Big Ideas 2010 – Our ideas

Photo by Darrell Edwards

Our city is going through some big changes. It’s time to be thinking big.

Compiled and edited by Sarah Smellie, Andrew Harvey, Kerri Breen, Bryhanna Greenough and Elling Lien. Thought balloon photo by Darrell Edwards. Collages by Elling Lien.


Make public transit free

Kerri Breen

Metrobus has its problems – but would you ride more if it were free?

A recent Toronto Star online feature makes the argument that free public transit “Might be worth consideration for smaller communities that are struggling to grow transit ridership.” Cough.

Though the number of Metrobus riders has pretty much stabilized in the last 10 years, it has declined considerably from its former glory. Metrobus’ ridership peaked in 1985. Back then, there were almost a million more riders per year than there are now. A million.

And when you consider how much municipal governments are already funding Metrobus rides, offering free service is not really too much of a stretch.

Your $2.25 (or $1.75) covers a little more than half the costs. For every hour Metrobus was on the road in 2008, it cost about $84. Revenues, however, were about $50.

What it would actually take for this to happen: A lot. Those holding the purse strings aren’t going to spring for it unless they have evidence that offering free rides will increase ridership. And the results of the summer of 2009’s downtown Buddy Bus experiment were not exactly encouraging. Plus, they would need the money to do it, and the St. John’s Transportation Commission recently shelled out millions for a new bus depot.


Convert Bell Island into a theme park

Kerri Breen, Bryhanna Greenough and Elling Lien

New Brunswick has Crystal Palace, Nova Scotia has Upper Clements Parks and Newfoundland has… a travelling fair that serves its purpose well enough.

But! What about a theme park with a roller coaster? A historical reenactment village, with salty Newfoundland pirates? Yar, tourists would be all over that like bright red paint on a row house. And it would have other benefits too. Upper Clements Parks, in Nova Scotia, for example, employs about 200 people and generates about $6 million in economic activity locally. It is run by a volunteer non-profit called group called the Hanse Society. But, of course, ours would be for profit.

But where would we build it? We can’t think of a better location than Bell Island. First of all, it’s enchanted. Second of all, they already have some of the infrastructure you would need: spooky mine shafts, mine carts, ice cream and fish and chips.

Sure, there are people living there now, but they could be relocated, and with minimal effort, a splash of paint and a little bit of imagination, we could convert the island, in its entirety, into a passable Disney World knock-off.

The ferry ride would only add to the experience. Can’t you already imagine the pirate costumes and sea shanties blaring through the sound system? I know we can imagine The Flanders with tattered sails and a gang plank, and the Beaumont Hamel with a crow’s nest and chests overflowing with plastic doubloons.

Sure, most people would see this as a slap in the face of history and good taste, but think of the local economy! Think of the children!

Now, to think of a mascot…

What it would actually take for this to happen: Canada’s Wonderland took nine years and $121 million to establish, and that was in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This year, Six Flags emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after ditching a billion dollars of debt. But there have been ACOA grants for crazier things. We say give ‘er.


Start a city-funded community development position

Andrew Harvey

We already have some great community groups here in St. John’s like the Georgestown Neighbourhood Association, and the brand-spanking-new Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association, but imagine how many we could have if they had a little support to get themselves off the ground, and running effectively. The more you talk to your neighbours, the more you can work with them to identify and address mutual concerns. It might be something like deciding on a day to get the whole street out to sweep up the garbage you all complain about, or it may be putting together a letter to send to your ward councillor to make them aware of a parking issue which has been bugging everyone for a while.

The city of Toronto has five Community Development Officers, each responsible for a section of the city. Their role is to provide in-kind support for individuals and groups looking to build strong communities. They can assist with community planning. They can help organizations start, plan, and get their finances in order, and can point them in the right direction for programs.

What it would actually take for this to happen: About $50k and a desk in city hall. With a budget of over $200 million, anyone who is looking hard enough can find the money to fund a position like that. More important is having a council who is serious about community development, and willing to recognize that citizen engagement is worth it.

The City of Toronto’s Community Development web page:


Start a CFA fostering program

Sarah Smellie

For some, these can be lonely shores to land on. It’s a bit alienating to have your hometown culture yanked out from under you and replaced with that of some homogeneous, sometimes hostile, place called “Away.” And then there’s all that boiled meat to get accustomed to.

So why not make the transition smoother for everyone? Let’s set up CFAs of all origin with welcoming Newfoundland families who’ll have them over for dinner and feed them through isolating times, like Sundays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when they miss their families and friends back home in Away.

What it would actually take for this to happen: Maybe not much.

Yvonne Collett is the former coordinator of the Christmas Holiday Hosting Event, organized through MUN’s International Student Advising Office.

“We recruit families who are interested in hosting an international student, usually for a Christmas or holiday dinner,” she explains. “We get lots of students participating. For many, this is their first opportunity to go into a Canadian home.”

She doesn’t have much trouble recruiting families, either, saying that they’ve never had too few families, and many of them now approach her, instead of the other way around.

Coordinating the program, she says, isn’t all that much work. “The more people involved, the longer it’d take to organize,” she says. “But on a city-wide level, I think it’s do-able. Definitely.”

Find yourself some funding and call yourself Coordinator, and you could soon have one of the best jobs in town.


Make city-supported community gardens

Andrew Harvey

The City of St. John’s has supported the creation of several small community gardens, but with the rising interest and action on food-security here on this island of ours, many people would like to see the City get their hands dirty to help support community gardens, literally. In 2006, Vancouver City Council unanimously supported a motion by Councillor Peter Ladner to challenge the residents of Vancouver to create 2010 new community garden plots by January 1st, 2010. Residents responded in force, not only meeting the goal, but exceeding it, creating 2029 new community garden plots. This amazing feat was completed through a series of brilliantly simple programs such as the Sharing Backyard program, which is essentially a complex google map identifying individuals who have space in their backyard they are willing to share, and those who need space to garden in. Another fantastic initiative used was the Grow a Row, Share a Row, based off an initiative by the Canadian Association of Food Banks.

