Boo!

Boo! Ramona” This is what we saw on some orange signs in Port Williams a few days ago. We wish we had taken a picture as the next time we passed by they had disappeared in a ghostly fashion. We suppose that they are a clever comment on Ramona Jennex’s decision to overrule the Kings Co. proposal on farmland rezoning.

The provincial ministerial review of the proposed Port Williams Secondary Planning Strategy (SPS) and associated land use amendments has cleared Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Jennex’s office: the upper portion of the land along Collins Road will remain farmland, which will restrict residential development. This land represents approximately half of the area the County of Kings requested be rezoned.  [The Register , Oct. 7]

Area residents are reaping the benefits [or not, depending on your point of view] of their NDP vote.

Kings North MLA Jim Morton said he is pleased a decision has been made. He commended Jennex for balancing the need for growth while protecting agricultural land in Kings County.

So it is either the status quo or accept Ramona’s restriction. That’s a rock or a hard place. The farmland issue is not going to go away. The pressure on farmland will only increase unless farming locally becomes more profitable.

Brian Sanderson, a frequent commenter here sent a missive to the NoFarmsNoFood organization and copied to us. We always find Brian’s writing of interest and we pass it on for our readers.

Dear NoFarmsNoFood (NFNF), 

I recently received a NFNF leaflet entitled:  “No green. No future” with a side bar titled “Bully-boy tactics backfire”

So who exactly is it that has been threatening who and how? Is this a matter that is before the courts? Have you got the courage to call a spade a spade or is NFNF just engaging in cowardly propaganda?

Your position is unrealistic. Nova Scotia is urbanizing.  The strip between Kentville and Wolfville is one of several obvious growth areas. The biggest centre of urbanized growth is Halifax+surrounds. The provincial government seems determined to grow the NS population by importing people faster than our kids can leave! The NFNF strategy will result in all urban development focusing on the Halifax district. If that is your desire, then might I suggest that you lead the way by moving yourself. Certainly, if everyone with one of your signs picked up and moved to Halifax we would have a whole heap of abandoned residential areas reverting to yet even more unused farmland!

As for your statement about environmental degradation, it is abundantly clear that it is the shear weight of human numbers that is responsible for that. (“Globalization” has the effect of spreading human impact more uniformly over the planet.) I am heartily fed up with green nitwits and politicians who adopt the attitude that we should crowd ever more people onto this planet and offset the effects of that crowding by the “green strategy” of requiring each individual to live a diminished life style with diminished resources and ever more oppressive regulation and bureaucracy.

I have no time for cowards, or idiots, or hypocrites — regardless whether they come packaged in green, or as politicians, or whatever. That is not a threat, it is a statement of fact. Green used to be quite a pleasing colour.  Frankly, nowadays, “green” makes me quite queasy.

Yours,
Brian Sanderson

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23 responses to “Boo!

  1. The No Farms No Food strategy should not result in all urban development to occur in Halifax. I believe the intentions of this group are to build compact, and more self sufficient communities as a sensible alternative to spreading a bunch of low-density cookie cutter subdivisions throughout the region. The social and environmental impacts are significantly different between these two land use patterns. One leads to safe streets and a variety of healthy transportation options, while the other leads to a population of obese, car-dependent polluters.

    Our current communities all have plenty of infill opportunities, and I feel the perceived need for growth is completely misunderstood by most politicians. To accommodate potential population growth, we don’t need to spread out, we can simply convert underused spaces and build denser neighborhoods.

    I feel NFNF is in support of saving farmland for the inevitable point when we need to begin relying on farming again. Brian is right in suggesting farming isn’t a big money maker right now. However there comes a time in the oil supply chain when shipping fresh vegetables from California or China is no longer cost effective. At this point, local food production will become pretty important. If we have covered up all of our decent agricultural land with McMansions, big yards and wide roads, it will be difficult to grow any of the food we need.

