Despite the fact that this province is celebrating the announcement of its first have-status year alongside a world-wide, head-clutching economic cave-in, it looks like St. John’s might just do all right. Those undeveloped lots and vacant buildings peppering the downtown core won’t be dormant for long. Slick proposals for sleek hotels, office towers and condos are being tossed onto boardroom desks across the city faster than you can say “oil money.” Heck, maybe the Ontarians and Albertans will start moving here for work.
Whatever the future, it’s likely we’re in for some big changes. And big changes start with big ideas.
We contacted a bunch of local luminaries and visionaries and asked them for their big ideas for the future of St. John’s.
Here’s what we got.
Edited by Sarah Smellie and Elling Lien. Illustrations by Ricky King.
STRETCH A CLOTHESLINE ACROSS THE NARROWS
Ramona Dearing, host of CBC Radio One’s Radio Noon
There is nothing better than waking up first thing and knowing you’ve got to run down to the washer and get cracking to get a couple of loads out on the line. It is impossible to go back to sleep if you’ve got the right kind of weather coming at you. What I see is a giant clothesline that would be strung across The Narrows on a good drying day—to alert people. A clothesline as thick and soft as those velvet ropes in movie theatres. With giant polka dot dresses and bloomers and socks and trousers strung across on sturdy pegs, flapping shadows across Chain Rock. So that the citizens would know to hurry and get up out of bed and make the most of the day.
INTEGRATE HIGH SCHOOL GYMS WITH COMMUNITY RECREATION FACILITIES
TA Loeffler, adventurer, MUN professor of Human Kenetics
The next time a high school is built or rebuilt, I would like to see it integrated with community recreation facilities. I picture a high school and a junior high school linked by pedways that also link to a dual ice surface arena, wave pool, gymnasium, and library. In facilities of this type then, schools would have state of the art facilities to use during the day for their physical education programs, and the community has the same for use in the evening.
GET RID OF THE DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT RESTRICTIONS
Jim Case, architect
At the risk of (once again) being branded a renegade by the city, I would like to see the Development Regulations for downtown tossed into the bin, opening the way for each development proposal to be evaluated by the public based on its merit…
In the current scenario prescribed by the city, we are asked to study traffic, parking, wind, snow, sun-shading, height, etc. These issues are important, but they are manipulated by both owners and bureaucrats to achieve a desired outcome, and buildings may or may not be approved for construction. Beautiful buildings that are too tall or too wide get turned down, and, just as often, buildings that are total schlock get accepted because they meet the criteria. The question “Is this building good architecture?” is not asked.
John Reade, thespian, taxi driver
Since retiring in 2001, I have shared the ganja with a former policeman, a principal of a school, MUN professors, a politician and a doctor—all here in St. John’s. In my experience, more people have used marijuana than have admitted.
Why? Because it is illegal. You can be prosecuted. You could lose your job.
As we all know, marijuana use and possession is against the Criminal Code of Canada. I would like to see St. John’s pass a by-law to make the use of marijuana a civil offense rather than a criminal one. Under the Canadian Constitution, cities have the right to make by-laws that do not contradict the Criminal Code of Canada. However, Vancouver recently enacted a by-law that provides clean needles to people addicited to heroin and cocaine, and provides them a place in which to shoot up. This is done in the name of safety. It makes sense and has yet to be challenged by the federal government.
The argument for keeping marijuana illegal is that it might be a “gateway” to harder drugs (ie., cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycontin) use. But if marijuana is a “gateway” drug, it is only because people must go to the criminal element to buy the stuff.
If the use were decriminalized, and the product controlled like alcohol, this would no longer be the situation.
STOP ASSUMING THAT MOST PEOPLE OWN CARS
Robin Whitaker, MUN Professor, Political Anthropology
If we’re talking about one big change, imagine what would happen if the official working assumption was that most people don’t own cars. Government policies would prevent suburban sprawl and foster mixed neighbourhoods, so people could easily get to shops and restaurants, recreation facilities and public services—post office, doctor, library, swimming pool – by foot, bicycle or public transit. Developers would be rewarded for building cultural or recreational components into their plans. Wal-Mart Land would wither away. Public transportation would improve, and no one would grumble that bike paths are too costly for the public purse. Instead, they’d complain about their taxes being wasted on new commuter roads. Clearing sidewalks would be top priority in winter (perhaps we could have ski lanes too). Our fitness would increase. Our carbon footprints would shrink. And this town would be safer for cats.
FORM A LOCAL GOVERNMENT COALITION
Christine Hennebury, freelance writer
In the future, I’d like to see St. John’s as the largest community in an organized regional board that includes equal representation for all of the communities in the metro area. This board would enhance communication and cooperation between the communities without the threat of amalgamation creating dissent and resentment.
