Nfld. & Labrador

Why St. John's neighbourhoods may go back to the future

The City of St. John's is developing a bold plan to redevelop some of its neighbourhoods, and is looking at old models that worked well in the past, writes Adam Walsh.
The Churchill Square neighbourhood in St. John's was built around a hub of small businesses. (CBC)

Turns out the future St. John's may end up looking a bit like the past.

Last week, the city released a draft municipal plan titled Envision St. John's. It's a tentative 10-year vision for St. John's that, if all goes as scheduled, will be approved next year.

A big part of the plan involves developing what the plan describes as "healthy neighbourhoods."

The new draft plan for St. John's puts an emphasis on public transit. (CBC)
There's a broad definition of what that means, and it generally follows these lines: a healthy neighbourhood is one where people can walk, ride a bike or take a quick bus ride to shops or to work. The focus will be pedestrian-friendly, where car use is drastically lessened.

Also, there will be more of a public transit focus, there will be fewer parking lots.

That's the idea, and it's quite a bit different in tone from what we've seen over the last few decades, with the big-box focus in neighbourhoods like Stavanger Drive and Kelsey Drive, and subdivisions sprawling out across the Northeast Avalon.

In a sense, the city wants to return to a model that it used in the past. One neighbourhood mentioned in the report is Churchill Square, which was built around a town square-style commercial district after the Second World War, and modelled at the time as a complete neighbourhood.


The city does not necessarily envision starting new neighbourhoods from scratch. In order to develop "healthy neighbourhoods," some existing ones could be intensified.

That means creating a mix of houses, offices for work, stores, public spaces and public art on display.

The report identifies eight potential areas. The boundaries for each are:

1. Newfoundland Drive and Torbay Road intersection.

2. Macdonald Drive, Torbay Road, Elizabeth Avenue, New Cove Road, Portugal Cove Road

3, LeMarchant Road, Bennett Avenue, Beaumont Street, Campbell Avenue, Pleasant Street, Patrick Street, Hamilton Avenue and LeMarchant Road from Bennett Avenue to Carter's Hill.

4. Adams Avenue, Penneywell Road, Freshwater Road, Keane Place.

5. Ropewalk Lane, Pennywell Road, Campbell Avenue, Cashin Avenue, Mundy Pond Rd.

6. Water Street from Leslie Street to Job Street. 

7. Topsail Road from Cowan Avenue to Columbus Drive and Topsail Road, Columbus Drive, Waterford Bridge Road, Cowan Avenue.

8. Topsail Road (the portion within the City of St. John's boundary) to Burgeo Street.

'Complete streets'

The report says that intensified neighbourhoods will also have "complete streets."

According to the draft plan, these streets would emphasize the moving of people instead of just vehicles. This means that more thought needs to be given to pedestrians and cyclists. Streets will be retrofitted or built new to improve the "balance of safety, accessibility, convenience and comfort of all street users."

Again, this is not quite in synch with the current mood of council, where the largely unfinished work the city has started on encouraging cycling has been openly derided.

'Recapturing' neighbourhoods

The goal for St. John's is to increase the number of people who live and work in the city. For families that moved out to the burbs outside St. John's, the city wants to "recapture" them, and that means luring them to their intensification areas.

How do they intend to that, exactly?

The hope is that a vibrant neighbourhood will sell itself, that it will lure back the so-called brownbaggers who would be content to have less commuting time if they could live in a place that is more self-contained and affordable.

The draft plan is a strategy, but it's missing the instruction booklet. You see the IKEA bookshelf, as it were, but you don't get the step-by-step plan and tools to achieve what the city wants to see.

There's also the question of whether this plan is what the current council actually wants. They have a conflicted approach to development, and seem to have trouble agreeing on how to control traffic on a single street, let alone across the entire city.

For now, the report is being read and digested. Final approval is still months away, and even then, we'll have to wait and see how exactly St. John's wants to transform itself.

About the Author

Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist.


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