Make downtown St. John’s a cultural mecca by making it more pedestrian-friendly
Snook: NTV Personality
I’d like the city to start making the downtown a cultural mecca by returning as much of it as possible to pedestrians. Cultural activity has the best correlation to a dynamic, thriving city economy (read Richard Florida).
Bring back street cars for Duckworth and Water Street, and close off as much of Water Street as possible to other vehicular traffic. The harbour front should be the subject of an international design competition. We need a globally recognizable landmark, along the lines of an Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House. Perhaps a pedestrian arch over the narrows?
Start a Fort Amherst Water Taxi
Sara Tilley: Writer
Imagine this: water taxis that ferry you across the harbour to Fort Amherst… I got this idea when visiting Vancouver, hopping on one of the False Creek Ferries that go across to Granville Island. Small boats, doing short trips, for a very reasonable fee (let’s say a toonie). They could operate on a regular schedule, and would allow for more exploration of Fort Amherst and the other underused areas on the other side of the harbour. First comes the water taxi, next thing you know there’ll be an arts centre on the Southside Hills (my big idea for next year)!
Build a University campus downtown
Jim Case: Architect
If we are a truly forward thinking City, we would have long ago established a satellite university campus in the heart of our downtown. There are so many good arguments for this… Youth presence in the downtown will fertilize (much needed) new ideas in urban planning. Edward Glaeser writes: “Human capital, far more than physical infrastructure, explains why cities succeed. “Our port should be an intellectual gateway as well as an economic and aesthetic one.” Architecture critic Rhys Phillips points out the “positive synergy between emerging knowledge-based economy and post secondary institutions.”
Finally, imagine the impetus that this could have for some kind of dedicated north-south transit line to complement the one desperately needed east-west downtown.
Create indoor public spaces
In a city and province that experiences 8-10 months of early darkness and less than desirable weather, there should be more places where people can go out into a community area. As of now, the only places to go are the malls, coffee shops, and pool halls. There should be a place where people can go to study, relax, watch TV or a movie, play pool, play a board game, read, debate, play cards, surf the web, enjoy a fireplace, curl up with friends or significant others, craft, practise yoga—anything really. A place to just go and relax and not necessarily have a purpose for being there—just the enjoyment of being there and seeing others there for the same reason. Too often we are limited to our own homes. It would be nice if a place existed where we could just go out and “be.”
Set up a community garden at The Rooms
Andreae Callanan: Writer
I love The Rooms, but it has the most dreadfully boring landscaping imaginable. The few slim tracts of shrubbery are lame, and while the grass is great for running around on, we could make better use of the space. I would turn the whole thing into an edible landscaping project. The area does get quite windy, so we would need to take that into account, but it’s one of the few green spaces in the downtown that gets full sunlight. I know that hiring landscaping staff with that kind of expertise would be difficult, but the garden could probably be overseen by two full-time staff (which could likely be paid for in part by wellness grants or some such). I’m sure that the local food security organizations could scare up adequate volunteer power. The harvest would be divided among the local food sharing groups, either as fresh or frozen produce, or as food made available at community feast events, with a reasonable share given to the volunteers. The benefit to the community is obvious: nutritious local food would be available to those who need it, and the neighbourhood would be strengthened by volunteer activity. It would also raise the profile of The Rooms nationally, even internationally, as an inspiring example of the best possible use of urban space, nourishing the minds, souls, and bodies of the city’s residents.
Build a culture mall
Who says you can’t make everyone happy? Artists have long been clamouring for more space to work and perform. So much so the city has recently set aside a pile of money to look into building a multi-purpose arts centre. Meanwhile, across town, MUN is currently pondering how they can better engage with the community, and visa-versa. The president, Dr. Gary Kachanoski, often talks about the need for MUN to have a downtown presence. Mix that with a lot of ordinary Townies’ wish for some sort of downtown public space where they can loiter without having to drink, shop, and/or stand in the rain and you’ve got an idea.
Something like this might be nice to have now, but it may soon become necessary. When the rash of planned downtown mega-condos, super-hotels, and office towers are built there will be a lot more people downtown looking for kicks.
Some work—or at least talk—is already underway. The biggest hurdle would be to get those talking—government, the University, and other stakeholders—to work together. If that can be sorted, then all it will take is money. Money is always hard to find, but with initial interest from government, and MUN, it’s not impossible.
If the money can be raised the next step is finding the space. This could be a new space, re-jigging an old space, or finding an interim space until a permanent space was found.
Fine people for being assholes
Stephen Lethbridge: OZ-FM Radio Host
My big idea is to outlaw being an asshole. It’s simple, there would be asshole police in public areas, such as MUN, Bowring Park, and the mall, that would ticket people who act like assholes. Littering, cutting someone off in traffic (RNC could patrol on the city’s roads), not picking up your dog’s shit, and having a loud muffler on your car would be some ticketable offenses. Also, fines would increase incrementally as an asshole accumulates more offenses. Watch society become more awesome.
