Yinchaun, China is a long way from the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness — 10,708 kilometres, to be exact.
Yinchaun, China is a long way from the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness — 10,708 kilometres, to be exact.

Arguably, the proposed Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes wilderness park is the single most important issue faced by the current city council.

For one, it’s a huge piece of land; the proposed park comes in at 4,152.9 acres — about 25 per cent larger than the Halifax peninsula. It is majestic territory, complete with a seven lake canoe loop; a granite outcrop (Blue Mountain) that overlooks the harbour, the ocean, and St. Margarets Bay; an astonishing assortment of wetlands and wildlife; and, aside from an old quarry on the very edge of the property, completely undeveloped.

Protecting the park is what people in government call a “legacy project” — a wilderness park will serve not just current city residents but also our children, our grandchildren and all future generations. Besides that, there’s an incalculable benefit to wildlife and ecosystems that support it. The mundane day-to-day business of government — filling potholes, running rec programs, funding police and fire — are important, but from a long view look fairly inconsequential in comparison to the potential of the park.

Still, while protecting the park may seem like a no brainer, it’s not a done deal. Most of the land within the proposed park boundaries is owned by the city and provincial governments, but about a third of it — 1,279.7 acres — is owned by 15 private land holders. The bulk of that private land, 854.6 acres, is owned by just three large development companies: the Annapolis Group, Gateway Materials Limited, and B.D. Stevens Limited.

I’ve covered the issue extensively here, but the short of it is that it’s a battle over money: just how much should, and will, the city pay for the private land? Plenty of people have opinions on this — over 1400 people submitted written communications to the city, far more than I’ve ever seen for any other issue facing council — almost all arguing for protection of the property. On the other hand, councillor Reg Rankin had put forward a motion to council that, if passed, would have started the development process for the private land.

Rankin’s motion came to council today, at council’s first meeting after the summer break. The motion was literally a life-or-death moment for the proposed park: if the land moved forward for development, the full park would be lost, forever.

While the proposed park will serve the entire community, protecting it is particularly important to those neighbourhoods directly adjoining it. The proposed park is entirely within the boundaries of Council District 12, represented by Rankin, but the neighbourhood most affected by the park (or by development of the land) is Kingswood, which is represented by District 13 councillor Matt Whitman. The trail to the top of Blue Mountain starts in Kingswood. The streets of Kingswood, lined by multi-million dollar homes, dead end into the wilderness. People in Kingswood regularly hike and paddle through the wilderness near their homes.

It’s not at all hyperbole to say that the Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes issue discussed at council today was the most important issue facing Matt Whitman during his entire tenure as councillor.

Matt Whitman
Matt Whitman

So where was Whitman today?


That’s right, on the day of the most important vote of his council career, Matt Whitman went on a junket to Yinchuan, China, 10,708 kilometres and a 20-hour plane ride away from Blue Mountain – Birch Cove Lakes.

Whitman is at something called TM Forum Smart City InFocus 2016, which is a three-day conference about “smart cities.” I wish I could tell you more, but when I google the conference all I get is a bunch of sites filled with buzzwords. Here’s a press release that is reprinted on 20 or so of the top google results:

There is nowhere better to discuss these key themes than in the City of Yinchuan which has addressed all of these topics and has become a leading smart city in China. The City of Yinchuan is serving as a model to other cities on a global scale on how to transform to become “smart,” not only in terms of infrastructure but also in creating and delivering new smart services and talking advantage of the economic development that comes with it.

One of the keys to success in creating a smart city in Yinchuan was the local government’s vision and understanding of the role that big data and a cloud platform played in transforming its infrastructure and services. Indeed, Yinchuan’s big data cloud platform can be seen as the brain of the smart city. Taking “two libraries and two platforms” as the core of the infrastructure, Yinchuan was able to create an urban database which stored information of the city’s population, economy, buildings and infrastructure, and spatial geographic information.

Yinchuan has also created an urban industry application database and subject library that looks at transportation, education and government public services. Data sharing between these platforms and from the big data cloud platform has transformed the city from a passive and reactive government to one which utilizes, processes, and analyses big data to make informed decisions and has turned the mode of government to one which is active and can provide smart and intelligent services for its citizens.

