1. St. Pat’s
The city held a dog-and-pony show last night for development of the former St. Pat’s High School site, reports Stephanie Taylor:
The first design concept presented, titled The Grid, showed a cluster of buildings of varying heights (around a maximum of 18-storeys) arranged to feel like a village, littered with small courtyards, one staffer explained.
The second, called The Plaza, showed a design comparable to Bishop’s Landing along the waterfront, just minus the parking lot, with an open space located in the centre.
The final, known as The Square, lived up to its name with a series of low-rise buildings side-by-side surrounding a courtyard.
I can’t help but feel this is a cynical joke on the 150 residents who showed up. I have little doubt that the city will sell the property for top value — I mean the value of money, not values like interesting architecture and neighbourhood scale — and that means a developer will demand a gigantic skyscraper be built on the site. We’ll see, I guess.
Oh, a reader lightly castigated me for not listing the meeting in the “government” section yesterday. She’s right, I should have. It’s not much of a defence, but I’m usually half-brain-dead in the morning, and by the time I get to the government section I’m just cutting and pasting from the city’s event calendar. Yesterday, that calendar had no listing for the St. Pat’s event:
2. Mother Canada™
“Federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay says he continues to support the controversial eight-storey Mother Canada statue and said it is fitting to build the war memorial in Cape Breton Highlands National Park,” reports the CBC:
“That particular location serves as a poignant reminder, that’s the last place many of those young men, predominantly, would’ve seen when they left to go off to defend our freedom and our democracy,” MacKay said Wednesday.
World War I was about a lot of things, but one thing it wasn’t about was defending freedom and democracy. It was a stupid, vile war — perhaps the most stupid and vile war ever, which is saying a lot — fought for pointless, vainglorious “honour” at best, and nationalistic breast-beating at worst. Like MacKay himself, the misanthropic government ministers and perverted warlords marshalling the call for battle gave not two shits about the young men they sent to the slaughter; the lives of the soldiers held even less value for them than the machinery the soldiers carried to the front. Hundreds of thousands of lives were tossed into single battles to gain a half-mile of territory, and hundreds of thousands more lives given up as that half-mile was abandoned in retreat. Back and forth it went, year after year after bloody year, nobody giving a god damn about freedom or democracy. The war solved nothing, proved nothing, demonstrated nothing except the depravity of the species.
There’s a place for monuments to the victims of war. It’s important that we remember our past indifference to humanity, and mourn those lives so casually given up. Such monuments should be somber, reflective places, places where we confront the devil that is ourselves and lament the harrowing loss of so many young people.
What monuments to the victims of war should not be is gaudy roadside attractions run by trinket sellers.
The Mother Canada™ proposal doubles down on the indifference to the victims of war, turning them into mere props for the marketing of the next war.
3. Ben’s Bakery site for sale
CBRE has listed the Ben’s Bakery site:
CBRE Limited has been retained by Canada Bread Company to coordinate the sale of the Ben’s Bakery Site in Halifax. The ± 2.44 acre site includes properties fronting on Quinpool Road, Shirley Street, Preston Street and Pepperell Street.
The property is being offered unpriced in a two stage bid process. A call for offers will be issued to interested parties. Interested parties are invited to contact CBRE to receive an Executive Summary and a Confidentiality Agreement.
The Ben’s Bakery Site is an exceptional opportunity in Central Halifax for an infill mixed use development. With ±100 feet of frontage on Quinpool Road, the site offers a rare retail opportunity on this high demand commercial district, while at the same time, presents a large development site fronting on Pepperell, Shirley and Preston streets in an established and popular residential neighbourhood.
4. Pavement markings
Halifax councillors are upset about faded pavement markings:
“When you get thousands of pounds of metal and plastic going towards each other, because they don’t know which lane they ought to be in, that’s a huge safety concern,” says Councillor Steve Craig.
Craig has requested a staff report to find out why this is happening. Many other councillors quickly agreed there’s a problem.
“It’s become a severe public safety issue,” says Councillor Linda Mosher. “This is the worst that I have seen it since I became a councillor, somebody dropped the ball.”
The councillors are not the only ones who are concerned; resident John Percy is also looking for answers.
“What’s a person’s life worth? What’s a child’s life worth? Put a price on it,” says Percy. “Until someone does, you’ll just have to keep searching for those crosswalks, that don’t seem to exist.”
Sure, the city is failing its duty to get the streets painted. But can I just throw out there that this may not be entirely a bad thing?
Craig is right: when there are no lines on the street, sitting in thousands of pounds of metal and plastic hurtling at each other is a frightening experience. But here’s the thing: in such situations, people slow down. I’m reminded of those European towns that have done away with traffic lights, road signs, and road markings; everyone is so freaked out that they’re hyper-vigilant, and the streets become safer, not more dangerous:
Britain’s choked city streets might be a lot safer and free-flowing if all the traffic lights, bus lanes and white lines were removed, according to new research.
In a complete switch from received wisdom on congestion and road crashes, transport experts in the Netherlands have found that leaving drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to their own devices can be ideal.
