Municipal authorities are not exactly known for being innovative in public transit provision. That’s what makes Innisfil, Ontario “revolutionary”, according to Ben Spurr’s article in the Toronto Star. But is its approach to serving low-density areas really that innovative?

Innisfil, population 36,000, recently partnered with Uber to deliver a service that combines the flexibility of ride-hailing with the public subsidies of municipal transit. The town subsidizes Uber for its residents, so they pay $2-$3 to travel to/from a list of common destinations like the Barrie South GO Station and the Innisfil Town Hall, or $5 to travel elsewhere in the town. They’re pooled with others using the UberPool service.

This is the first partnership of its kind in Canada, although Uber currently has 35 similar partnerships with public transit agencies around the world. It provides one solution to the pernicious problem of trying to provide viable transit service in low-density areas. Two bus routes would have cost the town $610,000 a year while the Uber partnership has cost the town $165,535 in its first eight months. The partnership provides a much more user-centered approach, like taxis and ride-hailing apps, than traditional transit where users have to adapt their travel patterns to fixed routes and infrastructure.

But is Innisfil’s Uber partnership really that innovative? There are lots of earlier models of public-private or public-cooperative partnerships: Montréal has been combining taxi services with public transit for many years, claiming they “deserve to be part of our transportation cocktail.” Société de transport de Montréal offers a shared taxibus option in low-density areas and integrates taxis for 88% of its paratransit trips. STM also gives transit card holders discounts with car sharing company Communauto and bike sharing organization Bixi. Dorina Pojani and Dominic Stead’s edited volume The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies (Springer, 2017) details many informal or private-sector transport services in places like Mexico (informal collectivos), Indonesia (Go-Jek), and Turkey (informal dolmus), some of which operated informally for many years before being adopted by the local transit authorities.

Critics warn that, like any public-private partnership, reliance on private companies to solve problems for public agencies can be problematic. Like other tech-centered approaches, there is the risk of municipalities becoming locked into a particular technology, product, or provider through contracts that specify them. Municipalities could be forced to pay ever-higher fees for a service, give up rights to any resulting data (e.g. on travel patterns), or continue with a partnership even if it ceases to yield benefits for them. And then there’s the more philosophical debate: does partnering with private sector companies allow transit authorities to pass the buck? Should they be essentially advertising the very same private sector transportation providers that many public authorities consider their competitors? Are private sector solutions “anathema”, as Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc (a TTC board member) would say? In Spurr’s article, Mihevc claims that “The ‘public’ in public transit is destroyed when public transit agencies start subsidizing private automobile use.” Indeed, a number of the authors in Pojani and Stead’s book seem to feel that any type of informal or private-sector transportation options are competing with public transit authorities for would-be public transit riders.

Integrating short-term pilot projects with contracts specifying the public benefits and evaluation methods before/after the pilot project ends could help. We’re in the era of the pilot project, with most municipalities unable to commit to long-term services without testing them first for economic viability and other factors like community acceptance. Studying existing partnerships STM’s long-term “transportation cocktail” will also provide useful insights for future partnerships aiming to serve areas or populations in a more user-centered way than they could before.

Planning education reaches far beyond the classroom. As practicing planners, we need to make sure that residents, business leaders, and city councillors understand planning concepts such as the need for increased density in urban corridors, growth management strategies and travel demand management. In this post, I’m going to introduce some videos that introduce people to planning concepts and issues.

Planning Discipline

Our amazing Dalhousie School of Planning alumni, Byung-Jun Kang and Uytae Lee, produced this video in partnership with the Licensed Professional Planners Association of Nova Scotia. It gives beginners a brief glimpse into the field of planning, and might be useful for conversations and presentations to the general public. We also use it on our School of Planning website to help potential students understand what kinds of work they will do when they graduate from our programs.

Housing

My colleagues on the HOUWEL project at the University of Amsterdam produced these videos on housing choice among young adults as part of their five-year study of housing markets and welfare state transformations (2012-2017). There are three in the series, and they use simple animation to illustrate  declining ownership and limited wealth transfer trends among young adults. These would be useful in conversations about the need for different housing types, affordable housing options, or changing demographic trends in international cities–although they may be less useful for countries without a solid history of social welfare and public housing. These are great examples of research dissemination for those of us developing grant applications that incorporate knowledge transfer strategies.