In 2015, Yinchuan Smart City and ZTEsoft were recognized for their exceptional development and acceleration of smart city potential by China’s National Pilot Smart City, the number one smart city in the world. Their work is enabled by ZTEsoft’s ZSmart products, which are based on TM Forum’s Frameworx™ suite of digital business best practices and standards and being used to enable innovation through intelligent data analytics.

Beyond the hope of selling some software, if there’s a meaningful sentence in there, I’m unaware of it. ZTEsoft, incidentally, is a Chinese software firm hoping to “cash in on the multi-billion opportunity in government’s smart cities initiative.”

I’m not entirely discounting the concept of smart cities (although, come on), but there is nothing, nothing at all, that Whitman can learn in China that will be of any help whatsoever in Halifax. For one, as a “small” Chinese city — with a population of two million— Yinchuan has nothing in common with Halifax. Let’s hope not anyway: the degree to which Yinchuan can collect data is antithetical to a free society.

I’ve been googling around for a concrete example of how, exactly, Yinchuan uses data, but I can’t find one. Even the conference program is vague, not just about data but also about what’s going on at the conference. See the whole program here; the gist of it:

The three-day event will begin on Wednesday 7th September with an optional smart city tour of Yinchuan followed by the official start of the event with the VIP dinner.

Thursday 8th September will see delegates attend the first day of the Smart City conference and there will be networking dinners held in the evening. Delegates will also get the opportunity to experience first hand TM Forum’s proof-of- concept Catalysts during the networking breaks.

Friday 9th September will see delegates attend the second day of the Smart City InFocus conference, experience Catalyst projects, and provide a unique opportunity to visit the Smart City Industrial Park.

Saturday 10th September will see delegates departing to the airport for a safe trip home.

Helpfully, the brochure includes a picture of people eating, so we know how great it is:

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 2.35.05 PM

Additionally, the brochure tells us that Whitman will get to hob-knob with “300 C-level and senior delegates.” The B and A level delegates are elsewhere, I suppose.

Oh, and here’s the kicker: “The city of Yinchuan has graciously offered to cover the complete travel cost, including flight, hotel and transfer, for select executives and government officials.” Mayor Mike Savage told me today that the Chinese first asked him to attend the conference, but he declined — “I get asked to go to all sorts of things,” he said, “but I don’t bother with most of them.” A source in government tells me that after Savage declined, the offer was extended to Whitman, who has the more or less meaningless title of “deputy mayor,” and he jumped at the opportunity.

Hey, a free trip to China, right? That wilderness thing will take care of itself, I guess.

Luke Lythgoe attended last year’s conference, also in Yinchuan, and had hilarious things to say about it, none of them related to data or smart cities or even attending the conference. After the Rod Stewart cover band, Lythgoe’s most interesting tweets were these:

Which presents some difficulty in terms of getting comment from Whitman. I DMed him on Twitter, and sent him an email asking for comment, but I don’t have high hopes he’ll even get my messages, much less respond. But if and when he does, I’ll post his response here.

Update, 7am Wednesday:

Whitman writes from China:


Thanks for your ongoing interest and support.

I’m one of 1200 delegates at the Smart Cities Forum in Yinchuan China.
Besides planning and technology my main takeaways are re regulation and Redtape. 

Yes, my Twitter and Facebook and gmail etc is blocked.

I have very intermittent internet access.

I think there are 4 Canadians here.

The CIO of City of Vancouver is one of the key speakers.

Yes, Yinchuan paid for me to attend. My trip is not costing HRM.

My reelection campaign is going very well. I have huge support and am keeping up with demand for lawn signs. My campaign began June 1st, most Councillor’s began September 1st. I have an awesome reelection team supporting me.

I’m in the loop re Council agenda, and votes and I’m in contact with staff & Colleagues and all is well.

I’ve been very clear on where I am on Birch Cove Blue Mountain. 

Thanks again.


Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. When I first heard about the “mystery wall” I thought of a farm field stone wall. There are lots of those around. I did some sleuthing and managed to find the site of the walls in question. I am fairly familiar with field stone walls, and I don’t think that is what this mystery wall is. For one thing, field stone walls tend to be (but not always) just organized piles. The stones in the Bayers Lake are look more carefully laid. I await with great curiosity the results of the archeology.

