7 Reasons to Keep the Backlands Beautiful

What would it cost to build a swimming pool 360 times bigger than an Olympic pool?

That insane idea would cost a crazy price: $870 million. No one would do it, but kindly, nature has built us Williams Lake at that size for free.

Shaw Group has proposed to sell Halifax the lands surrounding Williams Lake—the Purcell’s Cove Backlands—at below-market value to permanently protect it, which would keep its water clean.

Some feel uneasy about the potential cost of this investment. I suggested the crazy idea of building a pool the size of Williams Lake to bring into focus how much we fail to recognize the value of such natural assets. Few question the $45 million we spent on the Canada Games Centre. For likely a fraction of that price, we can have an enormous landscape where we can swim, canoe, kayak, hike, skate, cross-country ski and mountain bike—and all within a stone’s throw of the city.

Unlike a swimming pool or any kind of building, a protected area of nature does not need to be rebuilt every few decades. Rather than depreciating, a beautiful green space only grows in value over time. That value has real economic consequences: it constitutes a benefit that local employers can offer potential employees…for free. In an age when talent is the primary natural resource of many industries, quality of life is a matter of economic survival.

Whatever it costs to protect Williams Lake—and I will push for a deal that is fair and responsible to Halifax taxpayers—I’m confident it will be good value for everything it will do for Halifax.

There are a lot of reasons to protect the Backlands.

1. Quality of Life

Beautiful landscape and clean air, all year round, within a quick walk of Spryfield and a bike ride from downtown.

2. Fire.

In 2009, the Purcell’s Cove Backlands was an inferno – forcing 1,200 people to evacuate and 18 homes were destroyed or damaged.

Jenn Calder

Ostensibly, the fire was caused by someone who left behind a poorly-extinguished campfire. In the years that followed, however, biologists David Patriquin and Nick Hill identified that fire is as much a part of that landscape as the trees are. The Jack Pine Trees in the area, in fact, depend on fire to open their seed pouches, and the biologists found evidence of fires in the area stretching back centuries. Whether by campfires or lighting, that place is going to burn occasionally.

Like a floodplain, an area prone to fires probably just isn’t a good place to put homes. Far better to have 18 homes damaged than 180. It’s just not where we should grow.

3. The Rotary.

Already, the rotary is a mess of traffic. If we can find transit solutions for the rotary, we could encourage growth in the heart of Spryfield, but building homes where most residents would depend on cars is irresponsible. There is just no room to get them past the bottleneck.

4. Rocky, rocky rocks.

The Purcell’s Cove Backlands is famous for its rocky granite barrens: dramatic “whale back” rock outcroppings. Not only is this landscape visually striking, it is also highly expensive to build on. All that rock would have to be blasted to put in basements and to build roads. If water and sewer service were ever extended here, all those pipes would have to be blasted through the rocks. In cities around the world, planners set aside such difficult, expensive landscapes for parks and build where thick soil makes it cheaper. It’s just the smart thing to do.

5. Nationally Unique, Globally Rare Ecosystem

David Patriquin and Nick Hill discovered something else about this landscape: it is home to a rare ecosystem called the Jack Pine-Broom Crowberry Barrens. This landscape was once common to the East Coast but most of it has been swallowed by development. It is remarkable that one of the best remaining examples of this ecosystem could be right there in a future park adjacent to the heart of the city.

6. How better to brand Halifax?

Ask yourself: how would you position Halifax to compete with other cities for talent and growth? If you had to pick three advantages, Halifax’s incredible easy access to lakes and trails would inevitably be on the list.

So how do we succeed? We take that advantage and we run with it. We should be absolutely unabashed in trying to protect as many of our lakes and trails as we can. It’s about more than having nice places; it’s our raison d’être, our success condition. If you catch the ball in football and you have a gap in front of you, you run for that gap. You don’t… build houses on it.

7. We Can.

With the Backlands, we have a willing and cooperative seller, the help of the Nature Conservancy, and a large group of local residents willing to fundraise to make this idea a reality.

I love the Backlands. I have picnicked there with my family and swam in Colpitt Lake. I have shovelled the snow in the winter so we could all go skating. It’s an incredible destination for residents of Purcell’s Cove, Spryfield, and the whole Region of Halifax.

I commit to keeping that landscape green and beautiful.



Care about this issue?

Don’t miss the public meeting on Tuesday August 30th at the Captain William Spry Centre. It’s a great chance to learn about the opportunity and to show support!

Find out more: http://backlandscoalition.ca/?p=1608

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