VivaCity: Envisioning the Future Halifax

Last night’s FUSION Halifax event, VivaCity, was in my opinion one of the most uplifting events I have been to all year.

If you are not familiar, VivaCity hosts developers and key stakeholders in urban development to present their projects to the broader community. Walking from booth to booth, you can see what Halifax will look like 5, 10 or 20 years from now. One of the booths I was particularly interested in seeing was the Dexel Development Bank of Canada re-development on Hollis St, adding arguably some of the most geographically “downtown” residential units we have ever had in the city.

I am not an urban design expert, but I see common design themes in the way developers are approaching new projects here. For starters, most are mixed-use (commercial, retail and residential units in one project.) This style of build gets right to the heart of how you build a successful downtown: by fostering an ecosystem of mutually supportive elements:

  • Residents who can successfully live close to work and who have world-class shopping, dining and entertainment services close by;
  • Commercial buildings that are full due to the proximity to where people live and the amenities and services available;
  • Successful retail, restaurants and amenities that benefit from the density of workers and citizens around them.

There is also a lot of green and public space in projects like King’s Wharf, the Motherhouse Lands and the Nova Centre. The prevailing theory seems to be that bricks, mortar, steel and glass are functional elements but people are attracted to interactive environments where they can work, shop, play and live. In the Halifax Index, we noted that one of the most important things we need to do is to attract and retain more people. Mixed-use, interactive housing that matches the income profile of the workforce is a critical element to making Halifax an attractive place to live.

Development is also a major economic driver. An economic impact analysis performed by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council for the Urban Design Institute showed that between 2006 and 2010, private development construction supported over 6,400 jobs and $316 million in income per year in Halifax. Including indirect and induced impacts, private development represents over $650 million in GDP annually in the city.

VivaCity gave a glimpse of what the future Halifax will look like and the discussion regularly convened by FUSION Halifax and other urban development advocates are helping shape what Halifax will be like. It’s hard not to be inspired when you can fill a large train station full of people eager to see and discuss what their city will be like in the future.

DavidDavid is the Economist and Project Development Specialist at the Greater Halifax Partnership and the lead researcher for the Halifax Index. He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Prince Edward Island, and has experience working with private, public and non-profit organizations. 

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Guest Post: Calling Nova Scotia business leaders passionate about productivity and entrepreneurship

Paul Kent, President and CEOPresident and CEO’s note: I strongly urge Halifax and Nova Scotian businesses to get involved in this opportunity. At the Halifax “State of the Economy” Conference in May, productivity and entrepreneurship were flagged as key opportunities that we need to work in partnership towards achieving better results. This is a deliverable from those discussions and a great opportunity that firms in our region should be a part of.  – Paul Kent, President and CEO, Greater Halifax Partnership

Post by Mari-Beth Slade, Deloitte.

A few months have passed since The Greater Halifax Partnership’s State of the Economy Conference, when Deloitte presented our vision for a more productive community.  Since then, Deloitte has continued to meet with business leaders, map the assets of our community, and gather best practices.  We are thrilled to report that we have made progress towards a more productive city and region.

We know that Atlantic Canada has the tangible assets to make a clustering strategy successful – our business acumen, human capital, and industrial base are all world class.  Our approach to move forward should involve developing intangible assets – things like informal mentoring, a community mindset, and a culture that celebrates both failure and success.

On August 3, Deloitte was invited to a meeting which included representatives from Enterprise Fredericton, Knowledge Park, Propel ICT, Tech South East, as well as start-up entrepreneurs. It was clear that this group shares the vision to create something that supports entrepreneurship and innovation in our region – something which builds upon, not duplicates, the many resources that already exist.

Deloitte is now partnering with this group of Atlantic Canadian leaders to launch ‘ACceler8’, a support system for start-up IT companies focused around four key elements: funding, coaching, space, and research.  We’ve formed subcommittees to look at space requirements, governance, curriculum and programing, and stakeholder relations.  Although the ACceler8 concept will not automatically generate a cluster, it’s part of an infrastructure conducive to cluster building.

