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New book explores the history of urban planning and racism in the HRM

Ted Rutland's book 'Displacing Blackness' tells the story of the destruction of Africville
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Africville Museum (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

In Halifax, African Nova Scotians continue to feel disparity after the destruction of their community in the 1960s, a result of poor urban planning choices some say were fuelled by racism.

Concordia planning professor Ted Rutland explores the broader history of racist urban planning in the HRM in his book Displacing Blackness, published in May 2018.

According to Rutland, the history of urban planning has been one of displacing Black lives, from experimental housing projects to the gentrification of Halifax's north-end and the demolition of Africville, a thriving African-Canadian village on the southern shore of the Bedford Basin. All that exists where the community once stood is a museum. 

“The story of Africville is so instructive and it educates people across Canada about some of the nasty parts of Canadian history,” said Rutland in an interview with News 95.7’s Sheldon MacLeod.

Listen to Sheldon MacLeod's conversation with Ted Rutland and LaMeia Reddick:

“That story is important because that place mattered and those people mattered, but it’s also important because its symbolic of a broader mistreatment of African Nova Scotian communities,” he said.

The situation in Africville drove him to dig deeper, and find out what was happening in Black communities in Halifax throughout the city's history. Time and time again, he found the same racist planning models playing out.

“It’s hard to know how conscious it was because it’s a planning model that has existed for 150 years,” said Rutland.

He hopes to see these models change in the future. For Rutland, the best choice is to create planning projects and practices that prioritize those who have been historically harmed by planning.

“There seems to be a fairly conscious ignoring of African Nova Scotian voices over a very long period of time,” he continued.

He brings up the HRM Regional Plan, an urban design plan first implemented in 2006. African Nova Scotians were invited to give feedback and discuss what they wanted from the plan, and were ignored in every case, said Rutland.

Rutland thinks that both the new HRM Centre Plan and the Cogswell District Redevelopment Project need to be looked at more carefully in order to avoid the racist urban planning of the past.

“The pictures of what they want to create there are very nice, but who’s going to get to use those public spaces?” he said of the Cogswell Interchange.

“Are we going to address long standing forms of racial discrimination in the downtown peninsula in Halifax? Are we going to make sure there's affordable housing… or are we going to just use this opportunity to create a kind of wedge that drives to integrate gentrification further through the north-end?”

“It’s a story that we hadn't really heard before...about the long history of racist planning from a planning perspective articulated in this way,” said LaMeia Reddick, a young African Nova Scotian leader who joined Rutland for a public talk earlier this week. “It really caught my interest, and got me thinking as an African Nova Scotian person here, what does that mean for me?”

Reddick is a leader on the One North End project, a grassroots initiative that aims to unite a community divided by gentrification. She hopes the idea will set an example for urban planners and future planning models.

“Displacement doesn't have to happen,” she said. “Gentrification is happening, but we don't have to displace the people that have been there.”




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