All I want for Christmas

Dear Santa… I haven’t written to you in a long time and in my 49th year, my wish list has changed considerably since the last time I sent a letter off to the North Pole.
So, Mayor Savage and all Halifax Councillors and staff, if you’re reading this, feel free to pitch in and help make some of these things happen in 2018. It will make Halifax a better city.
My first Christmas wish is for Halifax to look to other cities to see what works well when shaping and implementing the Integrated Mobility Plan. As we update our city’s outmoded transportation habits, we’re deciding how we want to move people around the city and how we’re going to develop the city with transportation in mind.
This is better than the old way of developing and then trying to figure out the logistics of moving people after. Hopefully, Halifax will finally realize there are better ways to move people around the city than in cars. As an added bonus, our city won’t be developed around an outdated concept that everything important has to be downtown, requiring us to funnel the worker bees through five choke points onto the peninsula.
I also wish pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists could learn to co-exist. It might require an It’s A Wonderful Life-style Christmas miracle, but if everyone would switch to a different mode of transportation for a week, they would stop being so narrow-minded and start being courteous. We’d all become better citizens by having to walk, ride, or drive in another person’s shoes for a week. Instead of pointing fingers at others, we’ll see first-hand all the bad habits of people who use the same mode of transportation we usually do.
Santa, I also want weeds to stop growing on the unused portion of the railcut, which is down to one track and has wasted capacity. We could easily have commuter rail or build a dedicated truck lane for all trucks travelling to and from the South End container terminal. That dedicated lane could also be used for express buses going to or leaving downtown at rush hours.
While we’re at it, can we finally make a commitment to commuter rail? It’s a long overdue idea and one that will benefit communities from Rockingham to Fall River, not to mention reducing traffic congestion on the peninsula. The railway line would also become a strip for commercial and residential development that will start to shift our focus off the downtown and remote “business” parks that promote car culture.
It would also be a great gift if HRM would stop wasting money on idling with its fleet of vehicles. After spurning a pitch to save an estimated $500,000 in fuel costs, the city will demonstrate one of two things: that it can learn from a private company or that an intransigent bureaucracy is the biggest impediment to change.
In late October, council rejected a pilot project that would have monitored idling in the city’s fleet and gotten a handle on much fuel wasted by non-operational idling of vehicles. Council missed a chance to save money and help the environment by thinking city staff could do just as good a job. If they could, why haven’t they so far? Maybe they just need someone to show them the way.
And Santa, I’d like the Cornwallis statue committee to take shape, meet, and come back with a recommendation that will be a sincere overture to the Mi’kmaq. It’s time that we recognize what this statue means to them. To the Mi’kmaq, the statue of Cornwallis in a public park shows that we honour someone they consider a white supremacist who wanted to wipe out their ancestors. Don’t worry about changing history, the Mi’kmaq want history to be known—all of it. With real effort, we can show that we’re ready to move forward on reconciliation with the Mi’kmaq.
And can this be the year HRM makes progress on buying land to complete the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes? After acquiring a parcel in the Purcell’s Cove Backlands in a partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the city has provided a pretty good benchmark for the value of land that will be turned into a park or greenbelt.
If negotiations don’t work, which is likely with some of the tougher nuts, the city should expropriate, just as it does when landowners won’t sell out for projects like roads.
One final Christmas wish: can our government give the public confidence that developers don’t control city staff and councillors. Can our representatives do a better job responding to concerns about lobbying and campaign influence by having full transparency about who is giving money to councillors and who those councillors meet with?
Thanks Santa.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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