Halifax population is growing, but is the city prepared?
City's growth was part of the plan, says Mayor Mike Savage
February 11, 2022, 4:26 pm ASTLast Updated: February 12, 2022, 12:10 pm
Halifax must prepare for increasing population growth, say councillors, urban planners, the mayor and the province’s premier.
Halifax’s population has grown nine per cent since 2016, according to recent data from Statistics Canada’s 2021 census report. Halifax now has the fastest-growing downtown core in the country, growing 21.6 per cent in that time.
“Population growth is good, if we’re ready. On the whole the increase is positive, it brings diversity and spending power and all sorts of good stuff. The issue — and this is where urban planning is really important — is being prepared with infrastructure and housing and transportation and so on,” said Lauren Weseluck of Planifax.
Planifax is an urban development consulting group in Halifax, a non-profit organization that educates about and advocates for sensible and sustainable city planning.
“We’re already having so many issues in this province and in this city with housing, housing prices, homelessness, if we’re going to keep bringing more people into the city we need to make sure we have the right infrastructure to support them,” said Weseluck.
Weseluck says urban planning can intentionally raise population growth, but it also has to react to population growth.
“The city has had an effort to increase density in the downtown, that’s a big part of this boom.”
Strengthening downtown and transportation
“The growth of the city did not come as a complete surprise to us,” said Halifax Mayor Mike Savage.
Savage says the city planned for a certain level of growth, especially in the downtown core.
“We had a number of major investments in the downtown like the convention centre, like the library, like the Discovery Centre, like building streetscapes, modern urban streetscapes … and Spring Garden Road.”
Savage says keeping activity in the downtown core will be important to the sustainable growth of Halifax.
“We have developed the core of the city, it gives us the option to reinvest in communities and target growth areas outside the core. Every city in the country wants to have a strong downtown, and we obviously have a strong one, and we’ve been growing at a rapid pace.”
Savage says a big part of this is Halifax’s centre plan, which went into effect on Nov. 27, 2021.
The centre plan hopes to strengthen transportation and draw people into the downtown core. The plan aims for more walkable streets, accessible transit services, and an overall cleaner, vibrant atmosphere.
“We’re buying a new fleet of electric buses, they’re all going to be floor level so they’re accessible,” said Savage.
“Private investment follows public investment,” says Savage.
Private developers have sparked a development boom, and the Larry Uteck area of West Bedford is one of the places seeing apartment developments and sharp population increases.
The population of the Larry Uteck area rose 81.1 per cent since 2016.
Area Coun. Tim Outhit said he’s seeing more diversity and economic opportunities come to Larry Uteck, but also has concerns about infrastructure.
“We need to make sure that the infrastructure and the amenities are here to accommodate the developments. That could be anything from recreation facilities to better transfers.”
Planifax’s Weseluck said some urban planners worry that too much private development can drive up housing prices.
“We’re already seeing so much strain on the housing market here. Once again it’s not bad that people are coming here but we need to prepare. We don’t want issues (that) we have surrounding housing to get worse.”
Statistics Canada attributes much of the population rise to interprovincial travel, saying during the pandemic Halifax became an attractive location for many in places like Ontario and B.C. due to its relative safety and affordability.
Housing has been difficult to come by in Halifax, the Signal reported in January, with people arriving in the province facing a tough market.
“We want development in the city, but we want to make sure that there’s some level of affordability,” said Savage.
More affordable housing units are expected to open in Dartmouth in 2022, and Savage says the city plans on giving more land for affordable housing in the future.
Houston weighs in
Nova Scotia premier Tim Houston celebrates the increasing population in Halifax and the province, but agrees there is work to be done to support it.
“We know that as a province we have lots of issues in health care to address to make sure that when people move here, they can access the health care that they need in a timely manner.”
Houston says investment in infrastructure will provide jobs for current Nova Scotians and those arriving “there are opportunities for people in this province. We just need to make sure that everyone sees those opportunities and is aware of them when they make their life here in Nova Scotia. But it’s all about planned growth and that’s what we’re very focused on.”