Development and Heritage, United at Last

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Progress. Sustainability. Heritage. For years in St. John’s, when talking about development, it has seemed as though these three words are mutually exclusive and unable to work together.

It has seemed as though "progress" has meant “build now, before it’s too late.” "Sustainability" has been merely a fluffy term that gets in the way of making decisions. And "heritage" - well, that’s just the opposite of “progress,” isn’t it?

I completely disagree with the above thinking, and I believe that, in order to truly progress as a city, we have to harness our heritage in a sustainable way. The good news is that I am not the only one who believes this.

Groups who advocate for business have often clashed those who advocate for heritage. One group wanted new development; the other wanted to preserve the past.

Times are changing, however, and the groups’ views are beginning to merge.

As the former founding chair of the community group, Happy City, I recognized this changing landscape and brought together the St. John’s Board of Trade, The Newfoundland Historic Trust, and Downtown St. John’s to produce a document of shared values. We submitted it to the City of St. John’s Municipal Plan Review.

I am proud of this document because it contains realistic views and policies that can be agreed on by a broad base of people. They are broad principles, but having them outlined can help us to make specific decisions as a city.

Click here to read the full report.

I agree with what is outlined in the document, but, as a candidate for councillor at large, I’d like to tell you my personal views directly.

Development: We have to develop our city with new buildings, homes, and public spaces. This development should be well-planned and last for a long time (it should be “sustainable”).

To do this, we need a clear set of development guidelines that are enforced consistently. We cannot have continual “concessions” and zone changes because this leads to uncertainty and unfair situations for developers and residents alike.

Heritage: Our built heritage is a major asset to our entire city. City Hall should have a clear set of guidelines for the conservation of the heritage area that incentivizes developers to adapt, enhance, and maintain properties to maximize economic benefits.

We also have to celebrate developers and individuals who demonstrate effective design and use heritage properties in innovative, sustainable ways.



I love St. John’s, and I know so many others who want us to keep what is special about this place while we are growing and developing into a global city. The great news is that our historic properties can be the inspiration for modern, sustainable design.

It’s my hope as councillor at large to seize the opportunity and embrace the challenge!

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Recent comments

  • Dave Lane
    Dave Lane
    July 24, 2013 - 12:42

    Thanks for your comment, Matt! This is a great idea. I really believe that a well-planned downtown / neighbourhood / etc., can actually improve economic prosperity and well-being. So we should be looking to other places to see what works and what doesn't.

  • Matt
    July 23, 2013 - 16:36

    I believe St. John's should develop a plan that follows in the steps of another great city dominated by historic buildings, but under pressure for modern urban commercial buildings: Paris. Paris is a model for a city that manages to balance incredibly restrictive building codes in the historic area of central Paris to sustain it's tourism economy, with the towers required by big business to operate efficiently at La Défense. The approach of creating La Défense to encourage large office towers and attract international businesses worked extremely well. Few big businesses could open offices in historic Paris since any business with more than a handful of employees would be forced to scatter across many small buildings. Building restrictions also pushed rents through the roof to ludicrous levels. La Défense is far enough away that it doesn't detract from the historic feel of the city, but it's also just a short subway ride which makes it ideal since it's easy to come in for a working lunch or to meet clients. Despite technology advances, physical proximity is still important for businesses - bike couriers can deliver things quickly, spontaneous meetings happen at the coffee shop, business deals can happen more easily when you are in the same building rather than across the city. Very high density office towers provide cities a competitive advantage when trying to attract businesses. St. John's recent growth has been putting a lot of stress on the road system, traffic has gotten bad. By creating a high density office park outside of downtown much of the rush hour traffic pressure could be relieved making downtown more pleasant for pedestrians, cyclists and tourists. I would encourage any councillor (including hopefully Dave Lane) to evaluate La Défense as a case study for ideas on developing St. John's into the future.