Summer reading

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Ah, summer — the place where public consultations go to die.  Seriously, though, this is the time of year when your workmates drift away to summer concerns, and talk around the office is more about how the people left behind are going to get everyone else’s work done. It’s not when you’d expect everyone’s attention to be seized by a new municipal plan.

But that seems to be what the City of St. John’s is hoping for.

Those working on the plan say they hope the document might actually be compelling cabin reading — a draft of the plan is coming before council tonight and then will be presented to the public.

“Now it is time for the public to see the result thus far,” a memo on the draft report says. “With council’s support, the draft municipal plan will be circulated for public review and comment. This launch will allow time over the summer for people to read the plan, digest it and comment on it. In the fall we will have several public open houses and a public meeting.”

It probably should be read, digested and commented on, at least by those who are concerned about the haphazard approach the city seems to have taken in recent years. You could call it the squeaky-wheel-and-the-grease approach: the volume of public outcry is held up against the cash value of developments and usually, to put it bluntly, the cash wins.

The new plan says it offers a new view.

Here are a few of the ideas the report is said to be championing:

• A balanced growth strategy, preserving neighbourhoods but accommodating suitable growth.

• Open-space integration so that open space is the spine upon which neighbourhoods are built.

• Intensification areas — areas along main roads where there is opportunity for larger buildings and more development, served by existing or future public transit routes.

• Infrastructure investment along major streets and transit routes that considers pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers in “Complete Streets.”

• Neighbourhood planning, starting with areas where neighbourhood groups are keen to get involved.

• Urban-design guidelines, downtown and elsewhere, on how new buildings relate to the streets and sidewalks in a way that makes for safe and beautiful surroundings.

• Ensuring that downtown remains the commercial, institutional and heritage heart of the city, a great place to live as well as to shop and to socialize.

Will it happen? Well, even those who drafted the plan say summer is often taken up with other commitments.

“Over the summer, city staff are occupied with the busy period for development applications. In the fall, staff will have the time needed to engage fully with the public, leading to open houses and a public meeting.”

Legitimate public involvement means outreach and clear efforts to involve interested people from the start. We could use a lot more of that. And even if it doesn’t sound like summer fun, take a little time to have a voice when it comes to where the city is going.

Silence is often taken as assent, so make sure you know just what it is you’re assenting to.

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