    Outside of the obvious need to preserve farmland for our own food security, I think we should look at land use planning as a tool to change the way we live. Compact communities are a healthier way for people to live and build relationships with one another. They can also decrease emissions by reducing car use and preserve farmland so it’s ready to grow food for us and allllll these other people who are suddenly moving to the valley.

    NFNF’`s position isn’t unrealistic, I think its educated and forward thinking.

    • Re: “I believe the intentions of this group are to build compact, and more self sufficient communities as a sensible alternative to spreading a bunch of low-density cookie cutter subdivisions throughout the region.”

      This may be the intention of Coastal but it has nothing to do with the NFNF leaflet to which I was responding. I should add that very many of those SOS signs are posted on rather large residential properties, even larger than my own…

      I understand Coastal’s desire to live closer to me — but I suspect we will get along best if there is a plenty of space separating us.

  2. What if I do not want to live in a denser neighbourhood? What if many people do not wish to live in denser neighbourhoods? Should we be forced?

    Re “Compact communities are a healthier way for people to live and build relationships with one another. ” Really? There has been research done on density and both animal and human behavior. Don’t think their conclusions match yours. The results would be even stronger if people who are bothered by crowding didn’t self select to avoid it.

  3. No one is forcing you to live in a dense neighborhood. I’m suggesting that an option which isn’t being discussed, is to simply increase density within parts of our existing communities. This wouldn’t mean that everyone is crowded into tiny apartment units. It might just mean that you live a bit closer to your next door neighbor. This proximity to the people who live near you, will often build a greater sense of community.

    No offence to you, but I have studied the research. I have a diploma in planning, an honours degree in urban design and I wrote a thesis relating directly to housing density. I don’t believe this guarantees I know anything more than you or Brian. You’re both intelligent people who clearly think about these issues too, and thats why I’m interested in this blog.

    I’m expressing what my experience and education has lead me to believe; that denser neighborhoods are healthier neighborhoods. That preserving farmland will offer us local food production. Building communities around cars is an unhealthy model. Building neighborhoods where people know each other and are able to walk to local services, can reduce pollution, increase efficiency and help build relationships with the physical environment and our neighbors. Using good farmland for low-density homes, far away from services, seems like a backwards idea to me. I believe NFNF has good intentions and is well informed.

    • NFNF may well have “good intentions”. They have not responded to any of the arguments that I presented. I did get a phone call from someone called “Chris Parker”. Perhaps WW can forward the content of that phone call to you, and you can judge for yourself the “good intentions” of those of an NFNF persuasion.

      My education is in physical and mathematical sciences. So, I have no formal knowledge in planning and such. However, I have been around for a while and have lived in many countries and many cities — and have owned homes in 5 of them. So, my point of view comes from the school of hard knocks.

      My worst experiences have always been when I lived in high density circumstances. Even in Wolfville, I suspect there are some who suffer the effects of overcrowding. I know that there are some residents who simply don’t have enough space between themselves and noisy student houses. Personally, I like young people to live out loud… I also like them to have an appropriate amount of space to do so. The same applies for dogs…

      From an evolutionary perspective, Homo sapiens are cooperative hunter gatherers. Obviously, we like a little company but we also need a little space from time to time.

      • A clarification is required: The phone call that I received was from a person who falsely introduced himself as “Chris Parker”. I have no idea who that caller really is but hope to find out, one day.

    • I’d like to offer a perspective upon your statement:
      “Building communities around cars is an unhealthy model.”
      I think that people have a deeply embedded desire for mobility. This is why people like their car. It’s also why my dog likes his car. I have a hard job dragging him off the back seat after a ride.

      Think about how rapidly and effectively the Plains Indians adopted horses once they were introduced to North America by the Spaniards. The need for speed is paramount. The bicycle, in its time and place, was a revolution for people transportation, also.

      The one thing people like, even more than speed, is steering their own path. That is why kids can’t wait to get their license and it is why no one loves their bus/train the same way that they love their bicycle/car/horse.

