It’s not just what you build; it's how you build it

Denis Mahoney
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The St. John’s Board of Trade gets a bad rap when it comes to development. So I’m going to clear up that myth right now. The board isn’t pro development. We are pro good development.

We’re big on research and policy analysis, and after spending much of last year focused on development, we come to the same conclusion every time — good development is good for people. We believe in the immense value of heritage buildings, the importance of interconnected neighbourhoods and smart growth and planning. We’ve partnered with Downtown St. John’s, Historic Trust, Happy City and others to share and discuss development issues.

It seems when you build a city that’s livable, well, people want to live there. It’s an obvious connection, but when you think about what makes a city, what defines it, it always comes back to people. When people have a say in what’s happening where they live, they get excited, invested and involved. That’s why we were pleased to see such feedback to the city’s municipal plan review.

 The municipal plan review in

St. John’s — a process that started last year and was supposed to wrap up this summer — has been delayed. Why? Because of the overwhelming number of people who took the time to participate in the consultation process. People were so excited to have their say about what the city should look like that they spent a full Saturday at city hall to talk about their city. Dozens more sat down and wrote letters and emails about what they wanted our city to look and feel like for the next decade.

Think about the last time you cared enough about an issue to write a letter. That level of participation is inspiring.

Now that the input has been provided, we have to really listen to those who took the time to stand up, because the plan is only the first step. Once we know what the city should be — based on what the people want it to be — then we have to figure out how to make it happen. We have to create rules about what to build and where. By making the right rules, communicating them, sticking to them, and by doing it publicly and transparently, our council can shape this city for economic success.  

Because it’s one thing to write about the need to reduce car trips in the municipal plan, or to promote mixed-use development through written regulations, but our elected officials have to follow through on this vision inspired by the people, or we aren’t really creating the city we want.

When residents — voters — talk about the need for more apartments, when they ask for permission to start a small business in their neighbourhoods, or when they say they want a local marketplace, we should all work together to make it happen. We should consider the benefits to the city of each potential project — big or small — rather than focusing on how it will negatively affect the local area.  We have to move beyond “not in my backyard.”

There will always be concerns about traffic and parking, so let’s look at them as opportunities instead. Is there potential to solve those issues in a particular neighbourhood in order to help the project succeed? Could added private parking for a business or community project that operates only in the day give residents a place to park overnight? If increased traffic will be an issue, perhaps residents could create laneways between houses to access community activities or a neighbourhood shop on foot, or lobby for a transit stop in the area that would help get more people travel with fewer cars.

It’s only when we work together with open minds that things get done and get done well. If you don’t stand up and have your say, as a councillor, voter, or as the person proposing a project, then a solution no one else has thought of may be missed.

As the election approaches, it’s the perfect time for all of us to start talking.

Talk about developments, talk about the regulations, talk about what was asked for in the public consultations on the municipal plan. Sometimes an understanding of another perspective can change yours. Sometimes it will give you more conviction in your argument. Either way, until we all start talking about what the city should be like, we’ll never reach a consensus and the animosity around development of a swing set or a high rise building will continue.

Again, it’s all about people. Attracting them here, making them happy they chose to live here, and keeping them here for generations. Because without all the amazing people in St. John’s, we wouldn’t have much of a city at all. Without those ideas, those willing to invest and stay here there would be no development, no housing, and no future for St. John’s.

Building denser, building greener, building for people’s needs in this city — yeah, the board of trade is pro good development.


Denis Mahoney is chairman

of the St. John’s Board of Trade.



Organizations: Board of Trade, Historic Trust

Geographic location: Happy

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Recent comments

  • Dave Lane
    August 17, 2013 - 14:31

    I completely agree with the Board's position on this. Density can be good - it saves on taxes and can improve services and quality of life - but if not thought out we could end up with major issues on our hands. Density for density's sake can lead to just a pile of offices in a place with no amenities - and that would not be appealing to business or their workers (thus empty, useless buildings).