Speak up for your city

Every December, the Halifax Magazine cover story reviews the past year, exploring the issues that have shaped our city. When writer Kim Hart Macneill and I sat down to plan this edition, we quickly realized that it all comes down to one issue for Halifax in 2016: development.
The Nova Centre in the heart of the downtown, new housing developments on stately Young Street, car dealerships pushing out North End residents, Queen’s Marque on the Halifax waterfront: our city is changing before our eyes. Some changes are carefully planned, others are the unanticipated side effects of rampant development.
Development debates have long polarized Halifax. Some see the recent spate of changes as long overdue, and needed to avoid economic stagnation. Others say the development is reckless, threatening to erase our heritage and the things that make the city special.
The view most people have in common is that they have little power to influence the transformation. It’s in the hands of a small clique of developers and policy-makers. It’s an easy assumption to make. Rules are outdated and opaque, and HRM often seems quick to let developers bend them. Plans come and go.
That all creates the feeling that development is something that just kind of happens to our city, like the weather. New buildings appear, and we’re powerless to have much influence on where they go or what they look like.
So here’s a reminder: you have a voice. You have the opportunity to have a lot of say in all this. There are frequent (poorly attended) public meetings on development, that have real and direct impact on what developers do. (For more about that, see Kim’s story).
Your HRM Councillors are highly susceptible to public input. They’re already thinking about the next election. Some of them are thinking about their 2020 mayoral campaigns. They want to make people happy, and they respond to the loudest voices they hear. So if you care about this, if you’re concerned about how your city is changing, if you want a say in how it’s changing, you need to speak up now. Pay attention to what Council is approving, go to those public meetings, tell your elected representatives what you think. Use social media to mobilize like-minded people. You won’t win every round. Developments that you hate will proceed. Plans you love will fizzle out. But by making yourself part of the discussion, you’ll nudge things in the right direction. Politicians take silence as consent: when 22 people turn out for a public meeting on a new development, they assume that means everyone else is fine with it. Let them know what you really think.

We’re pleased to welcome illustrator Derrick Chow back to Halifax Magazine. We gave him the challenging assignment of crafting an image that reflected how our city is changing, in a relatable and creative way. As per usual, he created an apt and fitting cover for us. A few more of our regular team members return with interesting pieces this month, too. Sarah Sawler goes into the archives to share her picks for 20 of the most interesting Haligonians you may have never heard of. And Priya Sam talks with the founder of Univfax, a unique service to help international students make the transition to life in Halifax.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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