The head of GPI Atlantic, Colman is, well, wise. He truly understands the gravity of the multiple environmental crises we’re facing, and through his organization is attempting to put those concerns in the language and culture that the business and political world understands.

“We’re not opposed to HRM By Design,” said Colman. “But we think it’s premature.” Colman wants the city to implement a series of promised eco-friendly planning strategies---transportation, sustainability and energy plans---before adopting HRM By Design. Those plans, which have great merit and potential, could be undercut, depending on how development unfolds through HRM By Design. “We just don’t know,” said Colman.

That’s when I changed my focus, and it all made sense. We’re dicking around with fools and bullshitters saying a couple of new skyscrapers will turn us presto into a hipster Paradise, and meanwhile the entire planet is falling apart. Climate change is crashing down upon us, our energy future is uncertain at best and the world economy is in the crapper.

I don’t know if cramming a bunch of young professionals into 20 storey condos downtown is better for the environment or not---they obviously won’t be spewing greenhouse gases from tailpipes as they commute from the suburbs, but the money they save at the Esso station will quite likely be dumped into electronic gadgets relying on coal-generated electricity and air travel that will more than cancel out any GHG reductions.

The Ecology Action Centre suggests a couple of tweaks with HRM By Design---tightening up building efficiencies, basically. And while that makes sense, it’s just a faint gesture in the right direction. Meanwhile, the substantive changes that have got to be made, and made quick, if we’re going to avoid the worst of climate change---a radical transformation of our transportation system, finding and using renewable and passive energy sources to heat and cool our buildings, etc.---are left for some unknown future day, maybe, so long as it doesn’t interfere with streamlining the development process.

"It's putting the cart before the horse," says Colman, and I agree.