      So, are cars unhealthy, or do they give people satisfaction?

      OK, I can hear you say, “What about the fossil fuel?” A valid point. All transportation requires energy. Even walking. The food that powers most of the feet on this planet was obtained by exploiting technologies that use fossil fuels. This may become a problem, I agree. The bulk transportation of food is often, however, a tiny proportion of the energy used to produce that food. The real issues here are very deep and the best I can do in this forum is but the most crude of sketches.

      It’s hard to know if anyone in NFNF is “well informed”… who are they? How do you become a member of NFNF? Do members pay a membership fee? What does one have to do to get thrown out of NFNF? Is Chris Parker a member of NFNF?

      • One thing is clear at least, Chris Parker is NOT a member of NFNF. I am becoming more and more puzzled by this strange NFNF outfit. Was the “No green. No Future” leaflet a hoax? Does NFNF even know who it’s members are, let alone what they are doing?

    • As a planner, what do you think of: A Scientist in the City (by James Trefil)? I read it quite a few years ago and thought it to be insightful at that time.

      And then there is the A.D. Hope perspective on Australian cities (elsewhere too, perhaps).

      And her five cities, like teeming sores
      Each drains her: a vast parasite robber state
      Where second-hand Europeans pullulate
      Timidly on the edge of alien shores.

      A point made by both these works is that the boundaries of a city actually extend very far in deed. This gives yet another perspective upon the concept of “density”.

  4. Can someone please define dense?

    • In the past it has been defined with phrases like “shared walls for heat efficiency”. Proponents of high density housing seem to regard the typical suburban block as being inefficient.

  5. Rob, you’ve discovered the crux of this argument. When speaking about density, it seems the natural response of many, is to imagine the worst case scenario. However when talking about dense living in the context of Wolfville, the reality would likely be something very different. I’m thinking more rowhouses, accessory apartments, decreased setbacks, and infill development on the vacant land that exists all over town. These changes could offer homes to thousands of new people and leave Greenwich farmland untouched! I don’t believe anyone is suggesting Wolfville become a solid mass of buildings with no greenery or private space. Density can look good and preserve the feeling our town already has.

    http://www.housinginitiative.org/pdfs/from_MDC_Website/db9.pdf
    This document does a great job of explaining how we can measure density and some of the misunderstandings surrounding the topic. It contains some buzz-words but I think the message is quite clear. She shows how an area that we may perceive to be low density is actually the opposite, and vise versa. She explains the difference between crowding and density and demonstrates how density can change a place. Everyone’s perception of density seems to be different, and this piece helped me get some things sorted in my mind so it might be helpful to read if you’re thinking about density.

    Brian, when I add up the operating costs of a car, the hours of lost physical activity and the increased chances of all sorts of health problems, plus the fact that I can get around town on my bike nearly as fast as in a car, I don’t see how the car is offering much benefit. Personally I feel way more satisfaction after cycling to the grocery store than farting around in my car trying to deal with parking lots and gas stations.

    • Re bicycles and cars: every machine has its use and its time and place. I prefer both.

    • When used without context, density is like sustainability — utterly meaningless. Some ways that people in other disciplines give density context:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Density_%28disambiguation%29

      The document to which you referred us actually gave many definitions for density… The word requires problem-specific definition. Remarkably, the author of that document defines “crowding” as being different from density but then gives a bunch of definitions for “crowding” — one of which actually overlaps with the definitions that she gives for “density”!

  6. Density as it relates to population is a relative term. What we know is that R2-4 zoning is “more dense” than R1. If we buy a house in R1 and zoning is later changed by the Town to R2-4 or higher, then our neighbourhood will, over time, become more dense with all the attendant problems. If it is done without our approval is this not forcing people into “increased density”?

    If the preservation of all farm land was inextricably tied to increased density in Wolfville (R1 to R2-4, or R2 -4 to R6) we might see a lot of SOS signs come down and yet this is the probable consequence (as Coastal points out). We suspect many NFNF supporters just don’t see the link. Unintended consequences. They know not what they do.

