Smart Cities Challenge: Mobility Survey Report

In April 2018, Happy City St. John’s and the City of St. John’s announced a partnership to prepare a proposal for the Smart Cities Canada Challenge, a national competition organized by Infrastructure Canada. A smart city is a community that uses information and communication technologies to improve quality of government, efficiency of urban services and operations, and the wellbeing of residents. The focus of the St. John’s application was using technology to improve policy and design related to the intersection of mobility and public health in the capital region.

During this process, Happy City facilitated in-person and online dialogue including the development and distribution of a Smart Cities Mobility Survey. The survey was distributed online to residents of St. John’s and its surrounding area, and received 977 responses. Residents of St. John’s voiced their opinions on how they navigate the city, whether their mobility needs are being met, and whether they would like to see smart technologies integrated into St. John’s mobility strategy.

The results of our online survey can be viewed at Smart_Cities_Mobility_Survey_Report

Smart Cities Update

In early April, Happy City St. John’s and the City of St. John’s announced a partnership to prepare a proposal for the Smart Cities Challenge. The Smart Cities Challenge, organized by Infrastructure Canada, is a national competition encouraging municipalities and indigenous communities across Canada to develop innovative approaches to solving local problems through a smart cities approach. The City of St. John’s is applying for the prize of $10 million.

What is a smart cities approach, you ask? In simplest terms, a smart city is a community that integrates information and communications technology into its infrastructure to improve the quality of government and the wellbeing of residents. Happy City was engaged in this initiative because of our background in facilitating public dialogue in St. John’s, and to build on a growing conversation regarding mobility in St. John’s. When invited by Councillor Burton to participate in the public conversation throughout this process, we eagerly agreed.

The approach for public participation throughout this process was three-fold:

Broad public engagement: residents of St. John’s were consulted and this project was promoted through online channels, an online survey, and in-person consultation sessions which occurred in open sessions and more targeted groups;

Partnerships: community groups such as the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities NL, Choices for Youth, Stella Burry Community Services, Memorial University, SeniorsNL, and others, were engaged to consult and represent their constituents throughout this process. Consultation sessions were held with a number of community groups to provide a comfortable and open space to voice experiences and needs;

Challenge Committee: a group was formed including representatives from Happy City, community groups, the tech entrepreneur community, and citizen representatives, as well as city staff and municipal and provincial government representatives. This group was formed by active recruitment of groups and individuals with related expertise and interests, and through public calls for interested parties.

We have been amazed by the public response to this conversation!

What has developed throughout this process is a conversation around the intersection between public health and mobility in St. John’s. Public health is not traditionally within the jurisdiction of municipalities; but, one distinct way in which St. John’s can impact physical and mental health is by empowering residents to move more freely through the city. This is why a smart cities approach to an integrated mobility network has been proposed.

“Integrated mobility network” means creating a system that focuses on all the ways in which residents move around the city, and facilitating more inclusive, sustainable transportation. To take a smart cities approach is to use information and communications technology to analyse the ways in which people move, and implement a mobility network that utilizes smart technology to enable that movement.

The application is due Tuesday, April 24th.

Applications are adjudicated by a jury of experts across Canada, and five applicants for each level of prize are selected for phase 2. Those communities who are selected for phase 2 will be provided $250,000 to flesh out a final application throughout Fall 2018, with winners of each level of prize being selected in Spring 2019.

We are optimistic and look forward to seeing what conversations have occurred in other municipalities. Regardless of the outcome, be assured happy citizens, Happy City St. John’s will continue the momentum around the mobility conversation in St. John’s!

St. John’s Mobility Survey

This week, the City of St. John’s announced a partnership with Happy City St. John’s to enter the Smart Cities Challenge!

Happy City is leading public consultation for the project, and we are asking residents to fill out a brief survey to let us know about your experience getting around the city! This survey will only take about 5 minutes of your time, and it will help a great deal with the completion of the Smart Cities application.

Please Fill Out The Survey Here

If you have any difficulty filling out the survey online, or need help, please feel free to reach out to us at info@happycity.ca! If you have any ideas about how St. John’s can integrate smart technologies into our mobility system, we would also love to hear from you!

You can read more on the St. John’s bid for the Smart Cities Challenge here. We also received some media coverage over the past few days ( 123)

Smart Cities Challenge Announcement – City of St. John’s and Happy City Partnership

St. John’s to enter Canadian Smart Cities Challenge

 

Today, the City of St. John’s and Happy City St. John’s announced a collaboration to enter into the Canadian Smart Cities Challenge, an initiative of the federal government to encourage communities to seek smart, transformative solutions to big problems. The application for St. John’s will focus on becoming a city of residents who, with the application of technologies, can better embrace and celebrate an active and healthy lifestyle.