 

For students interested in Indigenous housing or engagement issues, this CBC News video profiles Ryerson University planning professor Shelagh McCartney and her students, who travelled to Nibinamik, a First Nations community. Their goal was to help the residents envision new housing to replace the substandard units that were built after a fire destroyed the original log homes built by the founding members. The piece focuses on the lack of cultural sensitivity in designing homes that reflect the needs of the people, but I would argue that there is a lot to be discussed in terms of the type of consultation used during this project, the role of governments, and the lack of a planning framework in which to situate the project. As a journalistic piece, it definitely takes an editorial stance on this complex issue.

Environmental Planning

My friend Sarah Church, a Postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, recently produced a video on water quality featuring interviews with farmers, local residents, and water quality experts in Indiana. Common Ground, Common Water is great primer on why we need to protect drinking water and aquifers, and shows examples of rain gardens and bioswales for those who are new to this area. I’m teaching an introduction to planning this fall and might use this resource during the week on environmental planning. It’s another example of research dissemination for faculty members.

Urban Renewal

I love using Remember Africville (1991), a 35-minute National Film Board piece that documents the destruction of a historic African Canadian neighbourhood in Halifax in the early 1960s. Featuring gut-wrenching testimonies from Africville residents from the 1980s and TV interviews with contemporary planners and city mayors, the film portrays the systemic racism that contributed to residents having little say in the demolition of their homes, church, and community and their forced relocation to newly built public housing. This year I paired this bleak film with Mulgrave Park (1961), a 12-minute promotional film made by the NFB and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that demonstrates the hilarious optimism of the federal-provincial public housing projects that supposedly replaced Africville and other low-income neighbourhoods.

Social Planning

It’s often more difficult to find videos related to social planning or equity approaches to comprehensive planning. The One Baltimore approach is a unique example of applying an equity lens to the planning process. Incorporating resident ambassadors who worked to gather feedback within their own communities, a team lead for each city district, and consultation with 25 community groups, Baltimore’s Sustainability Plan revision process is a model for inclusion and addressing systemic inequities among African American communities. Interviews with the resident ambassadors are particularly inspiring. The video would be useful in a class on community engagement, or a theory class on participatory or collaborative planning processes.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Mobile Food Market video explains their pilot project to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved, low-income areas in the Halifax Regional District. I used it in a class on environmental justice, where we discussed the lack of shops and services in neighbourhoods with low-income or visible minority populations. Understanding that changing existing zoning can take a long time, mobile services like this present a quick, though temporary, fix.

There are a lot of great videos out there profiling interesting, challenging, and controversial projects, programs, and strategies. I’ve found that using these videos brings the issues to life and provokes strong feelings in the students–this term my students have channelled that energy into brief in-class written responses. These videos are useful in undergraduate teaching where students are still learning about planning practice and thinking about where they want to work in the future. But they’re also appropriate for members of the public (our friends, community and family members) for whom planning is a mystery!

 

Today I’ll be live blogging from this year’s Housing Symposium, organized by the Housing and Homelessness Partnership. Sponsors for the event include Halifax Regional Municipality and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

We started with a panel discussion on the state of housing and what’s expected from the National Housing Strategy with Brian Giacomo (Tawaak Housing), Karen Brodeur (Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada), and Claudia Jahn (Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia). Giacomo noted that their two main challenges were the potential expiration of operating agreements between CMHC and non-profit housing associations, and that 25% of their units were in poor quality–the organization does not have the funds to repair and rent them. Tawaak Housing’s main long-term issue is sustainability as they will be forced to sell some of their units in the future–since 1993 they no longer have access to an annual fund from CMHC to improve units. Brodeur noted that we have 74 housing co-ops in the province, which offer permanent affordability and are mixed-income communities. However, they are small (on average 27 units in size in Halifax and 41 units nationally) and therefore have limited reach, are subject to more financial risk, and have fewer members for leadership roles. Jahn noted that Halifax is tenth on the list of percentage of people who need affordable housing. They’re expecting the new National Housing Strategy to include an indigenous stream (with inherent treaty rights to housing, maintaining the number of units, providing funds for rehabilitation/renovation), funding to protect the current co-op housing stock and help create new units, and long-term consultation on the strategy to ensure it’s working over time.

