Peri-Urban Residential Development in the Halifax Region 1960-2000: Magnets, Constraints, and Planning Policies

Article excerpt

Introduction

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). …

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