February 10, 2011
Halifax slips again in Corporate Knights’ sustainability rankings
In 2009, Halifax Regional Municipality was ranked as the most sustainable medium-sized city in a report by Corporate Knights Magazine. In the 2010 ranking of sustainable cities, HRM slipped to number two in the medium-sized city category. In 2011, HRM drops to number three.
Yesterday, February 9, Corporate Knights Magazine released their rankings of the most sustainable cities in Canada. The most sustainable large city is identified as Toronto, followed by Edmonton. The most sustainable medium city is Vancouver (the city itself, not including the surrounding communities), followed by Mississauga. The most sustainable small city is Victoria, followed by Saskatoon and Saint John (who were tied in the scoring).
HRM’s fall to the middle of the pack is interesting. Five years ago, in 2006, HRM adopted their 25-year development plan (the Regional Municipal Planning Strategy). In this document, the Municipality sets the following vision:
HRM’s vision for the future is to maintain and enhance our quality of life by fostering the growth of healthy and vibrant communities, a strong and diverse economy, and sustainable environment.1
"HRM wrote environmental sustainability into the Plan that is to be guiding everything that they do over the next quarter century. Why then is the Municipality falling in the rankings?" asks Jen Powley of the Ecology Action Centre. Powley is part of a group of organizations influencing the five-year review of the Regional Municipal Planning Strategy. "The Plan is good," says Powley "but it lacks a timeline for implementation on most goals and is bereft of baseline indicators and progress measures. The Plan needs to be better." She wonders how HRM is measuring whether the steps they are taking towards sustainability are enough. She adds, "Maybe Corporate Knights should be our indicator. Maybe it will be enough to prompt further action from HRM."
A report entitled "Capital Ideas" prepared by HRM staff states that “The most recent indication of the pressing challenges facing HRM’s urban area was Corporate Knights Magazine’s straightforward reporting that in the context of other Canadian cities, ‘HRM has too little urban density, too much suburban sprawl, and not enough public space’”. What is HRM doing about this? “Many functional plans and secondary reports have been written, but what action is taking place on the ground?” asks Powley.
Corporate Knights identifies sprawl and a lack of density as problems. HRMbyDesign, the downtown development plan, aims to increase density in the downtown core. HRM has committed to retaining current service boundaries but that does not seem to be enough. Development on the fringe does not pay for itself. A 2005 report by HRM staff entitled "Settlement Pattern & Form with Service Cost Analysis" highlights that low density suburban development is more than twice as expensive to service, at $3,462 annually, as the urban core, at $1,416 annually2. The tax system does not accurately reflect true costs of servicing, this means that high density urban development is subsidizing sprawl.
For more information or an interview please contact Jen Powley at 802-1270 or Mark Butler at 429-5287.
1 Halifax Regional Municipality. (2006). Regional Municipal Planning Strategy. Pp. 12.
2 Regional Planning - Halifax Regional Municipality. (2005). Settlement Pattern and Form with Service Cost Analysis. Retrieved from http://www.halifax.ca/regionalplanning/publications/documents/PatternBoo... on February 9, 2011.