HRM By Design passes | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

HRM By Design passes

What does it mean?

HRM council Tuesday adopted the 11 bylaw changes and administrative directives that collectively make up HRM By Design, the planning strategy that will govern how downtown develops.

Councillor Jennifer Watts pushed for the inclusion of energy efficiency standards for new construction, but was told that the city doesn’t yet have the authority to impose them. That was evidently a deal breaker: hers was the lone “no” vote.

The new provincial government is expected to quickly implement the necessary legislation, and then HRM By Design is the law of the land. The real test for its success, however, is whether the bureaucracy and council take seriously the chore of adopting a series of parallel “functional plans” that govern transportation, affordable housing and energy efficiency. These are supposed to be put into place in the next one to three years, but I have my doubts.

For one, HRM By Design manager Andy Filmore, who skillfully herded the complex project through the bureaucratic and political process, is changing jobs, becoming the city’s sustainability officer, a position that has been empty since the retirement of Stephen King last year. That leaves the task of adopting the functional plans to a planning bureaucracy that has often been downright hostile to such forward-thinking initiatives---King says that Austin French, the senior planning manager, regarded him as an “environmental crusader” and “eco-terrorist.”

And councillors talk a good game, but there are dozens of planning initiatives---and hundreds of plans for planning initiatives---sitting on bookshelves in City Hall, completely ignored. Why should we expect the functional plans to be any different?

Heritage Trust might be considered the loser in all this, but heritage advocates got some important concessions and brought a sense of urgency to the creation of three heritage conservation districts.

On the other side, those who think downtown will now see a construction and business boom---economic development strategists with Nova Scotia Business, Inc. seriously think Halifax will surpass Singapore as a world financial centre---will surely be disappointed. The geographic and economic realities have long been stacked against Halifax becoming much more than the regional centre it is now. And with the global financial collapse, the decision to peg our future on the financial services industry has proven to be especially bone-headed.

In reality, we might get a new publicly funded convention centre, which reportedly may include as much as 1.2 million square feet of hotel and office space. That’ll be far more space than downtown will need for the next decade, at least. Besides the occasional small project like the Waterside Centre (70,000 square feet), one or two waterfront hotels and, of course, condos, that’s it. None of those projects are dependant on HRM By Design, so the present hoopla seems misplaced.

But with the passing of HRM By Design, those who dream of Halifax becoming Singapore Atlantic will now have to find someone else to blame for their dashed delusions. And the rest of us can work to make this a better city without relying on hedge fund Ponzi schemes; we can start small, by insisting on good government competently doing boring stuff like taking functional plans seriously.

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