Big Ideas

Illustration by Ricky King


 

What’s one innovative idea that would make St. John’s a better place?Ideas from readers and contributors.

 
 

Offer more places to sit and hang out

 
You’re probably familiar with the idea of a “walk-able city”—a strategically designed urban area that encourages more pedestrian use rather than traffic gridlock—but have you heard of a “sit-able” city?

It’s an idea that could jazz up the St. John’s downtown and surrounding areas just as it’s done in the streets of Europe for the last, oh, millennium.

Imagine taking places you’d normally think of as having only one purpose (like, say, the sidewalk) and temporarily turn them into more aesthetic, inviting domains for public social gatherings. Like, say, parking lots turned into outdoor living rooms where people can meet to play board games.

As Chuck Wolfe writes in an Oct. 2013 article on myurbanist.com, “sit-able places are key, interdisciplinary focal points where the delight of ‘placemaking’ and cultural traditions of ‘watching the world go by’ merge with the sometimes conflicting domains of law and politics, economic development, public safety, gentrification and the homeless.”

It’s basically rethinking loitering and how we all use public spaces.

Since 2005 in the city of New Westminster, B.C., the public works department has been encouraging local businesses—mostly pubs and coffee shops—to expand their outdoor areas in the summer months.

Bev Grieve, director of development services for New West, says the project has really taken off in the last three years, with 10 businesses applying for permits annually to offer more seating on their sidewalks and even spilling into the roadway outside their shops. The businesses put out temporary wooden patios, planter boxes and sunshades, and invite local amateur musicians to perform.

“When you see people using the streets almost like their own backyards, it encourages more people to be (there) and increases the vibrancy of the urban area,” Grieve noted.
– Marelle Reid

 

Bring back Town Squares

 
We townies like running into the people we know. Traditionally this was fostered with town squares, but we’ve gotten rid of them all. Let’s turn Clift’s/Baird’s Cove in front of the Court House into a town square. We’d also need to turn part of Water Street into a pedestrian mall. Some will freak out at the idea, but consider: Pretty much every historic downtown in the world does this. We even
did it ourselves every summer for several years in the 70s.

Let’s not stop there. The space in front of the Colonial Building would make another great town square. Put food carts around it,
restaurants and bars across the street and some covered seating around the restored fountain. Yes, that big planter in the middle of the square used to be a fountain.

Let’s not even make everyone come downtown to socialize. Town squares
can be a model for neighbourhood hubs all over the city. Places you can walk or cycle to and have a coffee or a beer seated at a patio.
– Andrew Draskoy

 

Provide public community greenhouses

 
Produce in this town is just awful (and expensive) and you just need to pay attention to where it comes from in order to understand why. A greenhouse can really extend the growing season and planting some tomatoes with your neighbour would be great for the sense of community. Have a few of them around town, not just in one place. Downtown, you could put it on a rooftop, like on top of city hall. I’m sure you could get a volunteer from the botanical gardens to come help out with planting suggestions. Then attach a room where you could have a cooking class, one that teaches people what do to with thing like… kale. That grows well here. A lot of us have bad diets but good cheap produce would go a long why to fixing that.
– Dave House

 

Put a gondola across The Narrows

 
I would like to see a cable car system (also known as a gondola lift) running back and forth from Signal Hill to the top of the Southside Hills across the Narrows. This would be an enclosed car that would carry several passengers at a time. A number of cities around the world offer cable car rides, such as Rio De Janeiro, Singapore and London, where you will see the “Air Line” over the Thames. They are huge tourist draws, and at this location it would be quite iconic and provide an unparallelled experience in terms of the views of the Harbour, the Downtown, the Southside Hills, the Battery, and the coastline outside the Narrows. This could be the “crown jewel” of the Grand Concourse, as it would link the two sides of the Harbour allowing dedicated walkers to circle the entire harbour, and end by returning to their point of departure. Hikers would use the Signal Hill Trail to access it, and an access point would have to be installed just below Cabot Tower. Of course, this couldn’t proceed without Parks Canada’s approval, as well as assurances that it would not affect Battery residents. On the South Side, another access point would have to be established at the top of the hill above Fort Amherst, with a stairway contructed down to the Southside Road for access.