The Nova Scotian business community was notably absent from this discussion and we’re looking for Nova Scotian business leaders (in all sectors) to step up and carry the momentum that’s been building.  As ACceler8 gains traction, our vision is to launch two physical locations – one in Fredericton, one in Halifax – with a virtual network extending to other parts of the region.

If you share our goals and are ready to become truly engaged, please contact Shannon MacDonald, Atlantic Practice Managing Partner, Deloitte, and Board Vice Chair, Greater Halifax Partnership.

Mari-Beth Slade is a part of the Marketplace Services team at Deloitte in Halifax. She has a Master of Library and Information Studies and an MBA and sits on the board of the Dalhousie University Club. She also writes for the site Critics at Large.

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CityMatters 2012: Measuring Quality of Place

The Greater Halifax Partnership has joined forces with MQO Research and Metro News Halifax to look at how people in Halifax feel about their city. The initiative, CityMatters, is a comprehensive  survey of over 600 residents in Halifax to see how they feel about their city and issues such as the economy, downtown development and other key areas.

Metro News Halifax will be bringing you the results of CityMatters 2012 starting today and running until Friday. This gives citizens a chance to see how their neighbours feel about a range of topics.

The diverse look at issues in CityMatters aligns with the 2011-2016 Economic Strategy, AGREATERHalifax. Its vision is broader and focuses on more than just job creation; it includes the importance of creating pride in what Halifax does best and creating an enviable quality of life.

This year CityMatters looks at residents’ satisfaction with health care, municipal services and the economy, as well as the safety of downtown and overall satisfaction with living in Halifax.

CityMatters is the voice of the people, and as we highlighted in this spring’s Halifax Index, people are a major component of the Halifax economy. This is why collecting the data for CityMatters can help improve Halifax for current and future citizens. Knowing how residents feel about some of the hot topics in Halifax gives the Partnership and others insight into how we can best attract and retain people and business in order to strengthen the city and its economy.

Connect with the Partnership on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for updates on the results of CityMatters 2012 (previous results can be found here.) A community that focuses on the big picture and understands itself is better equipped to create positive growth.

Samantha is the Communications and Marketing Assistant at the Greater Halifax Partnership. She moved from Newfoundland to Halifax to attend university, and ended up rekindling her love of the east coast. She feels that being close to the ocean in a city with so much excitement is the ideal situation – Halifax’s talented music scene is an added bonus!

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Halifax: University and College City

September is back to school month and the Greater Halifax Partnership welcomes both new and returning students to another year of assignments, readings and exams. As someone who’s still in school part-time around my job, I share the mixed feelings most students feel when it comes to going back, but I believe the investment and time you put into it can pay off long-term.

Halifax is certainly a city that thrives because of our universities and colleges and it was a major component of the Halifax Index, our economic and community progress project. Our smart city reputation is important to us and those bright folks fuel our knowledge-based growth sectors. In Halifax, over 67% of the labour force population (those 25-64 years old) has some post-secondary education and 34% have university degrees, certificates or diplomas. Those are some of the highest rates in the country and nearly 7% above the Canadian average. Smart indeed.

Furthermore, we’re educating a lot of students annually. Enrolment in Halifax’s six universities and three community college campuses continues to be around 32,000 annually. That equates to nearly 8 out of every 100 persons in Halifax attending post-secondary education and explains why there are so many late night pizza shops in town.

One of the toughest decisions students make is choosing what to study. In Halifax, students study in a wide range of disciplines; no particular specialties stand out in terms of students’ undergraduate choices except health professions, which enrolled nearly 2,000 students last year. With an established life sciences sector here in Halifax, good career prospects and excellent programs in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and others, it’s no wonder we see that specialization.

There are tools out there to help you make good choices if a career is what you’re after. The Canadian Occupational Projection System looks five years out and, based on retirements and sector growth, projects the jobs that will be hot for the future. Keeping your eye on the job market will help you ensure you’re training for jobs that will be available. The Partnership keeps a regular eye on the labour market as well for trends and growing areas.