  2. they won’t use it if the never have the opportunity to use it, so yeah, sell it all off and pave it all over, then we can put in a skate park, that’s an innovation and future future planning! Geez!

    When I think of innovation, I think Invention first, and then I think ovation, you can’t just label every new idea an innovation. it needs an ovation from a free audience who judges wether it gets adopted or not. A free audience, that is just one idea that I am kicking around, please feel free to judge it, I am trying to innovate something.

  3. Gloria McClusky’s vote against protecting the land “because Dartmouth residents won’t use it” is a sad legacy for her.
    The main issue now is whether developers will line their pockets–correction, how much city council will allow developers to line their pockets. Why is this even a negotiation? The land is not worth what they want precisely because it cannot be developed. Will this stay under the rug until after the election?

    1. Maybe a sad legacy, but an accurate one. Gloria has always been the most parochial of councillors. No idea was ever too small for her.

  4. I am so pleased that Council voted in favour of the Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park. There are still some hurdles to clear but hopefully the developers who own some of the lands will negotiate in good faith. I was worried because 38 years ago three Dartmouth citizens launched a lengthy appeal before the Nova Scotia Planning Appeal Board (now the Utilities and Review Board). The purpose of our appeal was to get ALL the lands along Lake Micmac and Lake Charles zoned park & institutional — part of the historic Shubenacadie Canal – Stewiacke River Basin system, from Halifax Harbour to Minas Basin.
    It got very nasty and dangerous. One landowner threatened to kill me and my friend Maureen so there were police present during the appeal. Another landowner, a large developer, accused us of being “Communists” because we were telling other landowners what they could and could not do with their land.
    While we didn’t win outright we did win in terms of certain lands finally being purchased by the city and zoned park.
    Dartmouth is known as the City of Lakes and when one looks at each of those lakes a clear picture develops:
    – There is very little public access to most of the lakes and some of the public areas are regularly closed due to pollution. Some, like Maynard’s Lake and Graham’s Grove have not been “swimmable” for years.
    – The “parclo”, Prince Albert Road and Hwy 118 surround Lakes Banook, Micmac and Charles.
    – Expensive housing (and not so expensive housing) line the shores of many Dartmouth lakes. The higher priced homes have properties with direct access to the lakeshore — docks, boat houses, boats, etc. including out here in the Portland Estates and Russell Lake area where I am now living.
    – Most of the lakes are polluted, mainly by run-off from fertilizers, silt and minerals from developments, salt from the highways. And we’re paying thousands of dollars to have the weeds removed.
    This is just from my little area of the HRM. I think about all those who are constantly working to protect and clean up the Shubenacadie River.

    Here’s hoping that we can continue to convince Council that we need it to protect the Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park for all of us, from right now and leave it as a legacy.

  5. Can we please retire the tired trope that there are multi-million dollar homes in Kingswood? Or Hammonds Plains in general? The claim does not stand up to scrutiny. Most homes are assessed in the $500-750,000 range, and I can’t find any assessed at over $1,000,000 when randomly sampling viewpoint’s data.

    1. Yeah, I don’t know where this idea of Kingswood streets lined with million dollar homes comes from, but it is utter nonsense.

    2. There are 27 homes in ‘Hammonds Plains’ assessed at over $900,000 including 11 at over $1 million. An additional 3 homes are assessed at less than $900,000 but sold for more than $900,000
      PVSC is your friend :

      1. I stand corrected – there are three homes in Kingswood worth over $1,000,000. That’s hardly “lined with multi-million dollar homes.”

        1. Viewpoint is quite good but PVSC is a goldmine.
          Guess how many $1,000,000+ homes in HRM ?
          And how many are capped ?

          1. They’re all capped. Regardless, you’re looking at an increase in perhaps a handful of homes moving over the $1m line. Again, the streets in Kingswood are not by any stretch “lined with multi-million dollar homes.”

      2. I think Glen Arbour is a more likely location for a lot of those 27 homes in Hammonds Plains, but who cares. Tim is right, the location near the trails/wilderness makes the area very attractive.