Last night I attended the Open House for PlanSJ — the process to create Saint John’s new official plan — and had a good look at the proposed direction for city growth over the next 25 years. In a nutshell, the plan calls the city to grow up, not out.
What this means is that urban areas, where the population is denser and communities are walkable, are recognized as healthier alternatives to suburban “scatteration”. These areas including the priority neighbourhoods of the Old North End, Crescent Valley, Waterloo Village, the South End, and the Lower West Side, areas of the city which desperately need an infusion of cash and smart development and energetic citizens. And the need is desperate: despite generous support for anti-poverty initiatives and community building projects, the neighbourhoods are known more for their decrepit buildings, drug traffickers and arsonists than the tenacious citizens who are trying to make things better.
If the city follows through, if buildings worth saving are rehabilitated, if new construction replaces empty lots and eyesores, and if people are willing to move back into the urban areas to make the city core healthy and happy, then Saint John doesn’t have anything to fear from the growing suburban communities on its east and west that have been attracting city refugees for the past 20 years. But in order for this to work, the city has to make the urban neighbourhoods more attractive — to developers, business owners, and prospective residents — at the same time as ensuring that people who live at or near the poverty line aren’t pushed out of their own neighbourhoods by skyrocketing rents.
It’s a tall order; is the city up to it? I hope so!
Photo taken on November 9, 2010