Parting thoughts on Paradise

Well Paradise, we've told all the stories we set out to tell during our Newburbia project, and it's time to hand over the keys and head back home.

We learned a lot while myself, Lee Pitts, Beth Macdonell and Adam Walsh were reporting from Yellowwood Drive, and we spent most of our free time (which wasn't much!) talking about the things we encountered during our days there.

"I found commuting took more time out of my day than I'm used to," Lee told me. "It's not that I don't commute, but I work long and unusual hours, and there usually isn't much traffic on the roads when I'm driving."

He said dealing with the high volume of slow-moving traffic was a new feat for him, though the commutes weren't quite as long as he was expecting when he first moved into the area.

But it's a trip we were making several times a day, back and forth to the newsroom. And it was also a task to juggle the couple of shared vehicles we had between us, so there were extra trips made to pick up our colleagues/roommates, and extra time spent trying to figure out each other's schedules.

Lee said this wasn't uncommon for the area. Local residents told him it was a daily struggle to get around, with such a heavy reliance on cars, since there's no public transit in the area.

Greg Hussey from Karwood Contracting also brought up an interesting point at our CBC House barbecue on Wednesday. He asked Beth why she would spend the time to walk downtown to a coffee shop, but wouldn't take that same amount of time here in the suburbs to walk to get coffee around the corner. It was a valid point. Aside from the time spent directly in the neighbourhood, we were driving everywhere. Greg even said that he's seen residents drive their cars to the entrance of the walking trail, (which is within spitting distance), and then get out and walk said trail.

The reliance on cars is interesting. When I lived in Toronto, I would walk for at least a half an hour to reach my destination, no questions asked -- and I didn't mind the exercise. But on our final night in CBC House, we were heading to Hong's, the Chinese restaurant that's just a few streets over, yet without question we all hopped in the car. We joked while driving the short distance to the restaurant about the ridiculousness of it (though we were very tired at this point and it was drizzly outside). But Lee brought up an interesting point: it's all about speed. In Toronto, it often takes the same amount of time to get somewhere, regardless of whether you're walking or driving. And time is an important thing these days, so whatever the fastest mode is for getting to your destination, that's often the option you're going to take.

Another issue Adam brought up was speeding. Since there are so many people now out in the 'burbs, getting stuck in traffic and struggling to make it through the commute, they're driving faster, making it less safe to travel on our roads. Many residents whom I spoke with also mentioned concerns of drivers racing around quiet suburban streets, desperate to get to where they're going as fast as possible. But in areas that promote kids playing outside, it's plain to see it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Living in Newburbia also raised questions about the speed of development. An economic boom is a positive thing for this province, but the prosperity isn't without its problems. "There are also worries of what's to come," Adam said. "By that I mean, us graduating into a bigger metro area, where drugs and crime become more prevalent, because that's what happens in a boom economy."

Beth noticed that with the boom, comes thousands of new people to the greater St. John's area to live -- and they're adjusting to a new culture.

"Many of the residents we profiled and met have come to Newburbia from around the bay," she said. "They've chosen a new home in Conception Bay South, Paradise, Torbay, Witless Bay for a more rural feel, but still want to live close to work.

"Now these newcomers, or as resident Tina Edwards calls them, 'transplants,' are living on suburban streets alongside other transplants. Unlike in the hometowns where they grew up, where they knew the people around them, these newcomers may now only know the people living next door."

Beth said these new neighbourhoods that are sprouting up may have a rural feel, but residents are living much more urban lives. "They are living in new modern homes. Households often have two cars. People are on the go more than ever, and they are adjusting to hectic lifestyles -- an increase in traffic congestion, demanding jobs, and looking after their kids in communities that are in the process of evolving. Parents are also struggling to figure out where their children can do activities, like hockey and swimming."

The mayors of these communities are also adapting to a new culture. They said they're doing the best they can, as fast as they can and are urging residents to be patient.

Adam described himself as "the product of suburban living."

"I grew up on the top of Fowler's Road in CBS in a subdivision that was not-yet-completed when we moved in, in 1992," he said. "Twenty years later, I'm spending a week in a not-yet-completed subdivision in Paradise. Difference? More of an effort is being made towards 'smart living,' by that I mean walking trails, green space, and as far as Paradise goes, even a coffee shop that's close by."

"The houses are also bigger now and way more expensive," he noted, pointing out that CBC House is being sold for about $440,000.

