“The human race has had long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity.”
— Alan Gregg (1890-1957), scientist
“City enjoying good times,” a headline in The Telegram read this week. In the story, St. John’s Coun. Bruce Tilley talked about signs of prosperity in the metro region with all the fervour of a salesman kicking the tires of a used car.
“Retail trade is up. Personal income is up. We’ve had the largest increase in median family income. … Total employment is gone up by 10,000 jobs over the past three years.”
But, as anyone who has ever bought a used car will tell you, beneath that newly buffed shine and waft of new-car-smell spray, a heap of problems could be lurking — a transmission about to conk out or a botched post-accident repair job.
And the same goes for the city of St. John’s.
I’m not disputing Tilley’s numbers or begrudging him his pride in how well this region is doing economically. But there is more than one side to the coin, as I’m sure he would readily acknowledge.
My husband and I ran into a friend who lives on our street the other day. He was searching fruitlessly on the side of the road for his partner’s jewelry box, stolen when their house was broken into.
We could relate, having been targets ourselves a couple of years ago.
And that’s the trouble — residential and commercial break-ins and thefts are so common now that we hear about it and shrug our shoulders. What can you do?
But make no mistake, your equilibrium is shattered. I still arrive home from work every day with trepidation. Will there be another muddy bootprint on the front door?
What’s behind the break-ins is even more troubling: addiction, often. Oxy, Dilaudid, cocaine, Ecstasy. Name your poison — there’s plenty of it out there.
Desperation, poverty, the growing gap between rich and poor, often lead people to seek escape through drug use.
Addiction leads to crime, and also to danger — both in terms of the health of those addicted and other members of the public who have to worry about their children or pets being pricked with needles discarded in the street.
Addiction also leads to desperation, which might account for the proliferation of massage parlours and prostitutes in our capital city.
The notion of a St. John’s awash in prosperity conjures up images all bright and emphatically colourized like the award-winning provincial tourism commercials — not a piece of trash or a pothole to be seen.
But the true picture has a few more flaws.
Our roads are in rough shape, and many citizens of this city still do not have basic amenities, like sidewalks.
Those of us fortunate enough to have sidewalks often have to forfeit them in winter.
On Water Street, those sidewalks are often populated by a handful of folks down on their luck, panhandling their way through another day of despair.
A further sign of prosperity: garbage. This is one dirty old town. If the amount of thrown-away fast-food containers and cardboard coffee cups on the sides of the road is any indication, plenty of people in this city can afford to eat out.
But there’s plenty of hunger here, too, with the pressure on food banks, school lunch programs and soup kitchens showing no sign of abatement.
And what about homelessness? Tilley says the city went “flat out” in encouraging hotels to be built. We need to bring the same zeal to bear in encouraging affordable housing developments.
First-time homeowners are having to wait longer before they can afford to buy, and there’s a dearth of decent rental housing. Slum landlords and unsupervised boarding houses, on the other hand, are a little easier to find.
This city’s big on cruise ships and conventions, but we need to be as concerned about our citizens as we are visitors.
Cruise ships and conventions are good for the economy, but they come and go, while the rest of us remain here with our sky-high assessments, daily armed robberies and pockets of poverty.
“The quality of life can’t be touched,” Tilley says.
I’d disagree with him there. A survey of Telegram readers last year found that many people feel unsafe in their neighborhood.
The truth is, this city no longer feels as friendly as it once did. There are more knives on the street. More muggings. More smash-and-grabs. More thugs out driving around armed with baseball bats and bear spray, just in case. More drugs. More guns.
By all means, let’s celebrate and laud the successes of this city, but let’s acknowledge the failures as well.
Because we will not have truly achieved prosperity unless it gets equitably spread around.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at