My advice to students is to seek out as many opportunities in Halifax that you can. Being a city with a small town feel, Halifax still operates based on “who you know”, so when you get a chance to know someone, take advantage. In addition to a great degree and good work experience, part of your future success will be leveraging the people you know (and the people they know.)

This is the idea behind the Partnership’s Connector Program, which links immigrants, international students and young talent with established professionals in their field, but there are other ways too. Get involved in your university or college in some way. Volunteer. Join Fusion Halifax, a young professional organization in Halifax. Reach out and contact a person in the community whose work you are interested in.

Start investing in relationships while you are in university; chances are one of them will be a link to a great opportunity in the future. All the best to Halifax’s many students this year.

DavidDavid is the Economist and Project Development Specialist at the Greater Halifax Partnership and the lead researcher for the Halifax Index. He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Prince Edward Island, and has experience working with private, public and non-profit organizations. 

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Guest post: Grow Your Own Social Capital

Editor’s Note: In the Halifax Index, focus on quality of place and the strength of the community was important to measuring broader economic progress. Social capital is at the heart of our quality of place section, and the United Way is a leader in Halifax towards fostering social capital.

 It’s no surprise that cities are focusing more and more on the idea of neighbourhood “connectedness” that we all need to survive and thrive.  That kind of connection is called social capital. Research says that where there are high incidences of social capital, the result is crime reduction, higher education and better health for residents. Community vibrancy is inextricably linked to outcomes well beyond economic viability.

It occurs to me that we all know what social capital looks and feels like when we experience it but haven’t put a label on the “sense of belonging”. You know that deep comfort that comes from knowing neighbours, looking out for each others’ kids, working in the community garden together, helping a senior who lives alone, celebrating together, and feeling proud to be part of the same community. Lots of neighbours are curious and committed to creating more of it.

But if you don’t have it, there could be some significant issues in your life. Research has told us that without social capital, your health suffers and you can live a shorter life! It’s true if you think about isolation and loneliness, not knowing anyone who lives near you, not having family and friends close by or not having anyone to count on in everyday life.

Our communities are changing. In many neighbourhoods, one in three seniors lives alone. We live in a much more isolated, and some would say fearful, way. Some of us have lived in the same neighbourhood for decades yet never walked into the local community centre or library. Some of us have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Facebook friends but still have no one to call for help when curled up in bed sick and you need someone to watch the kids, help the parents, or get groceries.

Let’s live WITH social capital. That would mean we wouldn’t need a crisis like Hurricane Juan to get us talking to neighbours, barbecuing together, cleaning up tree branches and helping each other.  For a week after the hurricane we had a purpose that transcended physical, social and emotional boundaries. We focused on safety, security and renewal.

United Way, like Halifax Regional Municipality, Greater Halifax Partnership and Capital Health, feels very strongly about promoting and supporting activities that encourage and build social capital. We are each influencing and measuring the importance of belonging to – and the quality of – community.  For United Way, Social Capital is one of our four strategic goals as we focus on building a stronger more vibrant community.  Let’s build trust and the social networks to connect us all.

Here’s my challenge to everyone: Let’s not wait for Hurricane Juan 2.0 to figure it out.

Chances are you’ll be healthier and happier for doing it.

The United Way Halifax Region improves social well-being by bringing people and organizations together to build vibrant neighborhoods and strengthen our community. 

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The Value of Investing in Downtowns

Big news came down today that the long-anticipated Nova Centre is going ahead. The $500 million project will feature a 289,000 square foot convention centre, financial centre, luxury hotel, residential, retail, parking and public space that will total out to over one million square feet and will transform several city blocks of the downtown core.

Public and private investment is critical to the long-term viability of a city core and is the focus of a recent study. The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI), in cooperation with several organizations including the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, recently released a research paper: The Value of Investing in Canadian Downtowns. The comprehensive report measures, benchmarks, and assesses the performance of 10 downtown cores in Canada: Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria.