As we say goodbye to Paradise, I'd like to thank all of the neighbours we met in Neil's Pond Estates. By telling us their stories, we learned what Newburbia really is -- and we'll be watching closely to see what it becomes further on down the road.

What it takes to make Newburbia

I'm sure most people are aware that it takes a lot of preparation and planning to build a suburb like Neil's Pond Estates, but it's kind of astounding when you get see it for yourself, up close and personal. Greg Hussey, the owner of Karwood Contracting, took me on a tour Wednesday of his developments in the area around CBC House, and explained just what it takes to make Newburbia.

And Hussey himself certainly puts a lot of thought into his developments.

We start the tour on the first phase of the developed area on Kestrel Drive. The houses, built in the early ‘90s, are a mix of duplexes, five-unit buildings, and some single detached homes that share a unique feature: they're all accessible. Most are one-level homes with no stairs, making it an ideal choice for an aging population.

To be able to build it in the first place, about 30 feet of rock had to be cleared from the area, and they also had to ensure it was a flat street to keep the accessibility factor intact. Kestrel Drive is five streets over from our CBC House, where some blasting is going on in the nearby construction zone to break up a similar bank of rock. Hussey points out there's no real noise travelling from that site over to this area.

On to the next street over, Cormorant Place, where they had to blast even more rock (about a 40-to50-foot bank) to make way for development. There are some duplexes on this street, with a few accessible homes like over on Kestrel Drive, but most have stairs. And opposite those houses is a building with mixed rental and affordable housing units. Hussey says while many people seem to have the NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach about affordable housing, it's not a factor on this street: residents had a BBQ this past summer, and he says it was a friendly neighbourhood atmosphere. Hussey is also quick to point out that we're now four streets over from construction, and there's still no noise from the busy excavators.

Hussey then drives us up to Cloudberry Drive, just next to Karwood Drive. "It's a real shame," he says, nodding his head towards four houses there. He was doing work on a project for the area that would have created 20 affordable housing units, the exact same kind of building that we saw down on Cormorant Place. Hussey says all it took was a few neighbours with that NIMBY attitude who said they didn't want "those kinds of people" living in their suburban neighbourhood in Paradise, and the project was eventually killed. It's obvious that Hussey cares about the people in the community, and in explaining it all to me, you can see that he's trying to build a neighbourhood that meets everyone's needs. It's evident that this botched plan bothers him.

We then travel to Flamingo Drive, on the other side of Karwood Drive, about three streets over from CBC House. Here, you have what Hussey calls standard housing, or middle-of-the-market homes: some split-entry, and some bigger houses with garages. They had to clear about 15 to 25 feet of rock to put this street in place. And it's at this point in the neighbourhood where you can just start to hear the sounds from the construction zone nearby.

We then venture over to the street adjacent to CBC House, Goldfinch Drive. Hussey says you're on the fringe of development here, so there's going to be some construction noise. There are some retirees in the area, but Hussey says most of the residents are adults who are working during the day, and their kids are at school, so it's during this time that they try to get most of the construction work done.

Then it was over to the belly of the beast: the construction zone itself, up behind Yellowwood Drive. Right now, the construction workers are concentrating on "cut and fill": blasting and taking out rock from one area, and using it to fill in other areas to make a surface with a proper grade where houses can be built. (I even helped out with some excavating work!)

Hussey says his company has tried to expedite the process by using bigger equipment, and more of it, including two of their loudest machines, the drillers. He says they're also trying to be courteous to residents by keeping their dump trucks moving on the back roads, instead of the main roads, to keep the noise down.

Hussey says they've spent the last two to three months clearing out this area, and have about a month left. Then, it takes about six months to build a house.

He says there's been steady construction in the area for the last seven to eight years. The process takes about one year to complete a street behind each house (moving from the parallel streets), and progress is steady into Yellowwood Drive and beyond. Hussey says once construction has moved a street away from where you're living, it's not as bothersome.

Hussey also has future development plans mapped out for the area. The company is currently working on a three-floor condo building for the corner of Karwood and Kestrel Drives. "It's an experiment," he tells me. He says it's a higher density development that would fit 12 units in the same space that currently takes up about three houses. He says if it works out, the company plans to build one just like it across the street, at the corner of Karwood and Goldfinch Drives. He says there are two groups that are looking for this type of home: people who are under 30, and those who are over 50, especially those who travel around a whole lot. He says there's a sense of security in these types of condo buildings, because everyone knows each other, and you're in closer quarters, creating a sense of community.

