Halifax is tidying up for Juno weekend, fussing around like a nervous granny who keeps squawking that “company’s coming!” It’s one thing to empty the litter box and make the bed when you’re expecting guests, but the city’s cleaning smacks of desperation: People are coming who are better than us, so we’ve got to look better than we are.
This week on Brunswick Street across from the Metro Centre—where the Juno awards ceremony happens Sunday—a traffic crew was replacing slightly banged-up pedestrian crossing signs with shiny new ones. At the same time, a couple guys walked down the street with paint cans, slapping a coat of black on the bases of parking meters. Are these efforts related to the Junos? “That’s all it is,” says one of the workers. Another makes noises about regular maintenance before admitting “this area is getting special treatment.” And don’t forget the recent initiative to beautify around Historic Properties by cutting locks and getting rid of derelict bicycles—the dreadful, dreadful scourge of derelict bicycles. That was most successful at fucking over students who’d commuted to NSCAD, only to come out of school and discover the city had stolen their rides.
A city that worries about what Mulroney-list celebrities will think about its rusty parking meters obviously has problems. Halifax can trace its insecurity back to April 1, 1996. That day the City of Dartmouth, the Town of Bedford, the City of Halifax and sprawling Halifax County were merged by provincial order to become the Halifax Regional Municipality. Soon after amalgamation, we elected Peter Kelly, a man happy to be mayor of an acronym. Check his official welcome letter at the halifax.ca site and notice he doesn’t once call the city simply Halifax. He’s all HRM this and HRM that, like the regional municipality exists as anything more than a concept. But nobody wants to live there.
Earlier in March, I asked the mayor and our 23 city councillors where they live, and not one said HRM. Krista Snow lives in Fletcher’s Lake, Brad Johns is in Middle Sackville, Gloria McCluskey’s proudly in Dartmouth (“You can’t take that away from me”), Sheila Fougere says “west end peninsular Halifax” and Kelly himself says Bedford. Steve Streatch was the lone councillor to mention the regional entity at all. “My general home is in Middle Musquodoboit,” he says in an email, “which is located in the heart of the Musquodoboit Valley…the only farming belt located within HRM.”
Ten years after amalgamation, we’re over the shock of the forced marriage and all the old communities are still around, so what the greater municipality is called shouldn’t matter. But as an umbrella that gives the area a shared identity, “Halifax Regional Municipality” is the face being put forward to the rest of the world. The city’s greatest desire—why it’s excited about the Junos, why it’s vying for the Commonwealth Games—is to be considered world-class. Unfortunately, “Halifax Regional Municipality” is only a world-class handle in terms of sucking. HRM is even worse, ugly to both eye and tongue. As long as we live under that name, we’re not going to be happy with ourselves.