Big Ideas 2011

Nov 03 2011

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

Nancy Mercer

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

Morgan Murray

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

Elling Lien

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

Andrew Harvey

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

Bryhanna Greenough

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.

Check out previous ideas: 2008, 2010 – Your Ideas, Our Ideas
 
 

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7 responses so far

  1. Nancer Mercer suggested creating indoor spaces where people can go into a community area, saying that the only places to go are the malls, coffee shops, and pool halls. There’s another place she didn’t think of where you can relax, study, read magazines and newspapers, watch DVDs and videos and surf the web, a place to go and not necessarily have a purpose – it’s called the public library. If you like to knit, you can gather with the Knitter’s Circle at the A.C. Hunter Library every Tuesday at 2:30 pm and have a cup of tea or coffee while you sit and chat. If you like to read, you can chat with the Book Club which meets the first Wednesday of each month at 7 pm. You can attend a computer class and learn how to use a computer, search the web, and use email.

  2. And I forgot to add, you can also attend author readings and programs on all kinds of topics from gardening, fashion, decorating, winter camping, using a map and compass, fly tying, and more.

  3. I’m actually surprised that most of these ideas are fairly reasonable, with the exception of “franchise moratorium” and basically everything that “Snook” said. I have no problem with making the city more pedestrian friendly, but street cars on Water Street and a bridge over the narrows are not the way to go about it (I will get back to this point later in my next post). A sandy beach is a nice idea, but it isn’t practical. At least not at Harborside for gods sake. Improvements to Middle Cove beach would be a much more reasonable idea. Less than a 15 minute drive from the center of the city, and the area will likely be urbanized soon anyway at the rate St. John’s is expanding.

    And Vicki is exactly right. The Arts and Culture Center is an excellent indoor public space. Some improvements could be made, such as having the library open on weekends or actually having a coffee shop/canteen (they do have one of these but I have never seen it open unless there’s some big event going on). We don’t need a new indoor public space, we just need to improve on the one we already have.

  4. I had an idea similar to Snook/Pete’s plan for a pedestrian friendly downtown and the return of the streetcars, but it also included a solution for parking:

    Build a parking garage on the old rail yard land, roughly around where all the (rediculous amount of) new cars are lined off…don’t worry, you folks can keep the bottom level. And build it big enough to also serve as an Atlantic Place replacement, before that collapses further. It’s right off the highway, and would do wonders for relieving the rush hour congestion.

    Then, run streetcars from the railway station/museum, down Water and back along Duckworth/New Gower, including a short turn run at Adelaide St for Mile One events and weekends. Given that the rails keep sprouting up in the potholes every spring on Water St, it’s evident that the infrastructure still partially exists under a thin layer of asphalt. And obviously electrifying them would cut down on some of the emissions and noise downtown. For you history buffs: did you know the Petty Harbour hydro plant, the first in the province, was built originally to power the street car system?

    Finally, getting people to use this. Get rid of most of the meters downtown, leaving some for those that need them, and don’t gouge people for parking in the garage. Make it more affordable than meters at first, to lure people away, but just don’t charge exorbitant amounts that will hinder adoption…because we are stubborn, and will just find other places to park. And of course, the street cars are free with proof of parking, or maybe just free for everyone.

  5. Another place to go is the Rooms. You only have to pay to go in the Museum and Gallery parts, but other than that you can go anywhere in the building for free. There are lots of areas where you can just enjoy the view, or look at some of the displays in the public areas outside the museum and gallery.

  6. This is my big idea: It relates to the idea of having a more pedestrian friendly city. The idea of streetcars on Water Street is just a novelty that wont solve anything and it wont happen anyway, if you want a pedestrian friendly city you need to look past Water and Duckworth and actually be realistic. A pedestrian friendly city needs to have a decent public transit system. Metrobus operates a terrible service, it should be scrapped and replaced with a regional transit service that covers the entire metro area. Mount Pearl (I know they have Metrobus service but out there it’s even worse than what we have in St. John’s, which is pretty bad), Paradise, CBS, Torbay, etc. They should all have bus service connecting them with the inner city. I know a lot of you don’t like the number of cars on the roads, well the only way to fix that is to set up a good transit system. Metrobus is probably the worst transit service I have ever seen, the people in charge of it should be fired and we should completely start over with a brand new plan for public transit on the northeast Avalon. The route map needs to be completely redrawn so that it actually makes sense. Buses need to be on time. They need to run longer hours including some 24 hour routes. Service should not be reduced on weekends. And most importantly, like I already said, we need to have the entire metro area connected.

  7. “We need a globally recognizable landmark, along the lines of an Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House. ”

    Look up on that hill next to the harbour and tell me what you see.

    (hint: cabot fucking tower)