The second panel on new affordable housing developments/lessons learned included Rich Gant (Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia), Shaun MacLean (Pathways Cape Breton), and Colleen Cameron (Antigonish Affordable Housing Society). MacLean talked about the relationship between Pathways to Employment program, social enterprises (including wood shop, laundry, property maintenance, private cleaning services) that provide opportunities for employment for people with mental illnesses and other barriers, and their housing component SHIMI which provides high-quality, secure supportive housing for people with mental illnesses. There are 39 SHIMI units are scattered throughout the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Cameron spoke about the four units her volunteer organization built in Antigonish using land provided by the town, and the challenges they encountered in understanding the regulations, process funding, and programs that were available to create the units and obtain charitable status. Volunteers built the four units through fundraising, despite people telling them it wasn’t possible for a new organization or that there was no need for affordable housing in Antigonish (they had 50 applications for the four completed units, and intend to build another ten as soon as they can). Gant is overseeing construction of a 92-unit development in Spryfield through Habitat for Humanity. He noted that families often need to get over the stigma of getting a “handout”, and that once they know they will be putting in 500 hours towards building their home and then have a mortgage, they view it as more acceptable. Habitat NS had built just 46 units in the province before the Spryfield project.

In the afternoon, two of my students, Juniper Littlefield and Adriane Salah, and Grant Wanzel (Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia) discussed homelessness and poverty. Wanzel has been involved with AHANS since its establishment, and both Littlefield and Salah worked with the organization this summer. They researched Halifax to identify communities or housing resources that were at risk of falling into housing poverty or out of affordability. Littlefield examined four Census Tracts in Dartmouth North, an area that has long been of interest with a high percentage of residents living in poverty; Salah’s work was in Spryfield. Between the two of them, they covered about 250 sq. km (the CMA) while Wanzel examined the rest of HRM which includes quite a few towns and rural areas (about 25% of the population of the regional municipality). Their reports are available on the AHANS website. Littlefield’s work on Dartmouth North (Burnside/Pinecrest, Tuft’s Cover, Ocean Breeze Census Tracts) found that the vulnerable populations were female lone parents, single women and young heads of households, there are issues with mental health and addictions, and the neighbourhood has some of the lowest housing costs in the region influenced by residents’ very low incomes. The shelter-to-income ratio is between 25-43 percent. Salah’s study of private rental units in five neighbourhoods (Spryfield, Clayton Park, North Peninsula, Dartmouth South and Dartmouth East) found that the first two had an increasing number of households in core housing need, while the others had increasing housing costs (Dartmouth South, Clayton Park) but are accessible to more services nearby. In the HRM, Wanzel said the ratio of owner/renter is 60/40 in the CMA, but in the remainder area it’s just 8.2/91.8; 28% of renters and 5.5% of owners in the area were in core housing need, but there is quite a lot of diversity: in areas like Halifax County East, 56% of renters were in core housing need.

A second workshop on access and alternative models of service delivery features a panel with Ali Shaver (Mobile Food Market), Becky Marval (MOSH), and Dawn LeBlanc (Community Homes Action Group). Shaver discussed the Halifax Mobile Food Market, which addresses  food security in low-income neighbourhoods. The Market initially provided pop-up markets in six communities (e.g. East Preston) using a Halifax Transit bus. Partners include local producers, Atlantic Superstore, community associations, United Way and non-profit organizations. After two evaluations of their project, 90% of their customers say that the price and location make it easier for them to buy fruits and vegetables, 89% say it’s easier to buy those that meet their family and cultural needs, and 76% say they’re eating more fruits and vegetables. Marval introduced us to Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH), a primary health care team working with homeless or at-risk people in the city who either don’t have a physician or are unwilling to visit one due to drug use or other perceived stigma. They also have a Housing First program to find housing for their clients. The Community Homes Action Group work towards finding housing for people with intellectual disabilities (e.g. require support with daily activities).