Use food to solve problems
Kristie Jameson: Executive Director of the Food Security Network NL
Instead of considering food as another issue that needs to be address, think creatively about ways that food production, consumption, and disposal can be used to address existing challenges. For example, to address growing concerns of waste, start a city-wide composting program and have the compost distributed to or available for community gardens or local farms. Another example, use gardens and farms to grow food for institutions, like schools, hospitals, and jails that are tended by the students, patients, and inmates. This gives them not only healthier, fresher food to eat, but also can improve their education, treatment, and physical activity and job training respectively.
Lower the voting age to 16
David Cochrane: Provincial Affairs Reporter, CBC News
This is an idea that goes beyond the city and affects the province. If a person is old enough to work and pay taxes they should have a voice in who governs them. It would also allow Elections NL to set up polling stations in high schools during elections and make civic engagement part of the curriculum. The earlier we can get people engaged the better.
Build a floating parking lot on the South side of the Harbour
John Devereaux: Creative Director of Perfect Day Canada
It could have a footprint five times bigger than Atlantic Place parking lot and still hardly take up any space over there. There would be a small ferry going back and forth all day to carry people from the floating lot. People could go to work, go shopping, go out for dinner and have no trouble finding parking and get a free boat ride out of it. Done. I should be mayor.
Put a moratorium on new franchises
Zita Cobb: President, Shorefast Foundation
Introduce an indefinite moratorium on new franchises in St. John’s in the interest of halting the cultural flattening and dilution of Newfoundland’s culture.
Open Studio High Schools
For many students, school is like prison. The food and lighting is the same, and ideally you slide your way through doing as little work as possible, biding your time until graduation when real life begins. Despite all the best efforts of teachers, the majority of students are left disengaged and bored.
How do you keep students engaged? For many students, the solution could be to root their learning in the real world. Studio Schools are an experiment popping up across England where students learn by doing—they work together in small teams on real-life projects commissioned by NGOs, businesses and others in the community.
It’s not a new idea, and similar things do already happen in high schools (like Co-op Education), but with the Studio Schools, it’s a primary focus. 80 per cent of the curriculum is done this way. According to Geoff Mulgan, former executive director of the Young Foundation, the group that developed the school, it helps students learn the important “non-cognitive” skills that are important for successful life and work—stuff like motivation, resilience, dependability, and self-discipline. Students love it. Employers love it. We can do it here.
The model has exploded across England—from two schools to 35 schools in the past few years. In a recent TED talk where Mulgan introduced the idea, he says it was done in the public system and at no extra cost, and all the schools teach the national curriculum and offer the same academic qualifications as traditional schools. Sounds pretty good to me.
Put the additional materials from council minutes online
Here’s an easy one.
If you’ve ever gone to a council meeting in the flesh, you’ll have seen bound council minutes strewn around the gallery for the hordes (hordes!) of adoring fans who come to take in the meeting. In this digital age you can only shake your head and wonder if it is really necessary to kill a small forest every week so Andrew Harvey can get his agenda.
The problem is that if you don’t show up to get one of these hard-copy minutes, then you miss out on a ton of useful stuff. We’re talking committee reports, architectural renderings, consultants reports and other relevant documents. Currently, the only parts which go online are the agenda and the formal minutes recorded at the meetings, which leave out all juicy bits people really want to see, like what exactly the proposed pedway looks like or where the land on Topsail Road they are talking about rezoning is.
What will it actually take for this to happen? Not much. Council is in the process of going paper-free and have a new website in the works.
Someone already has to print off and copy all of this stuff. It should be as simple as clicking File… Save As… to make a PDF then send it along to the person who uploads the slim version of the minutes anyways. If council is serious about trying to get more people, especially young people, aware of and involved in important issues which affect the future of our city, I can think of no better place to start than here. Sure, ya knows the kids are all on the internets anyways.
Make a sandy beach in the City
This idea is not as crazy as it sounds. Last August our neighbours in Halifax did it, shipping in 2,000 tons of sand to a Salter Street parking lot. The result was an acre of beach containing six outdoor volleyball courts erected as part of an international competition that drew in over 15,000 spectators over a five day period. Now this was a big time, corporate-sponsored event with stadium seating and beer tents. What I have in mind for our fair city is more Parisian style.
Parisians traditionally go to the seaside once the city gets hot and blocked with tourists. The mayor wanted to make the city more enjoyable for people who didn’t have the luxury of leaving town, so in 2002 the first temporary, artificial beach was launched. It’s become so popular the city now creates multiple beaches, each with a particular theme. Now many head to the banks of the river Seine to stretch out on chaises lounges in the shade of palm trees and beach umbrellas. Open 8am to midnight, the Paris-Plages are places where everything from tai chi to electro soirees and free rock shows happen.
A sandy plot in St. John’s could begin as a spot to catch up on your summer reading on a lazy day off, take the kids to make sandcastles, and meet with friends for some after work downtime. In my mind, Long Pond and Harbourside Park would be good spots to consider, but even a vacant city lot nowhere near water has potential.
And maybe the best part? When we’re done with it, we can sand the roads in winter.