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Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner who has also worked in Montreal, Guyana and Venezuela. Cleveland grew up in the south shore of Nova Scotia and has been an advocate for sustainable planning in Halifax since 2012.

Tristan Cleveland: One map that could revolutionize Halifax for the better

There's a lot of big-vision ideas to get excited about in the new plan, like commuter rail and a dedicated bus lane.

A rendering of the proposed Village Centre for Seton Ridge.

Contributed/SouthWest Properties

A rendering of the proposed Village Centre for Seton Ridge.

I have never been so excited about some green dots.

The city just released the latest proposals for the Integrated Mobility Plan, and things are looking good. A complete greenway network to nearly all our major communities by 2020, a minimum grid of protected bike lanes, commuter rail, transit priority on key streets, and our very first bus lane. These are big-vision ideas.

But the vision gets even bigger, thanks to some green dots on a humble little map called, “Potential Transit Oriented Communities.”

Sound ho-hum? It’s not.

Here’s the thing: at the current growth rate, we could have over 150,000 more people in Halifax by 2050. If we’re not careful, that could mean far more traffic and pollution. Far-flung homes could cost more, driving up taxes without any improvement in what the city offers you.

Instead, new residents should mean more money for parks and better roads, without a traffic nightmare, and building town centres on great transit is how we do it.

As more people move into new developments on bus lanes or commuter rail, each costs less, because there’s no new roads to plow and transit is already right there. Great transit also adds thousands to the property values, meaning substantially more tax revenue.

Despite paying more in rent, people who live near great transit also tend to save money because they can get by with fewer cars. According to CAA, skipping just one car purchase can, in ten years, save a family nearly a hundred grand.

So goes the financial pitch, but from anyway you cut it—health, environment—this kind of growth just makes sense. For me, though, there’s a bigger reason to do it.

I believe every community should have a great centre of town to spend time outside, people watch, and maybe see a friend. Right now, no one would ever sit in the parking lot of the Sunnyside Mall, enjoy the sunshine and think, “I love this place.” Why shouldn’t a place where people spend millions of dollars yearly offer that experience?  

Right now, it may seem like just a dream to redevelop that parking lot into a main street full of local shops, a place so nice people enjoy just passing time on sunny afternoons. Add a commuter rail station, however, and the math starts to add up.

It’s clearly doable. Southwest Properties is planning just this kind of main street near another station in Clayton Park, called Seton Ridge—also a green dot.

But to make this happen, we need to lay out the plan for future growth now, before we finish commuter rail and bus infrastructure. Those green dots are a what we need to get right now to become a remarkable city in 20 years.

Why not have half a dozen amazing main streets people love to visit? Why not use hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing construction to become the best possible city we can be?

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