Self-driving cars, denser neighbourhoods: What might St. John's look like in 20 years?

On World Town Panning Day, CBC spoke to St. John's planner Ken O'Brien to get a sense of what people like him are looking ahead to over the next two decades.

City planner Ken O'Brien says day-to-day operations are priority, but important to think about future

Ken O'Brien is the municipal planner with the City of St. John's. He spoke with the St. John's Morning show on World Town Planning Day about the future of the city. (Paula Gale/CBC)

With technology continuing to change our lives in increasing and unexpected ways, city planners have to stay up to date on new developments and how they could affect the way we design neighbourhoods.

The City of St. John's declared Nov. 8 as World Town Planning Day, to recognize the work that professional planners do.

CBC's St. John's Morning Show invited St. John's planner Ken O'Brien to come in and discuss some of the things that we should be thinking about when it comes to designing and building new projects over the next two decades.

Here's a look at just some of what he feels could shape the future of St. John's over the next 20 years.

Self-driving vehicles

Still very much in the early phase of development, some feel that self-driving cars and trucks may never become the norm.

But O'Brien says municipal planners like him have to take these developments seriously and consider how the changing technology affect how we plan roads and buildings.

"If that works out down the road 20 years from now, would people want to own their own cars?" he asks.

"If you go into a commercial area would you need ... a sea of parking if the car could just drop you off and go do other things? It could transform cities."

Could self-driving vehicles, like this car from Google, become more common in the future and change the way our cities are designed? (Google)

While places like Los Angeles are at the forefront of infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, O'Brien admits that Newfoundland and Labrador has a challenge with intense winter weather and the fact that places like St. John's are not designed in an easily navigated grid layout.

More walkable neighbourhoods

The design of more densely populated neighbourhoods is a trend that O'Brien would like to see St. John's follow more over the years to come.

Greater density doesn't just mean packing more people into a small space, but also properly planning areas so that people can walk to shopping and services instead of relying on driving there.

The Churchill Park neighbourhood in St. John's was built around a hub of small businesses and services, and was the first planned post-war neighbourhood designed in Canada. (CBC)

"The excellent one that comes to mind is the Churchill Park area," he said. 

"Where you've got shopping in the centre, apartment buildings nearby and a whole range of housing surrounding it with schools and services and great open spaces and parks."

Diverse housing 

The need for a variety of home designs and prices is something that is not only needed in the city now, but will increasingly be so in the future, O'Brien suspects.

He said the issue of affordable housing could drive planners to mix up residential neighbourhoods with various types of large and small structures.

A tiny home, reminiscent of a traditional Newfoundland salt box home, was designed by engineer Jon Soehl. (Courtesy of Driftwood Dwellings)

All of these changes are just getting off the ground as concepts, but they're the kinds of things O'Brien said he has to keep an eye on while he deals with present challenges.

"We have to deal with the day to day," he said. "But as we try to build the city better, maybe 20 years from now St. John's will be a little more dense at its core."

With files from St. John's Morning Show