The resulting regional management system could create regional recycling programs and a more wide-ranging public transportation system, as well as a variety of employment opportunities. Cooperation on this scale would also provide a structured means to share facilities and some municipal services.
AMALGAMATE THE NORTH-EAST AVALON
Ivan Morgan, journalist
I was asked to list one thing. I have two—but they’re related.
The towns of the Northeast Avalon must amalgamate. In reality St. John’s extends as far as Holyrood. We need to rid ourselves of all the little tin-pot municipalities (yes, that includes Mount Pearl) and create a single municipal entity.
(We can do this now, Andy’s gone.)
People will squawk about their unique identities, but how is Georgetown, Rabbittown, or Shea Heights not unique?
The main (though not the only) reason for doing this would be to create a big enough tax base to build a decent mass transit system. Rising oil, insurance, and cars prices will put mobility out of reach of more and more people. Our future citizens are going to need to get around.
We can be smart and start now, or we can do what we did with sewage and wait until we are in real trouble.
Which do you think we’ll do? Take your time . . .
OFFER SUBSIDIZED HOUSING FOR ARTISTS
Angela Antle, artist and host of CBC Radio One’s Weekend Arts Magazine
I also think the City of St. John’s should take a look at what Paducah, Kentucky is doing and offer some heavily subsidized housing to artists from away (and from here) who want to move in and open small businesses. (For information about their programs, head to tinyurl.com/paducaharts)
BUILD THE TALLER BUILDINGS FURTHER UP THE HILL
Geoff Meeker, writer/former editor/communications consultant
Let’s not build any more tall buildings on the waterfront terrace, where they block the view for everyone back up the hill. Why not build them at the crest of the hill, along LeMarchant Road, where the views are even more spectacular from inside the buildings (as with The Rooms) and the buildings themselves don’t block anyone else’s view?
SET UP ARMED CHECKPOINTS AROUND BOX STORE DEVELOPMENTS
Patrick Canning, artist/musician
I believe St. John’s would benefit greatly from limiting access to those hideous, heinous, life-sucking commercial industrial parks that litter its periphery. Perhaps a gate could be engineered or an armed checkpoint set up to limit access to the areas to travelers on tiny bicycles or scooters. Is it really necessary to drive 10 kilometers from downtown to get your 10 percent discount on crappy bed linen and printer ink cartridges? And if an armed checkpoint seems too “fascistic” or “insane” to implement, maybe we could just tax the hell out of these shitty outlet box stores to prevent them from popping up and degrading the value of human existence with their pure, vile hideousness.
PUT A MORATORIUM ON NEW SUBURBAN DEVELOPMENT
Robert Mellin, Architect and Associate Professor, McGill University School of Architecture
In my vision for the future of St. John’s, a moratorium would be placed on new suburban development so that wilderness areas are protected. There would be a shift to innovative and congenial higher density, low-rise infill development in mixed-use neighbourhoods with identifiable centres similar to the proposals Sir Brian Dunfield made in the late 1940’s (for example, Churchill Square). These centres would be linked by public transit (bring back the street cars!) Streets would become pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, but less friendly for cars and parking. There are opportunities for this type of infill development on abandoned retail sites and on sites like the Grace General Hospital.
OPEN A DOWNTOWN MOVIE CINEMA
Roger Maunder, filmmaker/novelist
A movie cinema in the downtown core. Imagine that. The citizens living downtown could actually walk a few blocks to see a film on the big screen. You could enjoy family time as you bond with your kids on a jaunt to a matinée. Another reason people wouldn’t have to jump in their cars to drive to the mall. I think it would also put a little oomph into the downtown retail and restaurant/service industry. More date nights, perhaps? Even the film festivals that we have here in town could have a permanent home year after year.
BUILD MORE COMMUNITY AND TREATMENT CENTRES
Danette Dooley, freelance writer
I met Cindy last week. The 18-year-old looked more like 15. Her eyes were heavy, her body skinny, her long hair stringy, her clothes wrinkly. She hadn’t slept or eaten in over two days. At age 16, Cindy had a baby. By that time she was heavily addicted to street drugs. She has no contact with the child. In the warmth of this building where she’s sought refuge today, Cindy helps other youth tie long pieces of white wool onto the backs of black cardboard bats. Decorations for a Halloween party. When the centre closes at suppertime, she’ll head to the streets. When she tires she’ll look for a dark corner to lie down where she can’t be seen or asked to move. Cindy is the face of hidden homelessness. She’s also somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s mother. Somebody’s friend.
