When Cities Grow Wild - Natural Landscaping from an Urban Planning Perspective

by John Ingram

4.1 Halifax's Urban Landscape: An Overview

Presently, the Halifax Regional Municipality is like most other Canadian and American cities in that its parks and open spaces do not link aesthetic and cultural function with the landscapes ecological functions and processes. The municipality has neither adopted specific policies regarding natural landscaping and landscape restoration, nor has it tested or piloted the emerging management approach on any of its municipally maintained lands. HRM also does not yet have an ordinance or by-law which specifically recognizes and/or permits natural landscaping on private property.

Unlike those cities that now boast such by-laws, such as the City of Toronto for example, the newly amalgamated municipality has not yet had to handle a problematic natural landscaping case on private property. Research for this thesis, in fact, could locate only two property owners in HRM who consciously and actively maintain naturally landscaped properties. Both native gardens, however, are located in semi-rural, heavily wooded neighbourhood enclaves where their landscaping approach does not outwardly conflict with the surrounding matrix.

Although HRM's sprawling jurisdiction contains extensive natural areas, its urban and suburban zones look like those in just about every other North American city in their reflection of the same turf dominated aesthetic preferences outlined in section 2.0, Natural Landscaping: an Introduction.36 Although the city's location on the north Atlantic coast ensures a relatively short growing season, both private and public landscapes receive intensive management during the summer months and imported exotic species prevail over indigenous plants. The municipality does maintain a single naturalized park in the Dartmouth area. Founded in 1989, the Dartmouth Urban Wilderness Park is a remnant natural area that was not consciously naturalized. The small park is neither representative of the city's dominant landscape approach, nor its immediate future direction in park management.

Landscape design and maintenance in HRM is the responsibility of the Parks and Natural Services Department. Unlike similar departments in the cities of Guelph, Toronto, Vancouver and some of the other municipalities examined in the previous section, the department neither operates in an autonomous manner, nor generates its own operating policies and programs. Its mandate and its overall policies are council driven. According to HRM's first public report on the budget, approximately $6 million was spent on parks and playgrounds capital purchases in 1996/1997 (HRM, 1997). This figure is not broken down into maintenance costs and the department was unable to provide the specific figures to me.

HRM's landscape management practices are relatively traditional and do not stand apart from those of most other municipalities. Parks and open spaces receive intensive horticultural care, with the city maintaining a variety of active recreational fields, parks, playgrounds, formal gardens and other open spaces such as traffic circles, road verges and boulevards. With few exceptions, the landscapes are turf grass based.37 Despite the short growing season, the Parks and Natural Services Department estimates that moderate and active use areas receive between 20 and 22 cuts a year, while fringe areas such as boulevards and road verges receive between 14 and 16 cuts. The number of cuts varies according to the seasons weather. Service maintenance standards stipulate that, on average, grass be kept cut at approximately 1.5 inches.

Following society's general upward trend in environmental thinking, the department has recently moved to more ecologically benign landscape maintenance practices. In particular, it initiated a biological street tree spray program in 1992 and no longer uses synthetic herbicides for turf care. The department does, however use fossil fuel derived nitrogen fertilizers on its turf areas.38 Certainly, there has been some positive movement in HRM's treatment of its urban landscapes, but overall its approach remains fairly standard and its awareness of the environmental problems associated with traditional landscape design and maintenance is limited.

ing400.jpg (49152 bytes)Figure 4.0 Halifax's Urban Landscape
Halifax's public and private landscapes utilize conventional landscaping conventions. Pictured is a wide treed boulevard area in the city's North End. (source: DalTech, 1997)

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All rights reserved. Updated May 16, 1999.

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