The mayor and deputy mayor of Halifax want the people of Nova Scotia to think big.
The pair visited Glasgow Square to talk about how they have done so in municipal politics.
Think Big: Rural served as a panel discussion on what is driving the demographic and economic engine of Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) – and what communities in Nova Scotia can do to collaborate with Halifax in its prosperity and similarly flourish in an era when the Ivany report encourages growth and development.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage advocated for the power of innovative thinking, and “creating the space for opportunities to flourish,” when discussing what Halifax did to become the booming, growing centre it now is.
Savage emphasized that “it’s important we work together and understand the things that make us unique, as well as those that make us different. After all, in a province of less than a million, people, there has to be more that unites us than divides us.”
Savage said the process of bringing communities together can be challenging, with regional or town rivalries, but added reconciliation of needs and overcoming differences are both very achievable.
This is crucial, Savage insisted, given the ever-looming threat of population decline in communities.
Savage alluded to the history of the Pictou County region referenced at the Museum of Industry in Stellarton, the story of Samuel Cunard’s investiture in steam technology proving a boon to him and the region.
“His shipping thrived in a large measure because he invested in the advance technology of steam before others did,” said Savage. “It’s a lesson that rings true today. All of us, regardless of size, need to be ready to adapt in a world that is changing at warp speed. Our economies and social wellbeing depend … on it.”
Savage told guests that part of the HRM’s recipe for success is an economic growth plan that sets population and GDP goals – both in urban and rural spheres – through a rural index, and investment in opportunities in and outside the city.
The Halifax mayor cited his “favourite statistic” as a yardstick for the success of Halifax in its growth, the increase in the population of people aged 25-39. In 2015, the number of new people in Halifax in that age range saw an increase of 2,560 – in 2016, that number increased to 3,800.
“Every city wants that demographic. It’s unlike anything we have seen in the city before,” said Savage. In the first nine years of the last decade that number was in decline.
Savage said he believes retaining citizens depends on taking note of the needs, desires and lifestyles of every demographic, from youth to seniors, along with federal, provincial and local programs designed to help people build connections and find jobs.
The steady incorporation of immigrants also feeds into the growth of Halifax.
Partnerships, Savage noted, are valuable in creating growth. These range from academic and business partnerships between local universities and colleges and big companies like Tesla, and the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship to tech hubs like the Ocean Supercluster.
The region also updated its transportation network with an Integrated Mobility Plan that encourages use of public transportation, walking and biking.
Savage exhorted guests to “collectively aim for what’s possible,” and not to “settle for what is probable,” when considering paths of growth for their communities.
While New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks sat down with Mayor Savage and Deputy Mayor Waye Mason to discuss thinking big, Savage explained some of the numbers in Halifax’s regional growth plan: 25 per cent of development to be downtown, 50 per cent to take place in urban parts of the HRM and 25 per cent to take place in the rural areas.
Deputy Mayor Mason spoke of the importance of making municipalities attractive by having a community that serves people’s needs, and has a culture that adapts to those needs, having the right services, and creating a central “hub” for both a community and the surrounding rural area.
Mason said another way to attract people to a smaller community is the easier cost of living, comparing artists who struggle to afford homes in city centres to ones moving to smaller communities and living easier, but still living adjacent to urban centres where they do their business.
Mason said that smaller communities and their easier pace of live are an “untapped opportunity,” adding that “my favourite place is … Tatamagouche to River John, with the bookstore Sheree Fitch opened, all the stuff happening in downtown Tatamagouche from breweries to creative stuff and art – it’s all very exciting.
“Once you have a bit of success, you get traction, and that supports more people. It becomes a magnet of populations that we can look at throughout all Nova Scotia.”