What it would actually take for this to happen: Council needs to identify food security as a priority, and issue a challenge similar to that of Vancouver. The real beauty of a challenge like this, and the means Vancouver used to achieve it, is that it requires little or no money to do. Fire up a Google Map and figure out how to put the right dots on it, and we are off to the races. This could even be rolled into the $80k city website redesign… Hmmm…

You can find details about the Vancouver project at


Offer free city-wide Wi-Fi

Kerri Breen

St. John’s and free public Wi-Fi — think it’s just a pipe, or tube, dream? Well, it’s happened before.

In 2004, the City of Fredericton launched Fred-eZone, a free city-wide Wi-Fi for visitors, residents and businesses. There are over 120 access points around the city, and according to Tony von Richter, who went to university in Fredericton, it’s decent.

“I can’t say how fast download speeds are or anything like that, but for basic web functionality it seemed to work fine,” von Richter said. He added that there are some dead areas.

Montreal, Toronto, Moncton, Regina, Saskatoon and several other cities have some form of municipal wireless service.

What it would actually take for this to happen: The bad news first: If Fredericton is any example, it will take a long time. According to a white paper on the topic, it took four years to “form a non-dominate carrier company, construct the fiber optic network, deploy the point to multi-point wireless network, and finally, to deploy over 120 Cisco Wi-Fi access points in the field.” (Glaven).

The good news is that it had been done using existing budgeted dollars by re-investing the city’s telecom savings back into the network and by accepting commercial subscribers on the network. The private sector also kicked in over $250,000.

St. John’s would have to think of a better name than “Fred-eZone” though.


Nan Loves Jerry

8 May 2008

  1. A. · May 8, 2008

    I like the idea of city wide wi-fi. I was reading a Popular Mechanics article that said San Francisco is using the bus shelters in the city as the hot spots for their wi-fi. The tops of the shelters are solar panels and the energy is used to power the routers, and any power not needed for that is directed into the city power grid. I think this is a great idea, and if the city erected more bus shelters I don’t see why it couldn’t work here.

  2. BG · May 8, 2008

    That sounds absolutely amazing.

  3. Janet · May 8, 2008

    I think it’s time to put the term CFA to rest, especially if we want the term Newfie put to rest.

  4. David · May 8, 2008

    I think making public transit “free” is a great idea.

    One of the things about charging for the public transit is that doing so put an enormous burden on the transit agencies. Public transit exists to move people around. But much of their equipment and personnel are there to gather fares. A lot of the fares gathered simply goes to the continued gathering of fares.

    The gathering of fares makes the transit system inefficient as well. On a busy bus route, each stop is slowed because every new passenger has to line up and pay the fare. If there were no fares, the bus would stop, both doors would open, people would get out, then people would get on. Much faster.

    Furthermore, as more people use public transit, fewer people drive. The roads become less congested. Driving becomes safer. Such improvements result in savings in a number areas, such as wear on the roads and medical treatments for accidents, that benefits society as a whole.

    I always found it odd that public transit is something one has to pay for. I think public transit should be public the way the public library is–that is, free. As curbing greenhouse gases becomes a greater and greater concern, this approach seems more and more appropriate. Cities could pay for the transit by gathering money from the drivers through gas taxes, fees, parking fines, parking meters, etc. And I say that as the owner of two cars.

  5. Sean · May 8, 2008

    How’s this for a big idea? Happy City, take note. For many years, civic-minded people have come together to share ideas on how they would like their city to change for the better. St. John’s has experienced peaks and valleys of civic interest in development and all of these other quality of life issues, and it seems like we’re in a peak now. What we are lacking, however, is a mechanism whereby there is a dialogue between City Councilors and senior staff about all these great ideas. It’s great that we have three or four Councilors who are interested in this stuff, but we need more than that. Come on Shannie, Sheilagh, Frank – you don’t have to get your colleagues to agree on everything, just get them to agree to listen and discuss. I think it’s great to generate ideas, but we need more engagement from City Hall. Although I am keenly interested in the affairs of our city, I’ve been to an awful lot of meetings and given an awful lot of time and energy without seeing much if anything in the way of results, so before I spend much more time and energy, I want to see some action from City Hall such that there is some sort of formal forum for discussion with all or at least the majority of Council on some of these great ideas, and maybe then we can make some progress together.

  6. Jackie Hynes · May 8, 2008

    Convert Bell Island into a theme park? Really?
    With so many other progressive and socially conscious ideas put forth by the scope, I can only imagine you are joking.
    For one, that’s an old proposal-rejected a long time ago, along with turning Bell Island into a waste disposal site and building a casino.
    Have you folks been there before? It’s beautiful, why not develop an organic farm or artist residence or provincial park instead?
    And, if I may quote you directly,
    “Sure, there are people living there now, but they could be relocated, and with minimal effort, a splash of paint and a little bit of imagination, we could convert the island, in its entirety, into a passable Disney World knock-off.”
    I’m from there, my family lives there, and over three thousand people still reside there. Relocated with minimal effort? Would you dare say that about any other small town in NL?
    Again, I can only imagine it’s a little joke stuck in there to get a rise, after all, you’re a smart bunch.
    And if I missed the joke, I apologize for leaving my sense of humour at home.
    Jackie Hynes

  7. Elling Lien · May 8, 2008

    We are most definitely kidding. :)

  8. YSL replica bags · May 8, 2008

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