Far from generating anarchy, road rage and a trail of death and destruction, taking away traffic controls prevents drivers ‘bunching’ into gridlock and speeding because it forces them to slow down and take more care.
Experiments in towns in the northern Friesland region found that busy junctions where two or three people had been knocked down and killed every year dropped to a zero death rate when they took the traffic lights away and put a tree in the middle of the street instead. UK experts now believe the same methods could work in Britain.
The unusual traffic arrangements are based on forcing motorists to rely heavily on eye contact with each other, pedestrians, cyclists and bus drivers instead of falling back on road signs and red lights to dictate their driving. When drivers have to keep an eye out for potential obstacles and casualties because there are no lines, traffic lights or lane markings they automatically slow down to below 20mph — a speed where a child who is knocked down is five times more likely to live as one who is hit at more than 30mph.
I don’t think a no-road lines policy would work in the suburbs or on the main arterials, but it just might work downtown. I would suggest a trial of the idea, but we’re already running an unintended trial right now. Is it just coincidence that the noticeable drop in the number of pedestrians being struck by cars this summer, especially on the peninsula, coincides with the lack of road markings?
5. Richard Butts
The lack of road markings is just the latest in a series of failures of city government in Halifax — add snow and ice removal and cutting grass to the list. All the failures have a common cause: budget slashing:
“When council decided to reduce the workforce, they decided to reduce the amount of work that gets done,” Joel LeClerc, vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 108, said in a news release Wednesday.
“That should be obvious.”
But LeClerc said the number of employees dedicated to line painting in the Halifax region has deliberately been reduced through attrition.
“We have five fewer workers on our road crews,” he said.
“That’s how many workers you need to run a line-painting crew.”
Similarly, budget-cutting led to the contracting out of grass mowing and snow plowing, with predictable results. You can only cut costs so much before service is degraded, and we’ve long ago passed that point in Halifax.
This is of course the work of Chief Administrator Officer Richard Butts, who was hired precisely to reel in the fiscal mayhem of his predecessors. It’s true that some reeling in was needed, but at council’s direction, sound fiscal management has become a fiscal straight-jacket. Back-to-back years of no tax increases, not even to match inflation, were followed by a tiny tax increase mostly intended to build a capital fund for a stadium, and the operational budget remains decimated. Scores of city positions are unfilled. There aren’t temporary hires to fill maternity leaves. “Vacancy management” rules the day. Of course stuff won’t get done.
City managers generally don’t have much longevity — four or five years is a good run — because they are caught in the middle of the politics with no way to respond politically. Butts was hired to slash budgets, which he did, and now services inevitably suffer, and he’ll be blamed for it.
We’re 15 months out from a general city election. As complaints about city services increase, councillors seeking to get reelected will shift the blame off themselves (where it rightly belongs) and onto Butts. We’re already seeing councillors castigating Butts in public, calling him out for various sins, all related to poor services. Especially if this winter is a bad one, I expect to see calls for Butts’s head. I doubt he’ll last until the election.
And it feels like he’s run his course. When Butts was first hired, I was impressed by his mannerisms. When he spoke at council, he stood, and used honourifics when addressing councillors. He wore a suit. He was attentive. Lately, however, he seems to be calling it in. He doesn’t stand when he speaks. He often dresses down. Maybe he’s upset he didn’t get the Toronto job, but for whatever reason he seems bored and inattentive. He hasn’t quite gotten to Wayne Anstey territory — on several occasions Anstey actually snored at council meetings — but Butts’s heart doesn’t seem in it.
Butts was hired to do a job and he did it. The position is a lightning rod for everything that is wrong in the city, whether it’s his fault or not. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.
1. Cranky letter of the day
Government works in mysterious ways. I reached inside our roadside mailbox this week and out came three identical government letters addressed to my wife, my mother and myself. We live at the same address. Why not mail our government information in one envelope? Wouldn’t this save taxpayers’ dollars?
As we opened each letter, we were shocked to find out that starting in July, my wife and I each will be receiving a raise of 14 cents on our pension cheque. We’ve been married 49 years and on a government pension for the past five; the 28 cents extra per month is an insult.
But my wife and I fared well compared to the devastating low blow that my 98-year-old mother got in her government letter. Yes, we bowed our heads in shame when we read that her July cheque would contain a deduction in the amount of 34 cents. Is our country so poor that it can even conceive of doing this to a human being, or is it a case of our government spending so much money abroad that it can’t help its own citizens?
Letters like these have come to many households this week; we are not alone absorbing the shock, insult and shame.
Clarence Landry, St. Peter’s
Community Planning and Economic Development (10am, City Hall)—the committee will look at using a city bus to deliver fresh food to communities that don’t have a market.
Harbour East Community Council (7pm, 6644 Hwy 7, Gaetz Brook)—simplifying the “everyone drink!” at meaningless buzzwords thing, the meeting is being held right at the bar at the Canadian Legion.
No public meetings.
In the harbour
Garnet Leader sails to sea
The cruise ship Veendam is in port today.
We’ll be recording the Examineradio podcast today.