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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered



  1. The political impossibility you present seems to crumble when you consider that the young HRM has only had two mayors, and they both previously served as Mayor of fairly urban areas.

    If your point is to lament that the HRM is in line to inherit a string of rural/suburban mayors, perhaps it is because many of the City’s ‘urban’ councilors and political contenders invest their time and soap-boxing on what you call ‘district-specific affairs’.

    Municipal politics IS district-specific affairs. There is no other level of government in Canada that deals with so many of the 1:1 scale decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of people. Whether its garbage collection, unsightly properties, noise complaints or snow removal, municipal governments exist as the bastard children of the province in order to take care of district-specific issues.

    Councilors certainly need to be mindful of the ‘good of the entire region’. There’s no question in that. Its how you make a great city. In my (perhaps naive) opinion, people want open-minded, independent councilors that provide the best opportunity to bring positive resolutions to the issues that affect them most. Municipal level political parties are not the way to achieve this.

  2. Re: James
    The problem is that downtown district-specific issues, as you describe them, largely do not exist. What is good for the downtown will likely be good for the entire region. This includes investing in the vitality of downtown public spaces, housing, streetscapes, infrastructure like transit, cycling, etc.

    The idea that downtown councilors need to be more mindful of the ‘good of the entire region’ seems counter intuitive when it’s suburban councilors who want continued investment in sprawling development that further stretches the resources of all of HRM. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of good things going on in certain spots in the more rural regions, but generally many rural regional projects only impact the select few people who live or work there, unlike projects downtown.

    I also think the fact that the HRM is young actually makes changing the political procedures and processes far more likely than if it were decades old and entrenched in the minds of councilors and electors alike.

  3. Thanks for your comment James; let’s examine the arguments.

    First, these “fairly urban” areas you mention are definitely built up areas but physically do not possess the density, culture, composition of an urban core areas nor do they exist in the mind of the residents as necessarily “urban”; in fact both areas are suburban meaning by definition they are decidedly not urban.  The urban character, particularly in the minds of residents, is paramount as it is an area’s distinct urbanity that can elicit a psychological response that breeds division: a “Downtown Mayor” could not relate to, and therefore not duly represent rural areas.  Playing these divisions are the pedals of political power dynamics at all levels and are at play wherever there are votes to be cast.  Yes, Walter Fitzgerald did win the first election to be Mayor of the HRM but he did while losing 15 of 23 Districts in a race whose character, in a time of amalgamation, brought with it many complicated issues unlikely to be repeated.  He also lost the next race and he himself “didn’t know what happened.”  

    Secondly, this article is about civic reconciliation.  I in no way “lament” a string of non-urban Mayors. In my mind, the ideal would be a balance between all potential divisions within the HRM.  But considering the current state of affairs in the HRM a strong, vibrant regional economic and cultural engine is badly needed: right now that could only exist in relevant scale within the urban core.  Without the financial and mutually beneficial resources, say local farmers’ markets within urban centers wherein rural producers may sell their products, rural enhancement initiatives may prove to be fruitless if we are to move to a resilient local economy.  There is a mutualism between the urban and rural which has largely been overlooked in recent decades manifested as a product of many forms of social disconnect. 

    This having been said in time we may very well need a “rural” Mayor who understands rural challenges, issues and systems in a way an “urban” Mayor may not be able to.  I believe the next major shift in urbanity will be the integration of rurality into urban systems and landscape (urban food production [including fowl and urban farming], skill trades, bartering, and urban modularization that mimic discrete small town systems capable of nurturing “small town” social capital).  

    I will yield that municipal politics is the most direct (“1:1”) form of politics but of no less or more importance than any other; its nature makes it somewhat more manageable but more importantly more accessible.  In fact the most successful politicians will tell you that all politics are local, no matter what level you work in.  Moreover, and it is at the core of this piece, that politics are just people.  

    To speak within the context of your metaphor: municipal politics is not the bastard child of the political sphere but rather it is the workings of the immediate family; the Provincial and Federal levels are the quirky and boisterous extended family that can be a bit much to take at times but you have to deal with because “they’re family, and in the end family has to stick together”.

    I do not feel you are naive, in fact your opinion is widely held and you have articulated it well. But I will again stress that HRM is vast, it is fractured and its politics are often antagonistic in a way that is disruptive and detrimental to the ideals of “common good through collective action”.  Political leadership is often not popular because it is often big picture, indirect and thus often interpreted as non-representative or capitulation.  Our city Councillors are good citizens; are independent and represent their constituents well; but often to a fault through side-stepping, half-stepping and hard-stepping on regionally progressive issues for the benefits of optics on the home front.  A superordinate, cohesive factor could buffer potential backlash though articulating a wider vision and making citizens realize the importance of “give and take” in politics along with other practical and organizational benefits.  Vote trading already happens this is unavoidable in politics. Municipal parties would not add a layer, but merely enhance, coordinate and make transparent informal mechanism that are already at work.

    In closing the mechanism therein presented are merely suggestions meant to open discussion.  This was not so much written to be a political piece as one to make people recognize that politics, institutions, families, community are all the same thing in essence: they are all just people bound together by different types of understandings of one’s roles within these organizations.  We are free to change these clades and their roles as we see fit but in the end we are all in this together and have to begin to recognize and actualize our visions within this political paradigm.