Who are we building St. John’s for?

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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.

Geographic location: Atlantic Place, Scandinavia

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Recent comments

  • jmsmith
    June 25, 2013 - 12:19

    Or, to put it another way: "For whom are we building St. John's?"

  • Christopher Chafe
    June 25, 2013 - 09:38

    You seem to forget one important factor.....the CORE BUSINESS DISTRICT is located downtown. You also seem to forget that our port is a working port. You also seem to forget that we have a rapidly aging population here and we MUST attract new lucrative industries to lure our educated young people back home from the mainland.

  • david
    June 25, 2013 - 09:01

    The historic city of St. John's has been completely and naively sacrificed to the oil rodeo. Though the city was understandably completely unprepared for such a maelstrom to be unleashed on an economic backwater in the beginning (despite having more than 2 decades of "advance notice" of what would likely, eventually occur), it was obvious that local government would be required to step up its game, going from 'rec league' hockey to the NHL. And, despite having wasted the more-than two decades of production delays when nothing got done or considered, it still had the time. Critically, the need to recruit and integrate outside advice, from competent, skilled people with actual experience in oil boom dynamics, was "Step One". Nope....just the bye's from the local beer league, thanks! And here we are. When the oil is gone, and the party is over, St. John's will not only be a completely unsustainable venue in which to live, it will stand out as an unsightly blight on a barren landscape. A monument to ignorance, hubris, immediate self-gratification, and greed.

    • a business man
      June 26, 2013 - 19:44

      Honestly, you are right, but it is nothing new. It is just your typical boom-then-bust cycle. It happens all the time. The key is to have the smarts to see when the bust is coming, and cash out before and leave everyone holding the bag. I plan to sell my some of my rental homes before the bust and then re-buy something similar at a cheaper price after the bust. Someone else can hold the bag on this one. The sad reality is that none of us can do anything to prevent the inevitable bust, so you might as well line your pockets on the way up, and ensure you have liquidate your assets when the town goes bust.