May 7, 2014 8:17 pm

New chief planner calls Halifax ‘confident’ and a risk taker

HALIFAX – If there’s one word the municipality’s new Chief Planner says he uses to describe Halifax, it’s ‘confidence’.

Bob Bjerke is just two weeks into the job as the first ever chief planner but it is clear he has a big vision for the biggest city in the Maritimes.

Bjerke used to live in Halifax in the 90s before moving out west to be the Director of Planning and Sustainability in Regina and Director of Housing in Edmonton.

He says the change coming back to Halifax is quite obvious.

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“When I think about Halifax in the 90s, it’s lots of rain, it’s overcast. But [now], it’s bright and sunny with a nice little breeze. That’s almost the perfect analogy for what I’m seeing. There’s that energy, enthusiasm and people are seeing ‘ok, stuff is happening here’.”

Bjerke, pronounced beer-key, says there is a positive energy surrounding the municipality.

“That real sense we can really do something,” he said.

Big projects happening right now in the city are proof of that, he adds, like the new library on Spring Garden Road.

“It really demonstrates the sense of confidence, willingness to take on those big projects and willingness to put yourself out there,” he said.

“The library is not necessarily the design everybody would have [liked] but it’s gotten a lot of attention. It put Halifax on the map. To do that you have to be fairly confident that yeah, we’re pretty solid,” he said with a laugh.

He also offers his thoughts on plans to tear down the Cogswell Interchange.

“If that doesn’t demonstrate confidence, nothing does,” he notes.

“That’s being done for all the right reasons. It isn’t because it’s falling apart. It’s really a bold move to address something that I think hasn’t been functioning ideally. It’s really a fantastic opportunity to exchange what’s available in the downtown, liberate some of that land and really expand the vibrancy of the city.”

He sees the convention centre as a big commitment.

“There’s lots of debate around these kinds of projects as you go forward. To me, it all speaks to that desire as a municipality and on council to move forward so it isn’t all about just keeping things the way they are.”

Bjerke had similar thoughts about the current discussion over a commuter rail.

“Any time you open a review like that, there is real opportunity to try and get things more coordinated,” he said.

“People are running things a certain way for long periods of time. It may take a review like that to say there’s some real opportunity to do things differently.”

Attendees at Wednesday night’s talk, held by Fusion Halifax, where Bjerke was speaking are encouraged by his enthusiasm.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work to do. Everyone wants it all done,” said councilor Waye Mason.

“That’s going to be Bob’s first big task – to help us establish what gets don first in order of work.”

“There’s so many things up in the air right now, he has the opportunity to really pull things together and really define the vision for Halifax,” said Adam Hayter, the director of urban development for Fusion Halifax.

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