As new developments are proposed and St. John’s grows, it makes sense to reflect on how the city develops, how well it works for people and what the city might look like in 20, or even 100 years’ time.
That kind of thinking comes part and parcel with work on the municipal plan review underway by the City of St. John’s.
Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s planning and housing committee, said the current municipal plan is solid, but the guiding document was meant to be updated regularly.
“During the municipal plan review, we’ve heard about redeveloping downtown and making it more vibrant and more accessible for people to live in,” he told The Telegram, recalling input to date.
“We’ve had comments about urban sprawl and what can we do about that, because urban sprawl, that means more infrastructure, more costs and everything else.”
Asked about transportation systems, Hann said Metrobus is already moving to refresh its fleet with accessible “kneeling” buses — nine more hit the road earlier this year. In addition, there is the new $36-million Metrobus terminal building. Of the total cost of that building, Hann said, the federal government will cover the majority, to the tune of “$27 or $28 million.”
If the city is to add other transportation options in future, he said study has shown the transit system would likely have to be regional, to provide a large enough user base. As well, he said he feels it would require support, at least in part, from the provincial government.
Ripple effect of market pressures
Meanwhile, city council is trying to be conscious of how pressure on the real estate markets — a spinoff from natural resource megaprojects — affects the day-to-day concerns of individuals and organizations.
Intangible cultural resources have to be considered as the pressure builds. “I think, eventually, we’re going to have to get into, because of the uniqueness of the city, we’re going to have to get into some kind of cultural centre,” Hann said.
He said the city already provides space for artists and programming at locations such as the Anna Templeton Centre and the new Quidi Vidi Plantation. Even so, having visited cultural centres in places like Charlottetown, P.E.I., he said he sees such a centre as something to discuss for St. John’s down the line.
Larger companies moving into the city and developing new spaces or, perhaps, reclaiming rundown or vacant spaces, helps to ease pressure on existing properties and add assets.
The Tower Corporate Campus project on Waterford Bridge Road is an example. The former St. Bride’s College and Littledale Conference Centre was given new life through a restoration led by G.J.Cahill and now counts the Hebron project team on its tenant list.
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New parking is shared with neighbouring Corpus Christi Parish, while landscaping allows the campus boundaries to visually transition with relative ease to nearby Bowring Park.
Tract Consulting worked on site design for the project. Tract offers planning, engineering, architecture and landscape architecture services, having also worked on projects from Mount Pearl’s Centennial Square to the new Tiffany Village.
Neil Dawe, the company’s president, previously spent 13 years working on the city’s Grand Concourse and is a promoter of sustainable planning for municipalities. “Sustainable planning basically means you’re looking at the social, ecological and economic,” he said, in an interview last week.
Making the city attractive
“What corporations are looking to is where are those municipalities or those places with that high-content(ment) quotient and they’re establishing their headquarters there. Because they’re after the young graduates out of university,” Dawe said. “That’s what everybody’s after.”
To get the highest quality, most attractive spaces, he recommended municipalities first map their lands, determine what they have and what they want.
He recommended adding or improving shared, public spaces and densifying municipal service lands.
“Water and sewer cost a lot of money. Having two to three units per acre is not really that efficient,” he said.
He recommended avoiding new cul de sacs — “bubbles” — wherever possible, as they create barriers for people moving within the city.
“The other thing is your critical views, your view out. And that will become more and more of an issue here,” he said.
“But we’re really lucky here in that we’ve got ... the heritage district where the height of the buildings are restricted, so that we’re not overwhelmed by taller buildings and the viewscapes (then) are gone.”
He credited the City of St. John’s for pushing for view plane studies and providing digital drawings of proposed developments from multiple vantage points, so as to engage residents in discussing projects under review.
Finally, he said, plans need to incorporate a vision the public gets excited about and they need to be followed, rather than sitting on a shelf.
“We do a lot of plans that are done by the municipalities because, I think, it’s something the government says they need to do,” he said.
Further reading and links:
On rethinking St. John's:
On rethinking our outdoor environment:
On rethinking our spaces and what fills them:
Other construction projects
While The Telegram has focused its report on hotel, commercial and residential developments, plenty of other projects are keeping designers, planners, engineers, project managers, sales and tradespeople busy in and around St. John’s. The list includes:
• MUN campus additions
• Redevelopment of RNC headquarters (estimated capital cost $58 million)
• St. John’s International Airport expansion (estimated capital cost $167 million)
• Expansion of the St. John’s Convention Centre (estimated capital cost $45 million)
• New long-term care facility (estimated capital cost $150 million)
• New military buildings at CFS St. John’s (estimated capital cost $118 million)
• New Metrobus terminal off of Kelsey Drive
• New Empire Theatres on Torbay Road
(Source: Cost estimates courtesy of Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, Major Projects Inventory 2012)
In speaking with people on the subject of the city and development, The Telegram was offered more than a few recommendations on must-reads on local architecture or the more general topics of design and planning. Here is a selection:
“Newfoundland Modern: Architecture in the Smallwood Years, 1949-1972” by Robert Mellin
“Triumph of the City” by Edward Glaeser
“Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder” by Ken Greenberg
“Great Streets” by Allan Jacobs
City of St. John’s Urban Development Studies (online at www.stjohns.ca)