 

“The Smart Cities Challenge encourages municipalities to define their future, and we recognize the need to take a meaningful lead on a serious, province-wide issue – public health,” explained Councillor Maggie Burton. “We are proposing the development of a modern, Integrated Mobility Network, informed by engagement with the community and the collection and analysis of mobility data, that capitalizes on our world-class trail systems and entrepreneurial spirit.”

 

Integrated Mobility Network is a people-focused project that will combine transportation, planning, urban design and land use concepts and principles to improve residents’ ability to move around the City more easily.

 

Key to developing a proposal will be many partners in the community. Happy City, a local non-profit with the mission to “inform, encourage, and facilitate public dialogue around civic issues in St. John’s,” is an active partner with the City of St. John’s to facilitate discussions and prepare the application for the Smart Cities Challenge.

 

“We have an opportunity for residents to come together in a conversation around how we can design a St. John’s of the future,” said Rob Nolan, chair, Happy City St. John’s. “The theme for our proposal – Integrated Mobility Network – arose from conversations about the evolving needs of our community members, and the incredible potential for using smart technologies to design a mobility network that positively contributes to the health and well-being of citizens. At this stage of the project, we need to ensure voices from across the city are heard, and we are working to involve citizens with diverse mobility needs.”

 

A volunteer ‘Challenge Committee’ has been struck to help advise and guide the direction of the application, and Happy City is coordinating an online survey and public forums to engage the community on the topic; previous engagement work in support of other programs such as Healthy Communities initiative will also help inform the content of the application. Applications for the challenge must be submitted by April 24, 2018, after which juried finalists will be awarded $250,000 to flesh out their proposal.  The St. John’s application will target the $10 million prize.

 

To participate in the development of the application, residents will be encouraged to respond to a survey which will be available soon, or to participate in an upcoming public discussion, which will be announced in the coming week on both stjohns.ca and happycity.ca.

 

 

Media Contact:

Kelly Maguire

Media Relations

City of St. John’s

709-576-8491

kmaguire@stjohns.ca

 

BACKGROUND

 

The federal minister of Infrastructure and Communities has issued a Canadian Smart Cities Challenge. This initiative challenges communities to bring together a range of partners from public, private, education and community-based sectors to define a common “big problem” and craft a solution utilizing data and connected technologies.

 

The Smart Cities Challenge is a competition intended to inspire communities across the country to define their future with the help of their residents using a smart cities approach. Winning communities will be awarded prize money to help implement their proposals:

● One prize of up to $50 million, open to all communities, regardless of population

● Two prizes of up to $10 million for communities with populations under 500,000

 

Applicants can only apply to one category.

 

The City of St. John’s will apply for one of the $10 million-dollar prizes. The challenge is not for funding an ongoing program, service or infrastructure, but for creating something new, for championing new ideas.

 

Given “Challenge Areas” are not required to be the legislative jurisdiction of the city as an entity, as capital city St. John’s has the opportunity to finally take a meaningful lead on a serious, province-wide issue: public health.

 

On balance, the population of St. John’s are aging, predisposed to diabetes and obesity, and cower away from our typical damp, windy weather. This has led to us being the capital city of the unhealthiest province in Canada. Compounding these health challenges is a car-dependent culture that also faces a grim provincial financial reality.

 

Happy City St. John’s, a local non-profit with the mission to “inform, encourage, and facilitate public dialogue around civic issues in St. John’s,” is an active partner with the City of St. John’s to facilitate discussions and prepare the application for the Smart Cities Challenge. Happy City St. John’s has a proven history of community facilitation and has existing relationships with community stakeholders in St. John’s which can be leveraged to ensure rich input from residents throughout this project. Prior to the initiation of this partnership, Happy City has been actively engaged with community stakeholders and members of the community regarding mobility.

 

Applicants have until April 24, 2018 to complete and submit their initial applications on the Impact Canada Challenge Platform. Applications will be reviewed based on a series of weighted criteria. The guidelines and applications will be reviewed by a jury. The jury will select finalists by Summer 2018.

Access to Politics: Who Gets It? Who Deserves It?

Guest Blogger: Amanda Bittner

Happy City St John’s invites experts and concerned citizens to give their views on key issues to encourage further dialogue. These views are not necessarily those of Happy City itself or of its board.