We’re all looking forward to the announcement about CMHC’s new National Housing Strategy shortly!

Montréal is decidedly a different place after electing its first ever female mayor, Valérie Plante, on November 5th. Plante will take office during the city’s historic 375th year. Portraying herself as “l’homme de la situation”/the man for the job, Plante managed to unseat Denis Coderre (mayor since 2013 and elected six times as a federal MP) by focusing on everyday issues rather than ego-affirming projects like the $40 million Coderre spent to light up Jacques Cartier Bridge. Plante’s pedigree as a community organizer and activist is sure to change things up in the planning world, and someone described as “having no ego” is sure to excel in collaborating, forging partnerships, and facilitating action in areas like transportation planning and affordable housing.

Plante’s campaign promise for a new Metro line might take two terms to fulfil, but she’s already proposing that the Pink Line have stations named after women who have played roles in the city’s history. Whether the Pink Line will materialize will largely depend on available funding, considering the other mass transit priorities in the region. She’s also advocated for fare reductions for low-income residents and free transit for seniors and kids under 12. Improving safety for cyclists and increasing the number of dedicated bike lanes are also on the table.

Plante’s suggestion that businesses affected by construction be assisted with tax breaks from the city might resonate with Haligonians affected by the neverending Nova Centre construction and Argyle Street redesign. Inclusionary zoning, which would require builders to reserve 40% of their units for affordable and social housing, is also a priority for Plante as the traditionally affordable Montréal faces rising real estate prices.

Her win signals a desire for a change in leadership style. Projet Montréal, the municipal party Plante belongs to, also saw 11 borough mayors elected and have the majority with 65 seats on city council. With priorities on culture, sustainability, accessibility, democracy, and community, Projet Montréal was born out of community activism in 2004 and won 14 seats in the 2009 election and 28 seats in 2013.

It’s fall, which means that my fourth year undergraduate planning studio at Dalhousie University’s School of Planning is working on another complex project. As some of you know, last year my students worked on improving the social and open spaces in Mulgrave Park. This year, students are developing a proposal for affordable rental housing on Quinpool Road.

Students work on an in-class exercise

For students in the fourth year honours program in planning, it’s the first time they have worked in a studio setting. I’ve designed the course so that they can develop skills in drawing and design to help bring them up to similar levels (some of them have taken drawing classes and some have not). For example, in-class exercises teach them how to draw floor plans, axonometric drawings, and site analysis diagrams.

But because it’s a planning studio, and combines students from urban design and environmental planning, the course also incorporates financial aspects of development, demographics and policy aspects, and sustainability. Our partner on the project, Jeffry Haggett, is a planner at WSP. He helped determine the site for the project, a now-vacant lot on Quinpool Road where St. Patrick’s High School once stood, accompanied the students on a site visit, and has provided them with technical information such as GIS data. Neil Lovitt, a planner specializing in financial considerations at Turner Drake, taught them how to do a pro forma to determine whether their proposal is feasible. Both Jeffry and Neil are alumni of our planning program, the Bachelor of Community Design.

Councillor Lindell Smith (center) brought his own experiences of living in social and affordable housing to the class

Yesterday, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Councillor Lindell Smith came in to discuss his experiences living in social and affordable housing in North Halifax. Smith grew up in the Uniacke Square public housing and the Gottingen Street neighbourhood, where he still lives. Just 26 years old when he was elected last fall, he is the first African Nova Scotian elected to city council in 20 years. He encouraged the students to think about the needs of the demographic groups near their site, and everyday considerations of people living in mid-rise and high-rise developments (e.g. access to open space, services for the community). For the mid-term review next week, Bob Bjerke is our guest critic. In addition to working as the chief planner in both HRM and the City of Regina, Bjerke was Director of Housing for the City of Edmonton, which is doing innovative policy work on integrating affordable housing and community supports.