My big idea is to establish more facilities like Emmanuel House, Turnings, Choices for Youth and the Stella Burry Centre. Above all, we desperately need a residential treatment centre for people addicted to drugs. We are a ‘have’ province now. And, as Newfoundlanders, we take care of our own, correct?
INCREASE URBAN DENSITY
Jan Kergoat, outreach coordinator at Daybreak Parent Child Centre, and John Gushue, senior writer for CBC, would both like to encourage more people, and people-oriented services, to populate the downtown areas and put a stop to sprawl.
“Wherever possible, the powers that be should encourage housing in the downtown,” says Kergoat. “Not just half-million-dollar condos for retirees, but affordable housing for young families. If people stop living and raising children downtown, then the heart beat of the city will be lost. We only have to look to the near childless outports to see the hollow shells of towns that result.”
“The city and its neighbouring towns have all expanded dramatically over the last generation, but we’ve been veering toward sprawl: increasingly longer commutes, strip malls, neighbourhoods that don’t feel neighbourly,” writes Gushue. “I’m amazed that a substantial apartment complex hasn’t been built in the city two decades. I’m hoping the pending development of all that land in Pleasantville will show some creativity and a broader vision, and allow for a wide variety of demographic uses,” he writes. “It could even turn into a pretty cool neighbourhood, if we do it right.” SS
RUN A T-BAR LIFT UP PRESCOTT STREET
First of all, since it’s winter and da b’ys never showed up with the studded tires for da bike, it left me to wonder how the fuck I’m getting home from downtown after a hard night of Havin’ a Tyme?
Then it hit me like I was the Hit-Man Bret Hart, on “hits” listening to Randy Snow on 99.1, Hit’s FM…
What we need is a tee bar going up over Prescott street, like it was White Hills or Marble Mountain. Grab the rope and you’re on da way up, and if your passed out, just snap the clip on to your belt.
FORGET ABOUT THE SIDEWALKS
Michelle Butler Hallet, writer
Just forget about them.
Don’t maintain the ones poured when Smallwood was in office, the ones now crumbling like shortbread or ruined teeth.
Don’t build new ones, especially not in school zones.
And for the love of it, don’t plough sidewalks in winter. Winter in St. John’s doesn’t last any time at all, and it passes all the faster if you’re stuck in the house.
If we start ploughing the sidewalks, then we need more equipment and more operators. Start thinking like that and you might need to acknowledge St. John’s as a winter city. Tax base, I know… we wouldn’t want to review council salaries or even divert the scattered dollar from Mile One to ensure some measure of dignity and equality for the city’s more vulnerable citizens.
Can’t have that.
SELECT CITY COUNCILORS BY AUDITION
Phil Churchill, comedian/musician
St. John’s city councilors will be selected by an audition process. The selection committee will be selected in the same way.
This humbling, yet character-building process will be streamed live via the Internet to the entire province. Hopefuls will be required to compete in an elimination style, round-robin format until whittled down by committee to 10 finalists.
Among other tasks, they will play a round of trivia lasting no less than 3 days, proving an in-depth knowledge of the environment, the arts, business large and small, healthcare, etc.
Hopefuls are asked to have a piece of original contemporary leadership doctrine prepared and proof that the following tasks have been completed:
1. Live homeless for a period of one month.
2. Start a small “mom and pop” business across the street from a Wal-Mart.
3. Write and put off a production of an original play.
4. Spend a full winter renting on minimum wage, in a building without vinyl window upgrades, with no snow blower or driveway, on a downtown street that gets ploughed last (with at least February spent in a wheelchair).
5. Volunteer somewhere that’s not sexy to volunteer at.
6. Start a band, play at least 5 gigs; record a demo and a full-length album.
Callbacks will be posted.
REACTIVATE THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Russell Wangersky, Telegram editor-in-cheif, writer
During the last week or so, the City Council has been talking about reactivating the Neighbourhood Watch, groups of volunteers who work together to keep an eye on their neighbours’ property.
I’d like to reactivate the neighbourhood instead.
I live on an East End street where a neighbour can be counted on to pound on our door if the car’s on the street and it’s street-sweeping night or if the snow-clearing tow trucks are coming to haul the car away.
Where, if your neighbour has their power cut off, you run an extension cord out the window to power their lights and laptop. Where, when your back gives out, two neighbours will tussle over who has the right to use their snowblower to clear your car.
And where a lady walking her dog will ring your doorbell to say there’s someone beside your house, even if it turns out to be a friend at the wrong door.
Ever see a 70-year-old man come out in a blizzard to help push a stuck taxi?
