Peri-Urban Residential Development in the Halifax Region 1960-2000: Magnets, Constraints, and Planning Policies
Millward, Hugh, The Canadian Geographer
Since the late 1950s there has been an explosion of residential development within the commuter belt of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This city region is unusual in having very little farming or pre-existing settlement, so that land prices are low, and development controls have been minimal. Conversely, however, the predominantly hardrock environment presents severe difficulties for the extension of sewer and water lines, and has thus constrained the growth of serviced residential subdivisions. This paper documents the regional progression of both suburban residential development, which is generally serviced, and exurban or country residential development (CRD), which is generally unserviced. (1)
The author's aims are, first, to describe the locational sequence of peri-urban residential development in the Halifax city region over the 40-year period 1960-2000. Secondly, to analyze and explain that sequence in terms of three sets of factors: magnets or attractors for residential development, constraints or inhibitors, and planning policies designed to control or direct development. Thirdly, to identify lessons from the past which suggest useful policy options for planning of future residential patterns. An assessment of past development processes and current options is particularly timely, since the region's four municipal units (the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, the town of Bedford, and the Municipality of the County of Halifax) amalgamated in 1996 to form the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM--see Millward 1996, 12-14). This regional government now stands ready to prepare a new land-use and transportation plan for the region.
While Halifax's special environmental circumstances have produced a pattern of development which is unique in its particulars, many of the driving factors operative in the Halifax region are also actively or potentially operative throughout the developed world. The lessons from a detailed case study should therefore have considerable transferability, particularly to other city regions possessing high personal mobility in combination with low rural land valuations. Halifax allows an exceptionally clear view of the dramatic effects of automobile-induced commuter development, since its hinterland was remarkably devoid of resource-based settlement prior to 1950, there are no alternative urban employment centres within commuting range, rural land prices are extremely low, and competition or conflict between housing and resource industries has been minimal. The combined effect of these conditions is that pre-1960 housing within the commuter-shed has been swamped by post-1960 development, both in suburban and exurban areas. The paper also has wider relevance in that it highlights the local importance of broad shifts in styles of governance and planning philosophies. These shifts occurred worldwide after 1980, and the Halifax case illustrates the impact of policy and funding changes on the promotion and control of peri-urban residential development.
The Regional Situation to 1960
Halifax was founded as a fortress and naval base, not as the central place for a region of agricultural settlement (Millward 1993). Indeed, the physical environment almost precludes farming, being a forbidding land of glacially-scoured igneous and metamorphic rocks (granite, slate, and greywacke), poorly-drained, strewn with boulders, and lacking topsoil. Within the area depicted on Figure 1, only a few areas had sufficient depth to bedrock to enable settlement for semi-subsistence farming (Canada Land Inventory classes 3 to 5): these are the softrock environments to the north and a discontinuous area of drumlinized glacial till extending from Halifax east to Chezzetcook. Glacial till also enabled small pockets of farming in the Sackville river valley at Hammonds Plains, and on the north-east margins of St. Margaret's Bay. Elsewhere the interior remained virtually unsettled through to 1960, with the exception of several Black communities--North Preston and Beechville (near Lakeside)--which began life as subsistence farming communities despite their lack of topsoil (see Henry 1973; Pachai 1987/1990).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Most early settlement outside Halifax town was oriented to the inshore fishery. Tiny outports, idealized by Peggy's Cove, developed willy-nilly on almost every cove around the Chebucto peninsula, and provided a semi-subsistence living supplemented by boat-building, kitchen-gardening, and long-distance trade to Europe and the West Indies. Beyond Dartmouth, the Eastern Shore was poorly suited to fishing, owing to sandspits, bars, tidal races, and shifting shoals: only Eastern Passage developed primarily as a fishing village.
The location of early farming and fishing settlement has been important for later exurban development, since these areas (1) are in private land ownership, and hence available for as-of-right development, (2) possess at least a minimal network of roads, which attract and enable development, and (3) have a pattern of historic village cores, providing key services which also attract and enable CRD. As Figure 1 shows, private lands predominate throughout the inland and Eastern Shore farming areas, whereas public lands (mostly held by the provincial crown) remain extensive in unsettled wilderness areas on the Chebucto peninsula and in the Eastern interior.
The road network in settled areas was never extensive, owing to the lack of a formal geometric survey, difficult terrain, and reliance on water transport wherever possible. Paving, too, came late, and even in 1960 only a skeletal network of paved roads existed, with some sizeable villages having no paved access (e.g. North Preston and East Chezzetcook). (2) The crown-land wilderness areas, for the most part, lacked even rough logging tracks. Only one limited-access highway had been constructed, with a minimal number of interchanges. (3)
From the foregoing, it is apparent that automobile-induced commuter development had barely touched the rural areas in 1960, and their problems were those of decline rather than growth. A `commuting shed' barely existed, since `living in the sticks' was considered unfashionable and unattractive. But even if we do acknowledge one, its limits were set by Cow Bay, Preston, Waverley, Middle Sackville, Timberlea, and Herring Cove (i.e., a maximum driving range of approximately 15-20 km). (4) An intermittent "summer dormitory zone" (Wolfe 1951) of lakeside recreational cabins lay just beyond, with small cottage dusters often acting as pre-cursors to later development, as suggested in the model by Lundgren (1974).
The built-up areas of Halifax-Dartmouth remained tightly constrained until the outbreak of World War II (Millward 1981, 6-18). Halifax, held close together by a network of streetcar lines, still occupied only two-thirds of its peninsula. Dartmouth was a modest-sized town hugging the opposing shoreline, and there were small villages at the isthmus (Dutch Village and Armdale) and at the head of Bedford Basin (Bedford). The total population in 1941 was only 90,000 (70,000 in Halifax). The Second World War and its cold-war aftermath brought economic and housing booms, but reliance on public transport ensured that suburban extensions to the built-up area remained compact and close-in. By 1951, the city and its suburbs contained approximately 115,000, and the census metropolitan area (CMA) 138,000.
After 1955, the cross-harbour Macdonald Bridge stimulated much tract housing sprawl around Dartmouth, which then annexed the new areas and became a city in 1961. As Table 1 shows, the twin cities had a combined population of 139,000 in 1961, and the suburban extensions in census subdivision D added 40,000 more. Parts of subdivision D, and all of the other county subdivisions within the CMA, remained rural and thinly settled, with a combined population of 35,000.
Suburbanization: the 1963 Regional Housing Survey (Coblentz Report) (5)
For the most part, suburban extensions to Halifax and Dartmouth between 1945 and the early 1960s occurred in piecemeal fashion, with little or no planning control. This was largely because Halifax city and Dartmouth town were underbounded, so that suburban subdivision occurred in adjacent portions of the Municipality of the County of Halifax. The County lacked the resources or will to inhibit or control development, and allowed as-of-right development ("general building zone") within 500 feet (ca. 150 m) of almost all paved roads, and a few unpaved ones. (6) Subdivision approval was required after 1954, but this was largely to ensure testing for adequate water quality and water percolation rates.
Proposals for a regional approach to development planning in Halifax were …
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Publication information: Article title: Peri-Urban Residential Development in the Halifax Region 1960-2000: Magnets, Constraints, and Planning Policies. Contributors: Millward, Hugh - Author. Journal title: The Canadian Geographer. Volume: 46. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 33+. © 2001 Canadian Association of Geographers. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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