HALIFAX – Ka-Ching. With a $13 billion dollar debt in NS (cleverly illustrated by Hugh Pouliot), how can we not talk about value?
It is ironic really, that HRM with its past spending habits, has not fully assessed the value(s) of, and in, the HRM Regional Municipality Strategy Plan. Thankfully, on Saturday, March 12, 2011, a panel consisting of IMAGINE conferences‘ key-note speakers – Bruce Tonn, Hugh Millward and Patricia Gordon, as well as city councillor Jennifer Watts – talked about planning values in relation to the HRM’s Regional Municipal Strategy and long-term planning, in general.
Despite spending a significant value in, on and for HRM in the past, the conference revealed that money rather than planning took a priority in the 25-year Municipal Strategy plan.
Millward suggested that a lot of smart growth ideas were watered down in the actual HRM plan; he assumed that it was a result of municipal resources, specifically financial. He also attributed the watering down to the fact that “the plan had to be sold as a package”, which may be why certain topics had less of an impact. Watts pointed to the fact that there was and is no conversation about water, despite the fact that there are 46 watersheds in Nova Scotia with a majority of them in the HRM area. Watts suggested that “It would be important to address water and understand the implications of water. I’ve been hearing lots of land-use planning, but what is our relationship to water? Again though, planning water is really expensive.” Gordon indicated that “the scope of any municipal plan is hard to address.” When Gordon was working for the City of Calgary, during ImagineCALGARY, they reduced their municipal plan to two key areas that would shape the plan and long-term planning – Energy and Water. Gordon felt that both were missing from the HRM plan and both are really important and necessary to assess now and in the long-term: “To me if you don’t have energy (in the plan) you have a problem … you are going nowhere without energy.” Tonn expressed surprise that NS still relied heavily on fossil fuel energy, when the province had access to other sustainable resources. But Tonn also indicated that a challenge of transitioning to sustainable energy resources is that, as evidenced in the USA, the traditional grid energy infrastructures are not capable of distributing the new and long-term energy technology. Watts quipped in indicating that “it is a hard slug and that hands are tied to what we can do.” She did indicate however, that council has hired legal teams to write new charters. What is clear though, is that planning is expensive or at least it is under the current bureaucratic (debt) structure.
In relation to qualitative value, on the other hand, and ensuring that the plan continues to inspire people, Gordon indicated that a plan must re-inspire people, by refreshing and renewing the plan alongside peoples values. Millward suggested people will be inspired when they realize it affects their quality of life and therefore has value, which would then resonate with the lives of civilians. Tonn stated that “it is difficult to build ties to transient populations; in the USA, social capital has decreased.” As a result of peoples’ mobility, Tonn argued that ties to host community’s are lessened and values are lost. Watts agreed with everyone – inspiration is based on quality of life and real values. She furthered the comments, to suggest a novel idea – more playgrounds. Watts continued to illustrate the value in children’s spaces: “Children are our first citizens who initially experience the city through playgrounds. Playgrounds are the sites of creativity, nature, environment, connection with community and recreation, which are all important mechanisms to sustainable urban planning.” Based on this, Watts clearly asks: “Very practically, how are very young children and the people that care for them being included in the plan?”
As the moderator put it, how then do we put all of these ideas and/or values into practice? Millward pointed to Dubai and Japan as an example of two cities that both represent innovative planning and also, undemocratic practices. He offered this as an example, to support the notion that “we could do things in rapid time, if we did not have to consult the public.” Gordon suggested that things are happening, but that we just can’t see them because we are in the system. With the example of how the green bins and recycling systems were implemented in HRM, Watts inferred that “this was a huge step on part of council. There was a lot of debate about it, but council did move forward.” She further talked about the new solar panel subsidy purchase program offered through HRM to illustrate that not all planning is “doom and gloom”, that there are indeed progressive ideas implemented.
To further the conversation in qualitative value, the moderator asked the panelists, how do planners engage people who aren’t otherwise engaged in civic planning matters or inspire people outside their own individual circumstance? Millward referenced Susan Guppy’s conference presentation on March 11. Guppy talked about “having a stake in the future”. Her suggestion referenced the fact that older people are more engaged in civic matters because they want to ensure that they leave a legacy behind for their children and grandchildren. Watts pointed out, in response to a comment about a decrease in youth civic engagement, that “people are engaging in different ways. The planning structure is so limited to actually engage with people on a meaningful level. The old system does not connect with younger people. There is a different way of being which the planning system has not adapted to.”
What was iterated repeatedly through out the panel, and in reference to planning values and civic engagement, was an ongoing need for ongoing dialogue about urban planning. From the audience, Frank Palermo argued that “It is essential that these conversations continue in a larger-citizen driven community.”
Conversations and ideas presented at the conference, and from the panel, are being consolidated by conference organizers, and will be presented with value to HRM for the plans 5 year review this year.