2009 may just go down as the the Year of the Neighbourhood here in St. John’s. We’re only a month in and already three different neighbourhoods are coming together to support smart urban planning—with an emphasis on keeping the sore-thumb buildings out and a sense of community in.
by Sarah Smellie.
Just before Christmas, alongside the bleeping VLTs, the typically rowdy crowd of the Georgestown Pub made room for about twenty people from the surrounding area who piled in for the first of a series of community-building workshops.
“The city has agreed to work with us on a plan for the future of the area,” says David Thompson, board member of the Georgestown Neighbourhood Association (GNA), and organizer of these workshops. “In preparation for that, we should really try and unite the community, and form more ideas of what the neighbourhood could become.”
Georgestown residents are a real mixed bag, from professors to the guy outside the pub in his bathrobe (who may well be a professor, come to think of it.) Thompson is hoping the final draft of the plan will include all of their voices, which is not proving to be an easy task. Hence, the once-a-month workshops have been geared towards outreach, with topics ranging from promoting an age-friendly community to connecting with more low-income residents.
The more voices, the better, Thompson says, because there are some pressing issues at hand for the area.
“We’re concerned about the Holy Heart space and what will happen to that land,” says Elizabeth Oliver, chair of the GNA. “There’s an extensive amount of land in that whole block and there’s been a history of developing it in a rather piecemeal fashion, without much thought of preserving historic significance.”
They’re hoping to put an end to what they consider to be spur-of-the-moment planning, and make sure that whatever fills those spaces is a good fit with their community.
Oliver is quick to emphasize how much work goes into the GNA—which has been on the go since the seventies—what with their clean-up parties, skating parties, and massive annual flea market.
But, she says, the work is definitely worth it.
“It is slow going: We started meeting with the city more than a year ago, and we’re just getting to this stage now,” she says. “But I’m absolutely delighted that we’re here.”
Waterford Bridge Road
Over in the West End, Alanna O’Brien, chair of the soon-to-be Waterford Bridge Road Neighbourhood Association, echoes that feeling.
”Sure, it’s a lot of work,” she says. “Anything worthwhile is a lot of work.”
Waterford Bridge Road is classified as a minor arterial route, which means non-stop, high-speed, high-volume traffic, and people from the area have been fighting for three years to change that classification. Even though they’ve been unsuccessful, they’re pulling together and forming an official neighbourhood association anyways. The group will incorporate the south side of the river and the lip of the valley, beginning at Topsail Road.
O’Brien circulated the official paperwork at their last meeting and says the group is rearing to go.
“People are interested in the traffic situation here and they’re interested in establishing a Neighbourhood Watch,” she tells me. “Mostly, though, they’re interested in creating a sense of community out here.”
“There was an elderly woman at the meeting who stood up and said she’d be interested to know whether there’s a young person out here who shovels… So, community is really our over-arching theme,” she says. “If you can establish that, everything else flows from it.”
Sheilagh O’Leary is not only hoping to build a sense of community, she’s hoping to define a new one. She and cohorts John Kramer and Jacqui Janes had the first official meeting of the soon-to-be Bonaventure Neighbourhood Association on January 27th. Their target region is bounded by Bonaventure Avenue, Merrymeeting Road, Mayor Avenue and Newtown Road.
“We’re kind of an annex of Georgestown,” she laughs. “We’re creating our own neighbourhood.”
They’ve come together primarily over concerns about vandalism in the area, especially around the shaggy, empty void in behind Brother Rice, beside Margaret’s Place. Dormant for a while now, she says, the space serves as a great meeting spot for troublemakers.
“Nobody’s clear about who owns what when it comes to that property—the city might, the school board might and the developer might. We need to address this immediately and find out who is responsible, because something needs to be done with it.”
Like the GNA, they also want to be sure that the Holy Heart land is used intelligently, and, after watching an awkward condo project go up, they’re wanting to have their say in future developments.
“Its just a matter of coming together and asking some questions about what the future is for this area,” she says. “We’re going to try to involve as many people in the area as we can, via postering and pamphleting.” They’re going to have an open public meeting on March 10th, in the Sobey’s meeting room, at 6:30pm.
“I don’t want our neighbourhood to fall through the cracks just because we’re not easily defined,” O’Leary emphasizes. “Forming a neighbourhood association is definitely the way to do that.”