Students are working in groups on their proposals, which must include:

  • a site plan and landscape plan
  • floor plans for the proposed buildings
  • information on their target demographic groups and relevant policies (e.g. land use, funding programs)
  • financial feasibility (pro forma)
  • a sustainability framework (e.g. financial, social, and environmental characteristics)

Groups will continue to refine and redesign their proposals until the end of this term. They developed group contracts the beginning of the term and will have a chance to evaluate each other at the mid-term and end of term. This helps keep group members accountable to each other and identifies uneven participation. Their individual grades on the in-class exercises also help evaluate their skill development and performance. In this way, the course also blends structured (time-limited assignments) and unstructured learning (group dialogue, consensus building and decision-making).

 

Are neighbourhoods, cities, and regions taking a turn for the worse? Or are they relatively stable?

I’m a co-investigator on a project called Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership (NCRP), a Canada-wide project examining how urban neighbourhoods are changing in places like Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto. The Halifax team includes Howard Ramos and Martha Radice, professors in Sociology and Anthropology, and Jill Grant and myself from the School of Planning. Each of us have hired students as research assistants, collecting and analyzing data for the study as well as using the data for their own projects/theses. Jill’s student Uytae Lee conducted research on rooming houses for his undergraduate thesis, and another student, Janelle Derksen, delved further into the issue for her Masters independent study project. You can read their work on Jill’s website (everything from Bachelors theses to academic articles).

Written work is the typical type of product we use to disseminate academic research, but we’re constantly looking for new ways to do this.Lots of researchers use Twitter to release links to their research results, and it’s common to set up research websites like Generationed City, established by University of Waterloo professor Markus Moos. Colleagues at the University of Amsterdam Department of Geography, Planning, and International Development Studies created videos to summarize and disseminate their research on the HOUWEL project on international housing trends among young people.

As I’ve written about in previous posts, Uytae and his classmate Byung-Jun Kang founded the non-profit PLANifax. The duo, alumni of the Dalhousie School of Planning, hires students to work on production, produces videos for clients such as municipal governments and non-profit organizations, and uses their work to educate the broader public about planning issues. They’ve done everything from encouraging involvement in the city’s downtown planning process to exposing the details of rejected development applications. In the latest PLANifax video to summarize Uytae’s thesis findings on rooming houses. It had 7,000 views within 24 hours of posting and Uytae will be interviewed on News 94.7 this afternoon.

Halifax’s Kindof Illegal Student Houses

Student apartments in Halifax are very affordable, despite often being messy, sketchy, and crowded. But in some cases, they may be illegal, kindof.

Not only do videos like this give researchers a potentially unlimited avenue for research dissemination (when’s the last time your academic paper had more than 100 views on the journal website?), but PLANifax is a fantastic example of young entrepreneurship: Byung-Jun won Dalhousie University’s Student Entrepreneur of the Year award earlier this year. I plan to partner with them on research grants so that I can have an interesting product to show to community groups, clients, and students, not to mention at research conferences. Much more interesting than the usual PowerPoint.

I’ll be posting more about the NCRP in future posts, specifically on my own sub-project: development and retention of non-profit housing in Halifax.

 

It’s a bad week for chief planners. Following last Tuesday’s news that Halifax chief planner Bob Bjerke lost his job, Toronto’s chief planner announced yesterday that she’ll be stepping down. Jennifer Keesmaat has been chief planner and executive director of the city’s planning division since 2012 and will be vacating her position at the end of September.

In an interview with CBC, Keesmaat admitted that she always planned to review her career options after five years in the public service. Before working for the City in its highest-ranking planning job, she was a planning consultant. She is also very involved in the Canadian Institute of Planners, in recent years spearheading an effort to maintain the national organization rather than have just provincial/territorial licensing bodies. She is known for speaking her mind, even when that puts her at odds with Mayor John Tory. In particular, she championed a seven-stop LRT line to replace the aging Scarborough RT and advocated for the removal of the Gardiner East expressway. Many cite her as responsible for maintaining the agenda of sustainable planning in Toronto through the Ford and Tory regimes. Critics have said she’s too outspoken, too interested in stating her own opinion rather than giving more neutral advice, and takes to Twitter to engage in debates (we’ve seen a lot of this recently, but Keesmaat has been doing it since 2012).

