September 15, 2011

The Greening of a City: Halifax, Nova Scotia.

                                                 Photo: mbdezines

Originally Nova Scotia was covered with conifer forests full of wildlife.

With Acadian settlement in the 17th century the land was cleared and farmed until the British despossessed them and took over the land.  Basically until 1950 Nova Scotians lived self-sufficiently on the land or by over-fishing the sea, until a pattern of ill use also began to diminish the fertile land.

Then the trend began of moving to the city, and in Nova Scotia that usually meant moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital.  By the ‘80’s Halifax was dubbed by some as “Just like Pittsburg in the ‘50’s”.

Now in 2011 the city is finally taking a turn to the green.  Always blessed by big and small parks and surrounded by water—the Halifax Harbour, the Atlantic Ocean, and the North West Arm—the main problem was disrespect for the views to those waters and the steady encroachment on parks such as the Commons. Now some land adjacent to the Commons, land on which Queen Elizabeth High School used to sit, is being reclaimed for a huge urban farm.  And urban gardening is beginning to be found all over the city where lawns formerly awaited mowing, transforming Halifax into a garden city.

More bike lanes are being integrated into Halifax streets—a good thing the Provincial New Democrat Party has accomplished here, along with putting a cap on Green House Emissions, building a network of walking trails, and encouraging new communities to be built around public transit.

Having sold my ’91 Subaru two yers ago, I can attest to the fact that the Halifax peninsula is mostly walkable, and when that fails in the storms of the winter, the buses come through.  More and more people are beginning to carpool and there is a carpooling website, which saves money for those still addicted to cars. Retire Your Ride, however, encourages folks with “heaps” to recycle with the environment in mind—for vehicles contain hazardous materials and fluids, such as antifreeze, automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, fuel, batteries, oil, mercury switches, and power steering fluid.  Clean Nova Scotia based in Halifax has also taken 2,200 cars off the road.

Rooftops are also slowly turning green, and the research for this world-wide trend is being done right here in Halifax.  Beyond increasing biodiversity in the city, green roofs provide extra insulation, saving energy in home and office, and even storing water run off for flushing toilets, as one can witness at the new Seaport Market. St. Mary’s University’s library and Atrium roofs have also been retrofitted and planted green, as have the new Citadel High School roofs.  Because green roofs can be planted on sloped or flat surfaces, they are a fast way to green a formerly gray city.

As A Diet for a Small Planet told us 40 years ago, we actually grow enough grain to feed the world’s population, and we still do—but we feed too much of it to the cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs we raise to slaughter for meat.  If we didn’t do that, we could prevent starvation in Africa and other places.  Furthermore, the “emissions” from cattle is great!

Slowly people here in Halifax are waking to the fact that they are not only suffering from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer linked to a carnivorous diet, but that that diet is forcing chronic malnutrition and starvation on others in the world.  Thus many Haligonians like myself have changed over the last few years and are practicing a mostly non-meat diet.  And this turns out not only to be healthier and better for the environment, but is also more economical. Vegetables cooked or raw—even in this relatively cold climate—is as easy as eating seasonally from local farm produce and growing sprouts in trays in the kitchen.

So, inspired by animal rights, economics, health, sustainability—or all of the above—this is a more balanced way to go.  And combined with the slow food revolution happening in the good restaurants of Halifax, it is another step in the green direction, because these restaurants, like the Wooden Monkey or the 100% vegetarian Heartwood, support Nova Scotia farmers by buying local produce. Even most coffee shops are offering a fair trade coffee with sandwiches made to order filled with local, organic and seasonal veggies plus locally made baked goods.

A further spin off of fair trade and vegetarianism is the green wedding.  Instead of being excesive and wasteful, green weddings offered by such places as Windhorse Farm or the Halifax Shambhala Centre can be eco-friendly affairs, using local and seasonal flowers and greenery, with receptions offering organic food bought locally or made on site.

Downtown merchants are selling racing shoes, bike bags, and sandles made from recycled materials and I bought a pair of bright yellow rubber boots, like kids’ boots, made of 100% natural rubber.  Pants and dresses made from organically grown cotton are available from most indie-owned stores.  Environomentally kind home and all-purpose cleaning products have been available for over a decade—products like Down East, made across the harbour in Dartmouth and used by the Halifax Shambhala Centre since it became certified as an environmentally sustainable organization.

Meanwhile Halifax awaits the dawn of solar power.  Wind power is happening, and is steadily replacing reliance on coal and oil.  It’s a positive green shift, slow but steady.  And it is interesting to note that so much is being done locally and provincially, without federal encouragement.

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