  7. William Zimmerman

    They did a cost of service study in HRM and found that, where densities were less than 5-8 dwelling units per acre, the tax revenue from the properties didn’t cover the cost of servicing them (roads, sewar, water plus other community amenities). That means that people living in higher density neighbourhoods subsidize those in low density neighbourhoods.
    In Nova Scotia, rural municipalities don’t have to cover the cost of maintaining (including plowing) most roads (those built before 1994 I think) and, at least for now, don’t have to worry about sewage treatment or water supply as development sprawls along the provincially maintained roads.

    • Are you against subsidising people who don’t “pay their ‘fair’ share”? Business taxpayers subsidise residential taxpayers. People who pay property taxes subsidise those who don’t pay property taxes but still benefit from services. Provincial and Federal (taxpayer funded) grants or taxfree status subsidise all kinds of activities such as non-profit organisations! In a wider view, people who pay income tax subsidise people who don’t pay income tax for all kinds of services. In another view “have” provinces subsidise “have not” provinces. Can you have it both ways? If this a good argument for the “need” to increase density then it is a good argument for eliminating subsidisation everywhere. Perhaps the whole tax system – including the municipal property tax system – has to be reformed to eliminate or reduce subsidisation of all kinds?

      Regarding rural municipalities costs versus town costs for maintaining roads and other services – This is an issue we admit but we also see a difference in priorities and spending restraint. If Wolfville had shown frugality and spending discipline over the last few terms of office our view would be much different and we could be more sympathetic to this argument. In the short and even medium term Councillors have to “play” with the cards they are dealt. Fiscally speaking has Wolfville played its hand well or not?

    • Any link to this study?

  8. William Zimmerman

    http://www.halifax.ca/regionalplanning/publications/documents/PatternBookVol2Apr05.pdf
    Just a bit ironic that those in high density areas are subsidizing those in low density areas.
    And how do you determine that commercial taxpayers are subsidizing residential tax payers?

    • I only got to page 2 of “Settlement Pattern and Form with Service Cost Analysis” and then I choked. What, $2000/household to provide water+sewer at a population density of 1 person/acre! Heck, my last place was 1 person/acre and I provided my own water+sewage treatment for less that $300/year — and most of that was compliance costs to feed a dopey and unproductive bureaucracy. What’s more, my treatment facility provided a much better product than what we have here in Wolfville and a hugely better product than the disaster that Peter Jelly-Legs constructed in Halifax.

      Of course, I’m comparing apples and oranges — so does the report.

      Tell me that story again, you know, the one about all those wonderful services that council provides… Bah and humbug!

    • The main issue is not who is subsidizing who. The issue is excessive and unnecessary costs. Clock Park is the latest case in point. One could plant a few trees and install a couple of picnic benches for far less than the cost of:
      (1) hiring an experts to draw fanciful designs.
      (2) hiring communication consultants and paying staff to manage the farce.

      We have a enormous infrastructure deficit and Council is doodling around and rearranging the flower pots! For crying out loud!

  9. Here’s another link which might aid this discussion:
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/004739.html

    There’s a significant body of research which has found that low density development leads to loss of habitat, increased obesity, higher taxes etc. This specific article explores the health care costs associated with low density sprawl. It’s interesting to think about the true costs of building new roads for subdivision which do not, but arguably should include the inevitable increase in health care costs.

    • The research that you mention must be flawed. In my lifetime: density (people per acre) has increased, obesity has increased, and taxes have increased. Individual freedom has diminished and bureaucracies have expanded. Finally, I’m beginning to suspect that people have become more dense as density has increased…

      In Wolfville, the high taxes are a direct result of:
      (1) Too much staff density (staff per ratepayer)
      (2) Too little gray-matter density (intelligence per bureaucrat)
      (3) A bureaucracy that is self-serving