Please allow me to express some thoughts on development in downtown St. John’s.
I think we are at a bit of a turning point in terms of where we want to go with the future of the downtown and the harbourfront in our city. I say “turning point” because I think that soon there will be no turning back from the course we are on and that future generations will have to suffer the consequences.
Question: do we want a future as a working port with an adjacent business centre with its attendant tall buildings and automobile-oriented infrastructure or do we envision an area in which the needs of shipping and business must be subordinate to the needs and desires of citizens and visitors?
It seems that the current city council is pretty squarely in the former camp and perhaps the prevailing attitude is that St. John’s has always been and will always be a working port and business centre.
I think this is shortsighted.
The downtown housing stock is increasingly being renovated and revitalized, and the pace of condo development is breathtaking! Hundreds if not thousands of urban professionals and financially secure retirees will be moving to the downtown and paying huge amounts of property tax. The demands of these people, as well as the visitors we are trying to attract, are going to clash head on with the old working port/business centre paradigm. They are going to want pedestrian-friendly access as well as interesting venues in which to eat, drink and simply spend time (and money). They are going to want to be able to drink coffee with friends while watching harbour activities and then they are going to want to be able to stroll along the harbourside with friends and family, unimpeded by fences and buildings. (The restaurant under construction looks like another Atlantic Place and is a prime example of the wrong way to go, in my opinion.)
Enlightened civic leaders in historic port cities all over the world do not destroy what they have. They do not block access and they consider people first and cars second. They realize the revenue from people who want to live nearby is substantial and constant and that visitors who want to spend time in a beautiful and historic port will spend their money freely.
There is a small area left between Atlantic Place and the Fortis building which I think should be earmarked for citizen and tourist-friendly development with an emphasis on preserving what we can of our long history. How about tax incentives for entrepreneurs willing to develop appropriate enterprises? What about an outdoor area where people actually want to gather in the winter? Don’t laugh, in Scandinavia there are open-air sidewalk cafes and heated sidewalks where people can gather with family and friends to eat and drink or just spend time. The benefits to both mental and physical well-being are considerable and there has been a large drop in costly hospital visits resulting from falls due to slippery surfaces. I guess all that excess Muskrat Falls power will have to be used somewhere!
At the rate we are going, the downtown will soon be a maze of glass and steel towers beside a harbour which will be totally inaccessible to citizens and visitors alike. We don’t have to go in that direction but we had better stop and re-assess sooner rather than later.
If council would prefer to forget about these concerns then I can only hope that voters will deliver a sharp reminder at future elections.
David Paddon writes
from downtown St. John’s.