In Saint Margaret’s Bay, there is a small green bridge with a cove full of sailboats on one side and the open ocean on the other. It is just far enough away from the city that the night sky is still the night sky, and when I was 21, it made a heck of a spot for a first kiss.
I’d like to make the case for the economic value of that first kiss. Bear with me.
Halifax feels like home because it still has so many places that can make such a memory stand out dramatically. If we had been in a relatively well-manicured grassy park I may not have remembered that kiss at all.
The job of cities is not just to get us to work and school on time, but to create a stage for our best memories. It should be full of those places that feel sufficiently unique that after being there twice, you find yourself saying, “That’s the place where we…”
The success of Halifax—and all the communities within it—depends on our ability to make it a place that people identify with so strongly that they will stay even when there is a tempting job offer elsewhere. We need companies to invest here because they know talent will want to come here. Quality of life has a monetary value, and if you have looked recently at the coast of Halifax, you know it is something we can compete on.
So I would like to propose the “First Kiss Test”: how many places residents can easily get to where they can form remarkable, strong memories. It doesn’t need to be a first kiss of course. It can be that time when you got out of the city with new friends, or when the whole family was home, or when you took a day for quality alone time. There is nothing like a stunning natural views to make a memory stand out in the mind, and each tightens the link between Halifax and a sense of home.
So we are hiking the greenbelt to expose how important these places are to life here. Actually, we are hiking, biking, sailing, swimming, running, and kayaking 216 km around Halifax for a month to make this as obvious as possible: we have bloody amazing natural assets for people to feel proud of—spots that pass the first-kiss test with flying colours.
We will bike through the Salt Marsh Trail: a thin path that seems to float on ocean. We will paddle the canoe loop in the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Park, a complete wilderness just over the hill from Clayton Park. We will hike the rocky barrens of the Purcell’s Cove Backlands, with its view of the horizon and downtown’s orange cranes.
These are all places where you can step out of the pattern of daily life and have the kind of fun you will remember a whole summer by.
Yet too many are under threat. Both Blue Mountain Birch Cove Park and the Backlands may soon be subdivisions if Halifax doesn’t get its act together. Other places, like the Bluff Trails, could lose the diversity of life that makes them so special if we don’t put rock-solid rules in place to keep these ecosystems connected.
We need to protect these landscapes with a greenbelt—a complete, consistent set of protections for the natural areas around all our communities—so we can retain the assets that most sets us apart from other cities.
And we need to strategically invest to maximize the benefit of nature to our quality of life. We need to fix the missing links that will connect our mainstreets to wilderness in all directions. We need to invest in maps and consistent signage so that going to that awesome spot becomes the obvious, easy thing to do. We need to recognize what we have, and start using it as our central selling point to the rest of the world.
Right now, we have a better chance to get all this done than we ever have. Halifax is developing the “Green Network Plan”: our opportunity to set these priorities and move forward on the protections we need, but only if we can build sufficient public support to ensure that plan has teeth.
So let’s get out hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, running and sailing this summer. Let’s celebrate our best places, and ensure the next generation will have a place for that first kiss to remember Halifax by.