Keesmaat certainly possesses many of the characteristics necessary for such a high-ranking position in Canada’s largest city: she’s media-savvy, determined, smart, engages the public in more transparent decision-making, and tackles issues that appeal to younger generations, such as sustainable transportation. She is the city’s first female chief planner and was just 42 years old when she got the job (it was a young administration–Mayor Rob Ford was only 43 at the time). Christopher Hume portrayed her as a novice in the Toronto Star, writing that she “quickly found out that the chief planner’s role is to advise not decide”, but I’d argue that she already knew exactly how planning worked at a municipality the day she was hired. The fact that she obtained the position of chief planner despite her inexperience as a civil servant, and kept it despite disagreements with those in power, demonstrates her political savviness. As we know from Halifax and Vancouver, it’s not unusual for chief planners to be ousted when their vision for the city conflicts with those of other powerful figures.

Many have expressed their support for Keesmaat should she run for public office, but she seems to excel at planning. Let’s hope she brings more of her expertise to Toronto’s critical infrastructure projects.

Bob Bjerke will no longer be in the position of chief planner at the Halifax Regional Municipality, according to the Coast. Bjerke had worked as the Director of Planning and Development since 2014, winning a nation-wide search for the newly-created position. Before that, he was the Director of Planning and Sustainability for the City of Regina. At this point there’s some mystery about his departure, with the usual speculation that the planning department has ruffled the feathers of the region’s developers. I only met Bob once, at this summer’s Canadian Institute of Planners conference. He certainly seemed to be a driving force behind Halifax’s new Centre Plan and other major undertakings such as the Integrated Mobility Plan.

Update: Some say that it’s not Bjerke who should have been fired, but the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Jacques Dubé. Urban thinker Tristan Cleveland wrote in the Metro that Bjeke hadn’t “made any major screw up” and was “widely respected as competent and forward-thinking by the planning community in Halifax, including those who work for him.” Planner Jenny Lugar wrote in the Coast that Bjerke “was asked to build a fair and predictable standard for planning in the HRM” and says that he largely accomplished this with his work on the Halifax Centre Plan. Bjerke himself said last week that he believed he had achieved “good results” as chief planner.

I moved to Halifax a year ago, and one thing I noticed was that planners in the city did not work together or collaborate much. There is a silo effect which allows people to work quite separately from each other, even if they’re working on similar projects, like integrated mobility planning and transit scheduling. As a mid-sized city, I also felt that it was a tough nut to crack–it’s too big for everyone to know everyone else, but too small to have a lot of informal social events like Meetups. This lack of social cohesion is palpable even among our students: at Dalhousie there is little connection or collaboration on events between the undergrad and grad students.

Our School has actually done research on this: Dr. Jill Grant, Dr. Patricia Manuel, Dr. Eric Rapaport, and Dr. Ahsan Habib recently finished a project on plan coordination in municipalities with Dr. Pierre Filion at the Waterloo School of Planning. The research is featured here. Masters student Meaghan Dalton’s working paper, “Building a culture of collaboration: Internal collaboration as a tool for coordinating plans” (2016) analyzes interviews from 92 planners across Canada from the Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Halifax, and St. John’s city-regions. The interviews were conducted in 2014 by the research team. In her content analysis of the interviews, Dalton found that a culture of collaboration in planning was most present in Vancouver, which has a long history of consensus-building, while Edmonton had a more recent positive trend towards formal and informal practices and structures. Planners in Toronto, Halifax, and St. John’s were much less likely to work in collaborative environments. And we know from both theory and practice that this impacts plan coordination. The main barriers to collaboration between departments or organizations in Halifax were:

  • a lack of interdepartmental communication and data sharing
  • a tendency for departments to focus on their own mandates, with no common vision for the city
  • departments having differences of opinion that made it difficult to reach a consensus
  • lack of physical proximity between departments
  • no history of trust or sharing information
  • a toxic work environment at HRM (e.g. a trend of discouraging collaboration, lack of respectful relationships)

“Halifax represents a stark contrast with the culture of respectful relationships and enforcement of collaboration and consensus seen in Vancouver and Edmonton.”    –Meaghan Dalton, researcher

