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

by John Ingram

4.3 Informational, Attitudinal and Bureaucratic Opportunities and Barriers

This section reviews a number of decidedly subjective political and societal qualities and perceptions that would either hinder or expedite the adoption of a natural landscaping strategy in HRM. The information presented is based on a series of informal and relatively unstructured interviews conducted with HRM staff, in particular with representatives from Parks and Natural Services, Community Planning, Policy and Priority and the Environment Office, as well a Municipal councillor.43 Although similar questions were asked of each of the interviewees, there was no set question list. Interviews were conducted in person, by telephone and through e-mail. Despite the lack of a formal methodology, the results may nevertheless be considered credible, accurate and substantive.

The following assessment of opportunities and constraints deals with three critical areas in HRMms socio-political arena: first, a review of staff environmental and political attitudes, perceptions, biases and motivations; second, an examination of informational issues concerning the status of the municipalitys practical knowledge of and awareness of natural landscaping; and third, an overview of the municipalitys relevant bureaucratic, or organizational and departmental structures and processes which includes commentary on relevant policy under development and the methods by which it is created. Like the previous section, the discussion first reviews the general opportunities presented in each area and then follows with a separate examination of the barriers. Often, given the subjective nature of this summary, certain issues will appear in both the barriers and opportunities sections.

4.3.1 Opportunities

For clarity of presentation, the following sub-section divides itself between the principal subject areas of attitudinal, informational and bureaucratic opportunities. The sections follow on the next page.

Attitudinal Opportunities

If natural landscaping is to be adopted as a matter of public policy in HRM, the planners and politicians responsible for such an occurrence must first be committed to its principles and to its larger objectives. Although this is certainly not the case today, recent policies such as the Parkland Strategy reflect a gradual shift in environmental thinking and attitude in HRM. Although the municipality is not a leader in urban environmental policy and programming, there is general trend in both municipal and political environmental awareness and practice. From the municipality's evolving solid waste strategy to its commitment to the 20% Club, progressive environmental change is underway.

Interviews conducted for this thesis determined a firm base level of awareness and concern for general environmental issues of a global and regional nature, such as global warming, regional watershed management, and the Halifax Harbour clean up, but only superficial knowledge of natural landscaping in particular or urban landscape restoration issues in general. Currently, of those interviewed for the thesis, members of the Department of Parks and Natural Services and the municipal planner principally responsible for the Halifax Parkland Strategy are the best versed in the subject and the most aware of the practices growing applications in other municipalities. Although there is certainly an attitude that natural landscaping is a subject of worthy concern for the municipality, in general, there has so far been limited discussion of and research on the topic. Environmental responsibility, however, is a natural and inevitable desire of both the general public and staff in the Halifax Regional Municipality that is hindered by the cultural inertia, politics, and fear of cost.

Informational Opportunities

From an informational perspective there is a certain benefit to HRM lagging behind other municipalities in its environmental programming. The regional municipality stands to benefit from the wealth of program and policy information available from cities which have had experience in areas HRM is only just beginning to explore. If the municipality were to move towards the adoption of a natural landscaping policy, it could draw on the practical experience and knowledge of other cities, some of which now have almost 20 years experience in the field. Although there would still certainly be elements of trial in any program HRM might undertake, the existing body and work and practical experience would certainly help make the program successful. Additionally, there are now many specialized consultants whose expertise lies in ecologically-based urban landscape management, planning and landscape conversion and restoration.

Although this thesis did not address urban landscape initiatives in Europe, there are many northern European municipalities with extensive experience in the field. As a subject, natural landscaping and the land use, community and environmental planning the process demands is far more advanced in these jurisdictions than in North America. From an informational perspective, therefore, this body of expertise and experience could be easily tapped by HRM in any program scoping it might wish to undertake.

Bureaucratic Opportunities

On a bureaucratic or organizational level, there are many opportunities for the advancement of natural landscaping. Foremost among these is the ongoing municipal amalgamation process itself. Although most people involved in the process are overwhelmed by its complexity and cumbersome bureaucratic nature, it is nevertheless opening many planning and strategy documents to amendment and revision and thereby creating many opportunities for the addition of new and environmental policies and programs. From the future development of a regional Municipal Planning Strategy to the creation of constituent local planning documents, there are many opportunities to introduce natural landscaping to the public policy realm throughout the amalgamation-driven policy revision and harmonization process.

As a regional planning exercise based on landscape management, rationalization and preservation, the ongoing development of HRMs Open Space Plan also provides an excellent and natural opportunity to bring natural landscaping into HRMs policy arena. Although interviews confirmed that the plans Environmentally Sensitive Areas component will at least initially focus on presently undisturbed or threatened landscapes, restoration or rehabilitation has been identified as a long-term consideration for "lands identified as needing it, but mechanisms have not been addressed at all yet" (personal contact, HRM Environment Office, 1998).

