News / Halifax

Halifax for change: new study suggests residents like development happening in city

The city's north end councillor says it's important to not leave community ownership behind while developing.

The media takes in the view during a tour of the Nova Centre in May.

Jeff Harper/Metro

The media takes in the view during a tour of the Nova Centre in May.

Contrary to the stereotype of Atlantic Canada as a region “stuck in its ways,” Haligonians tend to welcome change in their neighbourhoods, a study has found.

In recent years, Halifax has experienced rapid economic, social and structural transformation, and according to researchers at Dalhousie University, many locals see that as a good thing.

“The majority of Haligonians are actually quite open to change,” sociology professor Howard Ramos said in an interview. “Counter to a lot of the narratives, there’s a lot that’s going on in this city … I think embracing that change is important as Halifax goes forward.”

Ramos and a team of social scientists surveyed hundreds of people in Halifax Regional Municipality about perceptions of change in their neighbourhoods.

In the study published in The Canadian Geographer this fall, a slight majority of respondents reported that the area they lived in seemed more or less same as it was five or 10 years ago, but of those who noticed in shifts in their surroundings, the changes were generally well received.

Around one third of respondents felt their neighbourhood’s financial prospects had improved amid Halifax’s transitions into a more knowledge-based economy, whereas 10 per felt they were worse off than they were before. The study found that 36 per cent of people embraced cultural change in their communities, while just six per cent opposed it.

The changes that were most obvious – like the construction of new buildings – earned the highest approval rating. More than half of respondents viewed structural changes in their neighbourhood as a net positive and only two per cent of people objected to the renovations.

“Most people like to see new things popping up,” Ramos said. “The people who lobby against development often tend to be in the peninsula and tend to be well-mobilized … (but) there’s a whole bunch of people who aren’t living in those areas.”

For that vocal group of people fighting to preserve Halifax’s heritage, the threat of development seems almost existential. The United Memorial Church in the north end was built after the wreckage of the Halifax Explosion, and today, people are fighting to prevent the landmark from being torn down.

For Coun. Lindell Smith, the challenge in District 8 is blending the old with the new.

“When you look at the historic community that’s been there for a long time, they’re feeling left behind with the new changes,” Smith said in an interview. “The makeup of the neighbourhood is changing, not just because new businesses or new buildings are popping up, but because the sense of community ownership … is being lost.”

Smith hesitates to use ‘the G-word’ – gentrification – but said he’s working on a project to bridge the gap between “two separate north ends” into one community.

The push and pull between change and the resistance has plagued Halifax “forever,” Smith said. The key is to engage the community in these changes so that Halifax can evolve alongside its citizenry.

“We feel Halifax undergoing rapid change and it’s important to facilitate a discussion about what people feel about it,” Ramos said. “That’s what’s going to allow us to navigate our future in a more informed way.”

The telephone survey of 411 Halifax residents was conducted between Nov. 2014 and March 2015 with a 95 per cent confidence level and a sampling error of 0.025.

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