There has been lots of talk lately in #nlpoli about what we as taxpayers ought to be funding and what we as taxpayers ought to be getting for our money. There appears to be near-universal agreement that snowclearing is a priority in St. John’s, but I think that if we took a poll of voters in the province’s capital, the agreement would end there. Recently, we’ve seen a lot of debate and discussion (and anger) over the possibility that the City would provide childcare to citizens during night time hearings and public engagement events. What began as an idea to widen access to decision-making in St. John’s has led to a debate about who pays for it and who ought to receive this “benefit.”

What is it that the City of St. John’s is responsible for? What should government be responsible for? These are classic questions in politics and there is rarely ever any agreement. Who makes decisions and who influences those decisions? Is it city management and staff? Is it developers and business owners? Is it those who pay property tax? What do we do about all the people who don’t fit into those categories? How do we know if the right people are in government? How do we know whether they’re listening to the right people once we elect them? This is a long list of questions, and we can’t answer them all. But opening up the channels for discussion is certainly the first step.

We can’t decide about these core values in our democracy unless we have a chance to discuss. We need to ask ourselves, then, if we are allowing everybody a chance to discuss. In particular, we need to ask ourselves whether we are leaving voices out by the process in which we hold these discussions.

This debate over childcare at public meetings gives us a great opportunity to talk about access to politics and decision-making.

Put simply, there are lots of barriers that prevent participation in politics: we all know it’s hard to get to a public meeting when the sidewalks aren’t cleared and when you can’t park on the street: how will we physically get to the meeting? In this example, we can see the snow (and the lack of clearing) that stands in the way of our attendance. But there are also lots of barriers to participation that we can’t see because they are invisible. One of those invisible barriers is linked to the nature of family life today.

Simply put, parents of young children may have difficulty getting out in the evening to a public meeting. They need to feed their kids supper, put them to bed, and then they need to stay home to make sure they’re safe in their beds. For the same reason this group of people goes out partying less in the evening, they participate in politics less. Do we think that parents of young children have no insights or ideas to offer our city officials? Can we afford to just leave them out of the process completely? Or do we value the voices who traditionally don’t have access, and do we want to do something as a society to ensure that we don’t miss out on their complaints, concerns, ideas, and potential solutions?

Recent research suggests that if we support families-through things like childcare, flexible working hours, early childhood education, and parental leave-we will have higher levels of participation rates in politics across varying demographic groups. A book I recently published with Melanee Thomas, a colleague at the University of Calgary (you can find it online here ) points to all kinds of ways that our political institutions impede the participation of parents (and in particular, mothers, who still take the bulk of responsibility for taking care of children). From nighttime sittings in legislatures, to the archaic rules in legislatures that prevent new moms who are also sitting politicians from feeding their infants in the House because it’s considered “refreshment” and refreshment is forbidden in the House, to the difficulties of commuting from constituency offices which may be in remote locations to offices in the provincial or national capital, there are plenty of things that make the job of politics more challenging for parents, and therefore make it less likely that they will choose to do the job. We have this idea that municipal politics may be more family-friendly because it involves less long-distance travel, but despite this “common sense” story about local politics, there is still a major shortage of women (especially mothers) in local politics, and researchers are trying to find out why. Nighttime meetings are certainly not family friendly, and may be one of many types of barriers to participation.

These findings all relate to the job of politics, rather than the job of being a citizen. We might say to politicians who juggle family and job responsibilities, “so what, you chose this, you knew what you were getting into,” but do we really want to say the same thing to our citizens? So what, you decided to have kids, too bad for you, we don’t care about what you have to say about how the city runs?” Or, do we want to say, “sure, let’s prioritize a tiny sum of money in the overall budget to ensure that we increase accessibility to the hands of power? Let’s get those voices heard, let’s work step by step to remove barriers, to make sure that politics isn’t something being run by only a few people?”

I know one thing for sure: the more voices we hear, the more new ideas we have in politics, and the better our policy outcomes. We can’t just keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. We may disagree about a lot of things, but I think people in the City of St. John’s agree about one thing in particular: we have some major problems that need new solutions.

 

Amanda Bittner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Memorial University. She specializes in elections, voting, and public opinion, and her main research interests include the role of knowledge and information on voters’ decisions, as well as the institutional and structural incentives affecting voting behaviour. You can find her on twitter @amandabittner, or on the web at www.amandabittner.com.

