By John Buffinga
I was prompted to write this letter to the editor after reading a letter written by an Ottawa couple that appeared in your paper on Aug. 28 (“Beautiful province, but your capital city needs weeding.”) I could not agree more.
The problem is particularly bad in the downtown residential and commercial area, which also happens to be the core heritage area frequented by tourists. Some of the weeds are as tall as shrubs and, particularly this time of year, carrying heavy seed heads that will produce new crops for years to come.
Tall weeds are everywhere, and no one seems to care or do anything about them. Homeowners seem to completely ignore them. Walk along Gower, Bond or Cathedral streets, the Georgetown area, or anywhere in the older part of St. John’s really, and you will be hard pressed to find a public space that is cared for, maintained, cleaned up. The commercial streets of Duckworth and Water Street are no different. There are tall weeds around every telephone pole, between buildings, in every crack in the sidewalk and in most of the small lanes.
Since few storeowners do much to clean up these unsightly weeds, they become traps for other debris like cigarette butts, takeout coffee cups, chip bags, dead leaves and, yes, dog pooh.
Having had this conversation with people many times over the years, I am always told that all of these areas are public spaces that should be taken care of by the city. Sidewalks, for instance, are the responsibility of the city. Our climate is such that cracks appear in sidewalks and these tend to be filled by weeds, which is nature’s way of reclaiming its own. And I agree, the city should look after this problem and assign one or two of its staff to get rid of these unsightly weeds.
However, it should also be the responsibility of each homeowner or commercial operator in the downtown to look after the public space in front of his or her own house or store. Most homeowners or storeowners in the downtown have no more than 20 or 30 feet of sidewalk space in front of their buildings. It is really not a lot to ask them to keep the weeds down in the cracks of the sidewalk, around telephone poles or between themselves and the neighbours.
It would be a good thing if the residents of St. John’s were to think a little bit differently about the maintenance of public spaces. Rather than expect the city to do it all, we could all do a lot more ourselves. It seems to me that so much more could be done to enhance the esthetic appeal of a city that is otherwise beautiful and different from any other city in Canada and the world.
Most visitors love the place but the unsightly weeds that are allowed to grow with abandon distract many of them. They send the message that no one really cares. The pride of place that most Newfoundlanders possess naturally should also extend to pride of ownership.
There is also an economic benefit to this argument. The pride that residents feel about the place where they live will make them contribute to the city in other areas as well. Similarly, visitors who see this pride of ownership reflected everywhere around them will go home and tell others about it instead of writing “Beautiful province, but your capital city needs weeding.”
John Buffinga lives in downtown St. John’s.