I’m sure some people would be opposed to this idea, and there are obvious practical and political challenges, but wouldn’t it be cool to take a gondola ride high above the Narrows?
– Sean Murray

 

Offer more direct flights to Europe

 
If you draw a line from New York or Washington or Ottawa or Toronto across the Atlantic to London or Paris or several other European capitals, you’ll notice that line directly crosses the island portion of the province. These are the biggest, busiest capital cities in the world. Direct flights from one to the other cross our skies several times daily. Could St. John’s find a way to make itself a hub for these flights? Especially with CETA on the way and a U.S.-Europe free trade deal in the works? They would have to have a reason to stop, of course; one such reason could be if we adopt tempting corporate tax rates to attract some foreign banking headquarters (London and New York are the largest financial capitals of the world). Or maybe we could attract more artists (musicians, exhibitors, theatre producers, etc.) who may be touring Europe and North America. Find out frequent reasons people fly across the North Atlantic and reverse engineer those reasons so they may desire a stopover here. What an overdue publicity (and financial) boost it would be for our city. Kudos to WestJet for taking the first leap to Dublin.
– Keith Hannaford

 

Put rowhouse colours behind the Wastewater Treatment Plant

 
We should install a facade of colourful row-houses in the blasted-out steps of the cliff behind the Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility. Large sheets of painted plywood (weather-proofed and properly attached to the rocks of course) would do the trick! This would replace the industrial quarry look and feel with a more aesthetically pleasing, tourist-friendly, and culturally appropriate work of art. (Credit to MUN Prof. Steve Bruneau for the idea.)
– Jonas Roberts

 

Make a friggin’ awesome statue park

 
One of Smallwood’s better ideas was a statue park up in the area around Confederation Building, full of characters from Newfoundland history. In his lifetime I think they only put three up there—Cabot, and I think Grenfell is up there as well? And there’s a few busts of old prime ministers inside the foyer, but whatever about those.

I really do think there should be a statue park. There are a few figures who warrant their own statues. Sir William Coaker should go up there somewhere alongside Dr. Grenfell. Throw Robert Bond up there somewhere furrowing his brow in frustration at Canada dicking him around about trade agreements with the Americans. Throw in a Ron Hynes statue too; there’s already one down on George Street, but sure God knows you can never have too many statues of Ron Hynes crooning on guitar. Beaton Tulk (our greatest Premier) could even go up there somewhere, chowing down on a bucket of KFC.

Smallwood himself, of course, deserves a statue. We can leave the particulars of the design up to the artist; perhaps he would tower up like Lenin, an extended hand beckoning Newfoundlanders to seize their marvelous destiny as the ‘Cinderella of Empire’. Alternatively, you could have him stooped over, one hand crossing fingers behind his back and the other one handing down a welfare cheque. For maximum effect, sit a smirking Ray Guy down at a typewriter just out of Joey’s line of sight.

Of course, here you might be thinking: surely Danny Williams, Newfoundland’s most accomplished oligarch, deserves some kind of monument? Easy: stick him up on the South Side Hills where that giant Republican flag used to fly. Think something like Rio’s Cristo Redentor, except he’s flipping both birds in the direction of Ottawa.
– Drew Brown

 

Start a car-sharing program

 
Whether it’s to zip up to the grocery store or take a day trip to visit a friend out of town, car sharing—using a shared car at an hourly rate—is more convenient than renting, and cheaper than maintaining your own ride. Vancouver has Zipcar, Toronto has AutoShare, and Halifax has Carshare Atlantic (operating as CarShareHFX). Car-sharing programs have been running successfully in cities across Canada for more than 18 years now, so why not in St. John’s?

Seriously, who doesn’t want to save money on getting around town?

A membership with Carshare Halifax, for example, works out to be around $75 per month for a personal plan. Compare that to owning a personal vehicle at more like $500 per month after insurance, gas and maintenance is factored in.

Pam Cooley, president and CEO of Carshare Halifax, says the ideal place to set up a car sharing company is in a densely populated area with a great public transit system – and she thinks we might have what it takes to give it a go here.

“You’ll see car sharing all over the world in urban areas, and they’re trying it in smaller areas (like) St. John’s,” she said. “If there was a dedicated group of people that would be willing to work with a business to do that, then it might work.”

In 2008, her company started with nine cars. Now she’s got a fleet of 26 with a steady user base of 1,000 members, and she’s working on expansion into New Brunswick. Granted, Halifax has an urban population about twice that of St. John’s, but with more people looking for alternatives to owning vehicles, isn’t it just a matter of time before we see a car sharing system pop up here?

What it would actually take for this to happen? About 100 signed-up members and three cars. And this dedicated group would need to set up a few meetings with a company like Carshare Atlantic to convince them to open up here in Newfoundland. While the ideal scenario would be for the City to join forces in getting the public transit system synced up with a car sharing system, Cooley says it’s not a prerequisite. So let’s do this!

Check out the Carshare Atlantic website at carsharehfx.ca
– Marelle Reid

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