Happy City Maps

Happy City’s Built Environment Committee has launched a community mapping initiative. Our first project is a map of the city’s public spaces, defined broadly as any place, indoor or outdoor, you can sit, study, work, hang out, or generally loiter for $5 or less. Yes – that includes your neighbourhood coffee shop!

To view our living map visit: https://goo.gl/5ghfJG

To contribute to our map submit your favourite public spaces here: https://goo.gl/wxXSWe (submit as many times as you need to!)

You can think of this project as a spatial survey. Submitted spaces will be added to the Google Map above and may be incorporated into bigger, better mapping projects in the future. It is (probably) not a complete resource and will not be continually updated after the survey period. Thanks for your participation!

To get involved with the Committee and help plan future mapping project contact info@happycity.ca.

Jane’s Walks – St. John’s Edition 2018

A Jane’s Walk is a series of free neighbourhood walking tours that get people out on the streets to discover unseen, under celebrated and unique stories about their city.

The free walking tours are held on the first weekend of May each year all around the world, and are led by locals who want to create a space for residents to talk about what matters to them in the places they live and work. The walks will take place all around the world, including in St. John’s, on  May 4th, 5th, and 6th, 2018.

Want to lead a walk? Just drop us a line at admin@happycity.ca and we’ll sort it out and get the info posted here!

All we need is a description of your walk, some info on the level of difficulty, a meeting place, a duration, and a time, and we’ll promote it all over the place. Don’t know that stuff? Get in touch and we’ll help you figure it out. 
By discussing what makes a city great, and what makes it tick, walk guides and participants are empowered to be better citizens, better stewards, and better neighbours.

Jane’s Walks are as varied as the people taking part, and they usually last about 90 minutes. We ask each walk guide to offer their perspective along the route, and to encourage the public to weigh in. Through the simple act of walking and talking, Jane’s Walks create ways for people to connect, share, and develop ideas about where their communities and cities are at and where they are headed.

Find scheduled walks on our map or see below for this year’s lineup. We also have a Facebook Event for all the walks at https://www.facebook.com/events/542933109408624/

 

Friday, May 4th:

5:30 PM: Jane’s Crawl

Meeting Point:  Georgestown Pub

Kicking off the Jane’s Walk weekend and celebrate Jane Jacobs’ birthday after work. Friday, May 4 is the Georgestown to George Street Crawl. Touring several pubs, their history and their role in their neighbourhoods will be noted.
 
Starting at the Georgetown Pub at 5:30, ending at Yellow Belly. Must be of legal drinking age and it’s pay as you go! (although you don’t have to indulge in anything other than history).

 

Saturday, May 5th

10:30 AM: Georgestown

Meeting Point:  Parking lot across from Hungry Heart Cafe

Join members of the Georgestown Neighbourhood Association for a tour that will highlight both the history and present-day character and activity of one of St. John’s most distinct neighbourhoods.

On this wander through the streets and pathways of Georgestown  we will  be tracing the settlement and growth of one of St. John’s earliest suburbs.  We will be sharing the history of the neighbourhood as a whole and of a few individual houses. (And if you live in Georgestown, we will want you to share what you know!)

Level of difficulty: Easy – mostly level slope

Approx time: 90 Minutes

Approx distance: About 2 KM -it’s really a wander!

 

1 PM: Changing Times and Land Uses: Mundy Pond to Victoria Park and the Waterford River

Meeting Point:      H.R. Mews Centre, Mundy Pond Road

Lead by Arvo McMillan, Northeast Avalon ACAP.

Using a route established by the Grand Concourse, follow the hidden Mullin’s Brook from Mundy Pond to Victoria Park and the Waterford River.

During the walk discuss changes in the use of land and water, the daylighting of hidden streams and proposals for upgrading Victoria Park.

This walk is scheduled so that walkers can proceed right into the 3 PM Waterford River – Riverhead Estuary walk.

Level of difficulty: Relatively easy.

Approx time: Up to 90 minutes

Approx distance: 2.5km one way – return transportation can be arranged.

 

Sunday, May 6th

 

8:30 AM: Jane’s Run


Meeting Point: Aquarena

Join long-time runners (and amateur running historians) Art Meaney, Joe Ryan and Noel Roy in an 8 kilometer run through downtown St. John’s. The run will visit several locations of historical note to Newfoundland running – the finish line to many Tely-10’s and Newfoundland Marathons, plus a National Marathon Championship and a Commonwealth Games Marathon Trial. We’ll visit the location of the first marathon run in Newfoundland (and second in all of what is now Canada), held in 1909 and featuring two Boston Marathon champions.