By taking a wide-ranging view of the diverse elements that make up a successful downtown, the CUI measures each downtown’s vitality and extracts the key factors and common themes. The CUI case study of Halifax outlines the advantages, challenges, and concerns around the downtown core:

“HRM is the largest municipality studied, and the size of HRM creates inherent challenges for the downtown in getting the attention it requires to thrive and endure as the strong heart of this region. …The downtown must compete to attract growth at the same rate as newly emerging neighbourhoods outside the core.”

The study paints a picture of Halifax’s downtown as an opportunity, one which provides significant benefits to the city at large but that is experiencing issues attracting investment. The downtown acts as business centre, an attractive tourist destination, and has many economic opportunities ahead, but it also has trouble competing with other parts of the city, often due to the sheer size of the municipality and the complex regulatory issues which are not present in more rural areas of HRM.

There is a positive side to recent changes, as the report notes that “there have been…more [development] projects in the past two years than the past 30 years combined.” They comment that there is a strong connection between the improving regulatory environments and the increasing private investment in the core. The report concludes that Halifax is emerging from a situation which “encouraged the decentralization of growth and investment” but that recent initiatives have taken a direct approach at trying to solve these issues and refocus efforts on the core.

Halifax is seeing unprecedented levels of investment in its downtown from all sides; projects like the Central Library ($55 million), TD Centre ($26 million) and RBC Waterside ($25 million) represent the types of investments the report suggests downtowns need to thrive and a trend that aligns with AGREATERHalifax, Halifax’s 2011-16 Economic Strategy.

DavidDavid is the Economist and Project Development Specialist at the Greater Halifax Partnership and the lead researcher for the Halifax Index. He studied Economics and Philosophy at the University of Prince Edward Island, and has experience working with private, public and non-profit organizations. 

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Guest post: Pulling together for a more productive Halifax

The Greater Halifax Partnership’s State of the Economy Conference on May 23-24 was an excellent opportunity for business leaders to come together and discuss our city’s potential.  Deloitte was thrilled to present the results of The Future of Productivity report, which provides context for thinking about how we create systemic, sustained economic growth.

Canada, particularly Nova Scotia, faces a significant and growing productivity gap relative to the U.S.  The average Nova Scotian generates $7 per hour less than the average Canadian and $20 less than the average American.  Low productivity is the most significant threat to Nova Scotia’s standard of living.  We also exhibit a much greater reliance on government incentives than on market factors to induce productivity-boosting behaviours like research and development.

Deloitte proposes eight recommendations to improve Canada’s productivity and we believe that there is a role to play for business, academia and government.  One of the most applicable for Halifax involves creating a clustering strategy.  Effective industry clusters require a supporting ecosystem to reach their full potential.  Industry clusters should be led by business (to provide expertise), aligned with universities and colleges (to provide talent), backed by knowledgeable investors (to provide financing) and supported by government (to provide infrastructure).

Since local stakeholders must collaborate to develop strategies to support the emergence of clusters, we thought it was appropriate to ask conference participants to discuss three questions:

  1. Would a clustering strategy make Halifax a more productive city?
  2. Around which industries should a Halifax cluster be built?
  3. As a business leader, what is your role in building a cluster and increasing productivity?

The discussion (results here) was overwhelmingly hopeful. All participants felt that a clustering strategy would make Halifax a more productive city. There were a range of enthusiastic responses to the question of industry, reflecting the fact that Halifax has several industries that would lead to a natural cluster.  In particular, many people felt the shipbuilding contract could be a catalyst and that a cluster built around the ocean/marine or aerospace/defense industries would be most effective.

Right now, Deloitte is mapping the assets of our community and gathering best practices from successful clusters.  The good news is that Halifax already has the tangible assets to make a cluster strategy successful – our business acumen, human capital and industrial base are all world class. Government policies that favour innovation and entrepreneurship over regulation will provide support. It’s the intangible assets we are eager to develop – things like informal mentoring, a community mindset and a culture that celebrates both failure and success.

If we’re looking for a role as business leaders, this is a great place to start.

Mari-Beth Slade is a part of the Marketplace Services team at Deloitte in Halifax. She has a Master of Library and Information Studies and an MBA and sits on the board of the Dalhousie University Club. She also writes for the site Critics at Large.

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