MAKE A PERMANENT LOCATION FOR THE FARMER’S MARKET
Not surprisingly, a permanent spot for an all year round farmers market was at the top of a few wish lists. “Why not a couple of days a week or more?” asks musician Terry Rielly, whose dream market includes a fish and sausage stall. He’d also like to see the city pitch in with a bit of financial support to help guide it through its fledgling years.
Sarah Hansen, head of vendor relations for the market that ran this summer and fall each Saturday, says that such funds, as well as a larger space, would be more than welcome. “We are rapidly outgrowing the market’s space at the Lion’s Chalet, and we are booked to have the market there all next season,” she writes. “The market also needs funds to hire a market manager. Everything has been done by a volunteer committee up until this point, so a market manager would allow the committee to focus more on acquiring funds for a permanent venue.”
“Wouldn’t it be great to convert the old O’Brien Farm in Pippy Park into the site for this?” CBC Radio’s Angela Antle muses. SS
PUT STRAY ANIMALS IN YOUR COAT POCKETS
Cinchy. First off, I’d like to see townie women give up being such stuck up snobs, looks don’t last forever, just sayin’. ‘Cuz it’d be too bad if they found themselves in the St. John’s future regretting not giving me a try back then when they had the chance.
I also has a good idea about stray animals, ‘cuz that’s a sin and fur coats are a sin too—if Pam Anderson says something it gotta be true. But what I’m sayin’, my idea is a big, mesh coat sewn into compartments and you puts strays in the compartments and there you go! A home for the animals who haven’t got one other than out back of Scampers or Mary Browns or wherever. The compartments could be all sizes from a hamster up to a biggish dog say and it’d be a warm coat to keep your hole from freezing come January month, hey?
SOME MORE BIG IDEA SNIPPETS
Promote the city as a hub of comedy. … I think the Next Big Thing is for St. John’s to be a big name for talented comedy.
Andrew Ivimey, comedian
We desperately need to move some of our cultural events out of July-August. I can never understand why we try to jam everything into the summer. There’s a huge tourism market past Labour Day.
Jeff Gilhooley, host, CBC Radio One’s Morning Show
The Avalon Peninsula will be a hot-bed of oceans technology industries, the oceans version of “Silicon Valley”, known throughout the world. NASA and MIT will consider themselves fortunate to be referred to as the Memorials of the South.
Eddy Campbell, Acting President of MUN
I think if I had a great big idea for the future of our city it would be to consume less and consider more.
Jason Sellars, artist
2009 really should see some sort of summit meeting for the small to mid-size theatre companies to chat about sustainability. And we could really benefit from a cool awards show.
Aiden Flynn, actor/founder of Rabbittown Theatre Company
I see St. John’s in 10 years as a vibrant, green and happy city, designed and developed for and with its citizens … Mixed-use zoning allows for revitalized neighbourhoods centred around homes, schools, churches, cafes, community centres and shops.
Katie Temple, Executive Director, Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network
In the evenings, large halls are filled with people gathered to discuss and take action against insults to human rights…
Costa Kasimos, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood
My vision is the United Nations set up shop on Bell Island… In fact, let’s give BI to the UN. An unfettered state without a market.
Rick Boland, actor/director/filmmaker
There’s a movement in St. John’s towards more infill residential and commercial development downtown, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and a push for a local farmer’s market—trends that I encourage wholeheartedly. I just hope the trend is strong enough to hold back the tide of urban sprawl and car-dependent neighborhoods.
Cathy Parsons, environmentalist
Is it too late to make a park between Home Depot and Canadian Tire? What a miraculous view.
Lois Brown, filmmaker
To restore St. John’s as a pedestrian-friendly walking city requires rebuilding the business infrastructure in its various neighbourhoods. This involves mixed developments combining retail on the ground floor with underground parking, medium to high density quality affordable apartments, and privately owned condominiums situated on bus routes in the centre of the city. Aging semi-vacant shopping centers and strip malls are prime candidates for these kinds of developments.
Fred Winsor, activist, historian
Changes have to be made to make it easier for incoming professionals from other countries to certify as, unfortunately, they continue to have to undergo years of credential tests in order to be recognized as the professionals they were in their home countries.
Kevin Hehir, poet
Let’s launch new initiatives and be creative to find solutions to these social problems. Let’s provide more affordable housing especially in the downtown core.
Harry Stone, realtor
Establish a $1 million dollar prize for the invention of a road surfacing material suited to our climate…Cease blowing snow contaminated with road salt onto gardens… Headquarter a new, web-based Newfoundland and Labrador national public broadcaster downtown.
Ed Riche, writer
St. John’s must reposition itself as a viable home with tremendous potential for our youth.
Robin Grant, freelance multimedia writer/producer, founder of For The Love of Learning