Halifax one on Canada’s most sustainable cities-survey

A survey released Wednesday by Corporate Knights magazine ranked Halifax as the second most sustainable city in Canada

For the second year in a row, the Halifax Regional Municipality has been ranked as one of Canada’s most sustainable medium-sized cities, beating out such competition as Quebec City, Vancouver and Hamilton.

The survey’s organizers, the Toronto-based Corporate Knights Magazine, scrutinized 16 cities across Canada in an effort to determine which is the most sustainable. Corporate Knights was founded in 2002 with the goal highlighting environmentally responsible business in Canada. According to Corporate Knights’ assistant editor Melissa Shin, the cities were grouped based on population and regional prominence.

The cities that were surveyed were judged on five categories of sustainability that included ecological integrity, economic security and empowerment.

“A sustainable city is a city with a small ecological footprint,” said Shin.

The final rankings also included data taken from government sources such as Statistics Canada, the non-profit Centre for the Study of Living Standards and the municipalities’ own records. Shin added that the cities were each scored out of 10 and that the highest score was 7.7. This year’s overall winner was Ottawa. Last year, the winner was Quebec City. The winner for the medium city category was Mississauga, Ontario. Shin wouldn’t comment on how last year’s cities compared to Halifax, however. She said that last year’s cities were judged on a slight different set of criteria, which produced different results.

In the process of compiling the data necessary to assess each city, Shin said sustainability trends became apparent. Every city that was examined was seen to be taking steps to make itself more environmentally friendly. LED lights in signs and traffic lights were common. Many cities were working to encourage the consumption of local foods. Shin said the most surprising results came from the information gathered in the Maritimes where cities such as Halifax proved that smaller cities can be leaders in encouraging ecologically sound development.

“The smaller cities can serve as inspiration for the bigger ones,” she said.

Since Halifax began participating in this survey a year ago, the city has introduced many new initiatives with the goal of improving its sustainability. The Halifax Regional Municipality has been working closely with local environmental groups such as Clean Nova Scotia, the Ecology Action Centre and the Sierra Club order to improve its environmental record.

In 2000 Halifax became the first major North American city to introduce pesticide control by-laws. Since that time 140 addition municipalities across Canada have enacted similar legislation.

Halifax was also one of the first Canadian cities to join the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ climate change initiative, Partners for Climate Protection, a program meant to encourage more responsible urban development in Canadian cities. Since joining the program Halifax has seen reductions in the amount of carbon it emits each year.

Halifax has also become internationally recognized as a leader in sustainable development. Among the city’s many initiatives are its transportation plan and methane gas capture project, which siphons off methane from city landfill sites. Methane is a greenhouse gas and is more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. The Halifax Regional Municipality is also working to encourage the use of bio-fuels in vehicles and buildings, as well as alternate means of transportation such as bicycles through its implementation of the Active Transportation Plan.

“This achievement highlights HRM’s strong commitment to the environment and to ensuring we have a healthy, vibrant and sustainable community,” said Mayor Peter Kelly in a press release.

Chris Benjamin, a spokesperson for the Ecology Action Centre, was surprised that Halifax has risen from 17th to second place in such a short space of time.

“It was a surprisingly big jump,” he said.

Benjamin cautioned, however, that despite progress that has been made improving Halifax’s environmental record, there is still a long way to go.

Benjamin pointed out that Halifax has one of the poorest cycling infrastructures in Canada. Of the city’s 191 kilometres of bike trails, only 26 kilometres are on city streets. He added that very little has been done to promote the use of bicycles and other alternate means of transportation.

“It’s nice to get the recognition,” said Benjamin but added, “there is so much more to be done.”

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