He then drives out beyond the construction zone, on one of the paths that the dump trucks take, behind the elementary school on Karwood Drive. "This is where I'd like to build another one of these high density buildings," he says. Hussey envisions young families wanting to live there, because of its proximity to the school, and it might offer housing that fits their budget. He says Paradise has a lot of public spaces for residents to use, but its one weakness at the moment is public transit. While he says there's not a real demand for it now, if things went according to his plan, and more people were living in the area in these high-density developments, public transit would become a necessity in residents' lives.

We then head back to the Karwood office on Topsail Road, where I get to see where all the planning takes place, and meet the people involved in the process. There are architects working away on residential and commercial properties. "Everything is done on computers now, all in 3-D," Hussey tells me. They can even illustrate shading as to how the building will look when the sun is at different levels in the sky. And then there are the finishing touches. Karwood has a showroom, where buyers can pick the details for their homes, from flooring and faucets to paint and countertops.

It's a long process, and not without its necessary evils (like construction) and growing pains. But it's interesting to see the area through Hussey's eyes - the potential that exists among the rubble, and the bigger picture of what the landscape and the community could eventually become.

The bay vs. the 'burbs

There's an interesting mix of people in my new neighbourhood. While there are a few residents here that hail from the likes of St. John's and Mount Pearl, most are from rural Newfoundland: Chapel Arm, King's Point, Green Bay, Upper Island Cove, Lewisporte, Marystown, Gander. And there's a reason why they've decided to call Paradise home.

Many of whom I spoke with said they moved to the area because they wanted that "small town feel" - something I suspect to mimic their hometowns. They craved to have that dual ability to hop in their car to drive to town, and hop on their quad to drive down the trail. It's that middle ground between the bay and the city, reaping the benefits of both worlds: they could enjoy the amenities of city life, but were still able to live somewhere that's quiet, close to nature, hidden far enough away from town - all things that mirrored their former lives around the bay.

But for some, it wasn't an entirely smooth transition, and they continue to yearn for the perks of the bay that they just can't get in the'burbs. One family nearby moved to the area from Bishop's Falls just a few years back. The mother says the most shocking thing for them was the outrageous housing prices here. She could not believe the difference from their town in Central. Their old house was twice the size of their new abode in Neil's Pond Estates, with more land and a much smaller price tag. Overall, she says that Paradise is beautiful, but overrated - it's far from her idea of paradise.

Her teenaged daughter agrees. She says you would definitely get more bang for your buck around the bay, and more privacy too.

The privacy thing is an interesting point. For me personally, there's so much more space here between the houses than on my street on the edge of downtown St. John's. But for some, it's still a little too close for comfort.

Another resident told me he still feels irked by the fact that his neighbours are so close. He's from Marystown, and he says out that way, you have an abundance of land - a large lot for your house and your yard. It's funny how this type of suburban living seems to creep him out and entirely surpass his social norms. I'm guessing he would feel especially cramped in the 500-square-foot bachelor apartment on the fourteenth floor that I called home when I first moved to Toronto.

That being said, they're not a bad bunch to have nearby. Last night, I took a trip to the Orange Store around the corner to pick up a few things, and I couldn't help but notice how friendly everyone was. The place was pretty busy, with people running in to pay for gas, but regardless, everyone smiled, one man was very gracious that I held the door for him, and the store clerk who was run off her feet kept up a very pleasant conversation while she rang in my items. I couldn't help but smile as I left the store. Not to say that St. John's isn't filled with nice, polite people, but this place definitely stepped it up a notch. Small town feel indeed.

The sounds of the suburbs

Well, you'll be glad to know that I survived my first day as a suburban resident - even though it kills me a little bit just thinking about how it takes at least 20 minutes to get anywhere by car. But I'm adjusting to my new reality and learning how to build that into my daily routine.

One thing I can't seem to get used to though is the noise. I thought I was supposed to be living away from the hustle and bustle of St.John's?! The first thing that struck me yesterday morning upon my arrival at CBC House is just how loud it is here. No, it's not from cars, or the neighbours, or kids playing in the street - it's the construction, which seems to be never ending.

