Dispatches from Canada's Incredible Shrinking Region, Part 2

Dispatch 2 - Amy Schwartz

(Yes friends, I'm still on about this.) To recap: The Globe and Mail published an article titled: How the Maritimes became Canada’s incredible shrinking region. I decided it would be best if we don't throw our hands up and become extinct. I want to hear from people with real ideas for solutions. I'm asking a variety of people the same questions and asking for them to provide me with one of their favourite pics of the Incredible Shrinking Region. 

This second dispatch comes to us from Amy - @makeactive. 

Kids play on the "wave" in Halifax. 

Kids play on the "wave" in Halifax. 


A specialist in re-visioning the places we live, work and play to make active living the norm for all. 

Why I choose to live in Canada’s “incredible shrinking region”:

I moved home because I can surf, live and work downtown and I can do all of that in the same day.  There's nowhere else in Canada you can do that.

My specific ideas for stopping the shrink include:

I'm uninspired by the action plans that suggest the same fixes as the ones before - its the never-ending rerun of "focus on jobs, work, the economy" .  We neglect to consider that real people are more than just a job.  I believe that many young, old and new immigrant entrepreneurs will choose to come here if we make our communities incredible places to live - places where you can walk to work or school or to the store, places where you can hang out in attractive public spaces and beautiful streets among inspiring public art and colourful community-led projects, places where interacting with people of all ages and cultures is just part of daily life, a place where we value and invest in places and programs that support our youth and seniors culture.  Yes we can still care about growing the economy and creating more jobs, but it is to our detriment if we neglect to support our single-most important feature for attracting people to NS: our quality of life.

My current frustrations are:

Frustration #1

We're fixated on bigger is better infrastructure; big schools, big hospitals, big box stores, big highways, oversized recreation facilities. These suck the centres of our communities dry, our local businesses dry, they are expensive, often less affordable (or less safe in the case of bigger highways), impact our health (make places less walkable). We're a shrinking province! We can't afford bigger is better and our young and old people can't get around to these places without relying on cars. If you do some full cost accounting you will see that it is way more expensive and unhealthy to build and maintain this kind of infrastructure anyway! Let's be small and proud. Let's be the best at making great small places, or regional economies. We can't afford to continue to emulate the failed suburban/ big box/ big highway/ big school experiment of the US. It is simply beyond our economic capacity and it isn't sustainable. Many places in the US and in Canada are desperately trying to reverse the bigger-is-better drain. We need to catch-up in this. Because we are a shrinking province we have a perfect opportunity to concentrate and integrate services, focus resources and become smarter in how we plan, build and shrink. Ontario has a 'Places to Grow' act to ensure growth is efficient and not sprawling or stupid, we need a 'Places to Shrink' act to ensure we don't take whatever we can get when it comes to development or unwisely de-commission key community facilities without a thorough consideration of the impacts or alternative potential.

Frustration #2

When I see international students trying to get around on our public transit, waiting and waiting in the cold for a bus to the university, I think to myself "that is precisely why they won't stay". They all come from places where they can get to where they need to go as soon as they step out their front door - without a car. Most come from neighbourhoods where public space for people - where they can hang with their friends - is an easy walk or transit ride away. Why would they choose to live somewhere where that most fundamental aspect of quality of life is missing? 

Many teens living in rural areas can't afford a license, can't do activities after-school because of school-board transportation policies, and can't get a job in a town - because they can't get there and back because there is no community transit. Living as a teen in a rural area with such limited ability to get around, recreate and earn a small income- wouldn't you want to leave as soon as you could?

Frustration #3

How we frame the 'seniors problem'. GAAAAAAHHHHH! This drives me nuts! Why can't we see this as an opportunity? So we have an aging population - why can't we become the most innovative and best place for people to age in North America? If we've got such a demographic deluge, let's use that to our advantage. Plan and build incredible communities that we would all love to grow up and age in, invent the best technologies and services for senior living. Plenty of seniors still have many years of working, volunteering and contributing in them. It is backwards to just frame it as a problem. They too have an income that they need to spend. The real drain on our health system is preventable chronic disease due to physical inactivity and unhealthy eating. Yes seniors represent a large proportion of people with chronic disease - but if they could easily live healthy and fulfilling lifestyles in thoughtfully designed communities, we'd have a real solution.

Frustration #4 

The continued lack of our ability to understand and support our Mi'kmaw and African Nova Scotian populations. I think we need to embark on a 'Truth and Reconciliation' process in NS. Mainstream or 'white' NS culture needs to understand their history of racism and become more proficient in supporting and learning from the Mi'kmaw and African-Nova Scotian communities. Our province needs to do some soul searching so that trust can be built and upheld.

I wish:

 I love that you are asking these questions. I'd love to do a big project asking new immigrants, youth, come-from-away entrepreneurs, came-back-and-stayed entrepreneurs and professionals, came-to-university-and-stayed professionals and seniors and others why they chose to live here or what would make them stay, or why they are leaving. And go beyond the ol' adage - jobs, jobs, jobs. I know so many creative entrepreneurial types who are my age who chose to live here for quality of life - not because of a job. We need to find out what kind of lifestyle people are looking for and adjust our community planning, transportation, arts and culture to progressively and deliberately become an excellent place to live. Why do Google, Nike and other massive companies choose to locate where they do? Not because the government is paying them to, but because they know that what the best people are looking for are places where they can have a great lifestyle.

I wish we better understood the potential of this place. It is such an incredible place to live - despite many of the unfortunate policy choices that have worked against that.  We really need to take practical and deliberate steps to plan for shrinking, make places small and wonderful, the most innovative centres of senior living, the best places for kids to grow up, and the kind of place that entrepreneurs looking for a laid-back lifestyle want to be.

 I wish there was super-duper wifi everywhere for free. This, combined with a start-up support fund for people who want to run their online-business from their new ocean-view locale, would bring more entrepreneurs from all over the world to set-up shop all over the place in NS. I'd be curious as to how many are already doing this, and why they chose to set up shop in NS.

I wish we had a few brave leaders who really 'got it' and were even a little bit bold. And by a bit bold I mean as bold as implementing some of the planning-policies of Ontario, BC, Colorado or what Mayor Nenshi is doing in Calgary (so not really all that bold - it's all been done, we just need to tailor it for a shrinking situation). We don't have to reinvent it, we just have to use the right tools that suit this incredible shrinking province.

Read Dispatch 1 with Emilie Chiasson

Want to weigh in? Post a comment here or connect with me via Twitter @somethingwitty.