Additionally, the creation of the plan is not presently subject to any pressing deadline, as the document intends to be "fluid and dynamic, capable of on-going improvement" (HRM Planning & Development Services, 1998). If urban landscape issues are left out of the plan's initial development the door will not close on its future adoption.

One final avenue of opportunity rests with HRMs Committee on Committees. Members of the group are mandated to harmonize the various committees that existed prior to amalgamation and to develop a new operating structure for them. When completed the new committees will drive HRM's overall policy development. The opportunity here for natural landscaping is to either ensure its recognition as a committee issue or to work through the Committee on Committees process to develop a specific urban landscape or open space committee.

4.3.2 Barriers

As with the previous sub-section, the following one is divided between the principal subject areas of attitudinal, informational and bureaucratic barriers for clarity of presentation.

Attitudinal Barriers

As outlined in section 4.2.1, HRM is currently in possession of a considerable palette of legislative tools and policies with which it could move to fundamentally reshape and restore its urban landscape. Yet these policy and regulatory opportunities are effective only in an urban planning and political community that is both aware of the need to use them, and motivated by external public demands to rethink their landscape management practices. HRM is like most other municipalities in that its staff, council and the majority of its constituents do not question the prevailing landscape standard, nor imagine that conventionally manicured landscapes are responsible for serious environmental and ecological problems. Quite simply, the environmental problems for which conventional landscaping is responsible and the application of an ecologically beneficial, alternative landscaping standard are not issues of highest priority for most policy makers at HRM . Although there is a certain base awareness of natural landscaping amongst some department executives and staff, knowledge of it tends to be superficial and interest in it limited primarily to its associated budgetary cost savings.

The present lack of awareness surrounding natural landscaping in HRM could be partly attributed to the fact that the environment is not as high a priority issue as it is in other municipalities profiled in this thesis. When compared to jurisdictions across Canada, HRM falls into the lower half of municipalities in terms of expenditures on the environment, environmental programming, and staffing dedicated to the field (Intergovernmental Committee on Urban and Regional Research [Canada], 1993). This fact could partially be attributed to the fact that overall quality of environment is higher than it is in other cities like Hamilton, Sudbury or St. John.44 Additionally, unlike many some of the larger municipalities like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, Halifax faces more limited public environmental pressures with its proportionately smaller activist population and fewer politically minded environmental groups. So far, the discussion of natural landscaping at a municipal level has been limited to those few individuals aware of the practice in the first place. The opportunities presented by natural landscaping have also not yet been linked to more widely accepted environmental objectives. Currently, HRM's awareness of or attitudes towards the various legislative and policy agendas that implicitly support natural landscaping, have also yet to be recognized. Very few staff are aware of the larger, international agendas and their application to municipalities. The staff member most familiar with international environmental programs admitted HRM's lack of formal linkages with them, but nevertheless considered the Municipality's efforts to be complimentary to the larger, global environmental agenda.

Informational Barriers

On an informational level, HRM staff have not yet conducted research on natural landscaping as recommended by the Halifax Parkland Strategy. At present, there are no firm plans for this to occur. Although some staff are aware of other cities naturalization programs, HRM has neither formally evaluated them, nor sought background information from the other municipalities.

Additionally, although work is underway on the subject through the Open Space Plan, the municipality currently lacks the landscape inventory which would be necessary for the implementation of a natural landscaping strategy. Although it is limited to HRM's core area, the Parkland Strategy represents the most complete open space inventory yet conducted. It does, however, fail to account for several likely candidates for naturalization including boulevard, cul-de-sac and roadside areas. Additionally, the recommendations it makes for improvements to existing parkland is predicated on conventional service standards.

Conventional standards on both private property and municipally owned boulevard areas are also routinely maintained by the general public. Amongst the private landscape maintenance sector and with the public in general, awareness and practice of natural landscaping is limited. Unlike those municipalities where natural landscaping is more widely accepted and practised, there are no private organizations (garden clubs, plant nurseries, and environmental groups) in HRM which either publicly promote the practice or disseminate information on the subject.

Bureaucratic Barriers

From a bureaucratic perspective, HRM's ongoing amalgamation struggles may also be considered an organizational barrier to natural landscaping. The municipality is still in a transition period which is limiting its policy and research efforts, as its committee program is stalled and its energies are drained by internal restructuring efforts. It will only be after the Committee on Committees harmonizes the municipalitys committee structure that HRM will be better able to concentrate on meeting prior policy objectives and drafting further targets.

Table 4.0 Barriers and Opportunities to Natural Landscaping in HRM

ing-T40O.gif (21779 bytes)

leftarro.gif (913 bytes) ritearro.gif (931 bytes)
Back Next

Text and graphics copyright (c)1998, 1999 Wild Ones -- Natural Landscapers, Ltd.
All rights reserved. Updated May 16, 1999.

Return to the When Cities Grow Wild Contents Page

Return to the Wild Ones Home Page