When I went around door-to-door for this project a couple of weeks ago, asking people what they liked and disliked about their Newburbia,many mentioned the ongoing concerns about construction. In Westgate, off Kenmount Road, pretty much everyone I spoke with was upset by the amount of construction going on in the area. And from what one resident told me, it's not going to let up anytime soon. While the main area of Westgate seems developed,there are apparently plans in the works to build even more houses behind Great Eastern Avenue. For now though, residents are shrugging their shoulders, and bearing with the growing pains of their new neighbourhood.

But things are a little more extreme here in Paradise.

I was actually pretty taken aback when I realized that, here are these machines out digging and hammering, making all sorts of racket, at the early hour of 7:30 a.m. The noise continued throughout the day, right behind our backyard - the constant banging, clanging, drilling - and only when it stopped did you realize just how loud and annoying it truly is. And when that silence lingers, even hanging in the air for just a moment, you breathe a sigh of relief. But no, the workers are just taking a short break. The excavator starts up again, and doesn't quit until close to 6 p.m.

One resident told me that blasting starts even earlier than7 a.m., and it's driving her nuts. She said she hasn't been able to enjoy this beautiful summer we've had because of the constant noise. "If anyone's looking for a nice, quiet neighbourhood," she said, "I wouldn't move here any time soon."

Another family is upset with how the construction is changing their landscape. One woman said they purchased the house because of the beautiful greenbelt behind their home. But that has been wrecked. It's being developed into more houses now, and it's a plan they weren't fully aware of when they purchased their home. She said she's been living in a construction zone for eight years now, and she's thoroughly fed up with it.

But it's not just that the construction is bothersome and ugly. One woman is worried about her children's safety. She says blasting has occurred directly behind her house - and it's a little too close for comfort. As soon as she hears the sound of three horns, she knows a blast is coming, so she has to run outside to grab her five-year-old boy. She has witnessed pieces of rock flying into her backyard, and she's not taking any chances with her son's safety.

I might get some street noise at my townhouse in St. John's,but I'm pretty happy about the fact that it's fully developed and there's no construction anywhere in sight. (And that I don't have to run and hide from flying rocks!) And I don't mind hearing the occasional car or the chatter from my friendly neighbours talking to one another. It's actually one of the reasons why I love my street. It has that old downtown St. John's feel, and that sense of being a part of a close-knit community.

But once those machines stop, I start to understand this whole suburb thing. I must say, it is pretty peaceful out here when the builders finally call it a day. And it's nice to have that breathing room, that space and privacy that you just can't get in a crammed, older neighbourhood.

It's the eve of our mission

It's the eve of our mission. Myself and three other brave souls - CBC reporters Lee Pitts, Adam Walsh, and Beth Macdonell - are about to embark on a journey to a new world. Our destination: Newburbia.

We're setting up shop in a house in Neil's Pond Estates, one of the many new suburban developments that are going up in Paradise. For the next five days, we'll live alongside its inhabitants, studying their lives and the local landscape, and experiencing suburban life firsthand.

It's going to be quite a change for me, and I'm not entirely sure I'm prepared for it. I've spent most of my life in St. John's, first in a small bungalow in the west end, and now, in my own little townhouse just on the edge of downtown. I've also punched in four years in downtown Toronto, living right in the centre of the beast. So the thought of heading to the outskirts is more than a little frightening for me. I've built my whole life around the notion of being close to where the action is. (Heck, I've even made it my job!)

That being said, I know I'm not headed to the end of the earth. But it can feel like a strange, distant land for a bona fide city girl. When you're talking about a five-minute drive to work suddenly turning into what could be half an hour? (Or dare I say longer?!) Let's just say I'm not looking forward to that aspect of the suburban lifestyle.

Also, it's apparent that things have changed drastically in the area. As a kid, I remember Paradise seeming so remote, and I never understood why someone would want to live there instead of in town. And when I used to visit a friend who lived out in Foxtrap, my friends and I would joke about having to pack a lunch for the long journey to his house.

But now, there are houses practically everywhere in places like Paradise and C.B.S, with more and more trees disappearing to make room for the seemingly endless amounts of new abodes. And these residents don't seem to mind making that morning jaunt to work.

While I'm not looking forward to the rush hour traffic, I'm very excited about seeing what life in the 'burbs is all about. I want to know what attracts people to these new neighbourhoods that are developing. Why would anyone not want to live in the city?

I'll have to find out what all this fuss is about. And I'm pretty excited for the journey. Stay tuned to this blog for my musings throughout the week.

Here's hoping that Paradise can live up to its name!

Jen's Journal

Jen White

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