While informal connections won’t solve all of Halifax problems, it’s a good start. After discussing the lack of social cohesion with some of our planning students, I decided to start a monthly social event in Halifax. It’s open to anyone working in planning, however that is defined: those working in public, private, or non-profit sectors, on municipal planning and program delivery, in research and in practice. It’s also open to anyone interested in planning issues, like community members or groups. The idea is that we encourage people to get to know one another informally, there will be a positive effect on the work that they do: they will find out that someone from a non-profit is working on a similar initiative, or someone from a private sector firm wants to pick their brain on a bylaw requirement. This community of practice involves some social engineering on my part: when I meet someone I don’t know, I listen to what they say about their role and organization for just a few minutes, and then my mind starts spinning with other people they’d like to meet. I make introductions and let the conversations continue. With students, I try to introduce them to as many others as possible, and also encourage them to introduce themselves to people they don’t know.

We’ve had two Planning Socials so far, and both were successful–about 25 people or so attended each, with a mix of students, recent graduates now employed in the region, and a few long-time planners. We have met downtown after work because it’s easy for students to walk to (many of them don’t have cars) and within a few minutes’ ferry and walk from the main office of the Halifax Regional Municipality in Dartmouth, so planners there can stop in on their way home.

People have told me that they are so happy someone is doing this, that informal socializing in the profession is badly needed. And each time I ask them, “Why didn’t you do it? It’s as easy as sending an email.” There is no magic formula to building a community of practice–anyone can do it. My plan is to eventually choose a fixed date/time/location so that people know about the event and can drop in whenever they have time. Until then we will sample the many downtown pubs. We’ll also eventually publicize the event on the Department of Architecture and Planning Facebook and Twitter accounts–until now we’ve been relying on the School of Planning listserv and a few dedicated folks at HRM to spread the word (thanks Sarah Bercu and Kasia Tota!) If you’re a planner in Halifax, come and join us!

On March 22, the federal budget was announced, including $2.2 billion over the next 11 years to cities for transit projects, part of $11.9 million that would be allocated to infrastructure. The Liberal government commited to 50% of the funding for municipal projects. This week, municipalities across the country announced how they would use the much-needed funding for public transit infrastructure.

In British Columbia, the federal announcement was matched by the Province’s commitment to contribute another $2.2 billion, allowing regional authority TransLink to move ahead with Phase 2 of a ten-year plan in Vancouver. Projects will include the Broadway subway, which TransLink has wanted to build for over 20 years, Surrey light rail transit, replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, expanding bus and HandyDART services, more railcars and upgrades to the roads, cycling and walking networks.

The big news in Hamilton and Niagara Falls was that they will get all-day GO Transit service, with a contribution of $1.7 billion. Both municipalities also received funding for their bus services. Niagara Falls Transit will use their $3.4 million in federal funding (which will be matched by the city) to develop a real-time “next bus” app, buy new buses, update a transit hub, update its fleet management software, buy and install new fare boxes and allow online booking and management for its specialized curb-to-curb transit system. Hamilton will use its $32 million in federal funding for 13 projects including a bus storage and maintenance facility, new buses, rehabilitation of transit shelters and bus stops, automatic passenger counters, transit priority measures, and improvements at the Mountain Transit Centre.

In Guelph, $9.6 million federal funding will allow the municipality to buy new buses, replace fare boxes, upgrade bus stops, and upgrade the traffic control system. London’s proposed bus rapid transit system will get a boost, in addition to the transformation of Dundas Street in the core into a pedestrian-first “flex street”, replacement of all of London Transit’s bus shelters, and construction of protected bicycle lanes downtown.

Winnipeg announced 33 projects that will be jointly funded by the three levels of government including replacement buses, new bus shelters and handi-vans. The federal government’s 50% of the projects amounts to about $3.1 million, while the province will pay $1.5 million and municipalities will cover about $2 million.

Of the total $11.9 billion allocated for infrastructure, the federal budget sets out $2.2 billion for water and waste management in First Nations communities, $2 billion for the Clean Water and Wastewater fund, $1.5 billion for affordable housing, and $1.2 billion in social infrastructure for First Nations, Inuit, and northern communities. All this spending will come at a cost: the federal budget will not be balanced during the fourth year of the Liberal mandate as promised.