Meet at the Aquarena complex, site of the Canada Games Track (first regulation asphalt track in Newfoundland) at 8:30 am. Expect the run to take about ninety minutes, and feature frequent interruptions with interesting stories. We’ll be stopping for breakfast afterward.

Route: 

1. Canada Games Track – I am sure all of us will have something to say (and even to brag about).
2. (1.7 km) St. George’s Field (top of Parade St) – finish for early Tely’s and other races (15K from Long Pond?) – Joe
3. (1.93 km) St. Bon’s – Fowler went to school there – also site of MacDonald – Lorden marathon – Noel
4. (2.65 km) – Daily News Building (255-59 Duckworth – no longer standing) – finish to 1st Nfld marathon (oldest continuing marathon in Canada) – Art
5. (3.82 km) – Canon Wood Hall – site of many Tely finishes – Joe
6. (4.02 km) – Princess Rink (Factory Lane) – site of Fowler – Maynard match – Noel
7. (4.86 km) – King George V pitch – site of Track Tely 10’s, finish to several NL marathon champs, and 1973 Commonwealth Marathon trial (Jerome Drayton) – Art
8. (8 km) – return to CGP (optional)

 

10:30 AM – Churchill Park: perhaps North America’s first modern suburb

Meeting Point:   In front of the Churchill Square Terrace in the Square.

Join Robert Sweeny for a walk through Churchill Park.

Conceived and built in the 1940s,  Churchill Park is one of the very earliest suburbs in North America specifically designed for cars. Unlike much better known, but later, developments such as Levittown on Long Island or Toronto’s Don Mills, Churchill Park was a public initiative financed by the Commission of Government. Our tour will visit two of the core areas of this pioneering project and the emphasis will be on why and how what started as a public housing initiative became such an iconic middle-class suburb. From land acquisition to infrastructure this project broke new ground. Key elements of the initial design permitted many of the myriad ways buildings have been adapted over time illustrating how heritage and use intertwine. The intimate relations created between home, school, church and shops in an exceptionally short period speaks to how different this suburb’s incarnation of the future was from those that now encircle St John’s. The tour will conclude with a brief examination of the contrasting, adjacent streetscapes where cooperative housing built with sweat equity predominated.

Level of difficulty: Easy – mostly level slope

Approx time: 90 minutes

 

12:30 PM – Pedestrian Paths

Meeting Point:     Georgestown Cafe and Bookshelf

Join architects Grant Genova and Jessica Stanford as they trace the pedestrian pathways of old St. John’s.

Level of difficulty: Mostly downhill, some stairs.

Approx time: 90 Minutes

 

3 PM: Vacant City St. John’s

Meeting Point:     Corner of LeMarchant and Pleasant Street (Old Grace Hospital site)

Join past Happy City chair Josh Smee for a tour of St. John’s most eligible vacant spaces, with a healthy dose of visioning along the way. The walk will end at 4:15 on Water St West, allowing walkers to connect with the Waterfor River – Riverhead Estuary Walk happening at 4:30.


Level of difficulty: Moderate – mostly downhill, but some distance to cover!

Approx time: 90 Minutes

Approx distance: 2.5 KM

 

NEW DATE/TIME: 4:30 PM: Waterford River-Riverhead Estuary

Meeting Point:  St. John’s Convention Centre (Water Street entrance)

Join Nicholas White of the Grand Concourse Authority for a tour along Water Street West and the Waterford River T’Railway, highlighting the history of this major terminus and changes in the form and character of Downtown’s western fringe.

Level of difficulty: Easy – mostly level slope

Approx time: 90 minutes

Approx distance: 2.5km

New Chair of Happy City Board Announced

Media Release
For Immediate Release

 

http://www.happycity.ca/ImageGen.ashx?image=/media/2203/happy-city-invert-large.png&width=250

 

ROB NOLAN IS NEW CHAIR OF HAPPY CITY ST. JOHN’S

St. John’s, NL, December 18, 2017: Happy City St. John’s, a non-profit organization that informs, encourages, and facilitates civic dialogue in St. John’s, is pleased to announce that Rob Nolan has been elected as the new chair of the Board of Directors.

The election of the 2017-18 executive occured at the Nov. 30 meeting of the board, following the 2017 Annual General Meeting on Nov. 22. Mr. Nolan succeeds Josh Smee, who served as the chair of Happy City for 2013-2017. Mr. Smee will continue on the Board of Directors in the role of past chair.

Mr. Nolan’s past roles with Happy City have been vice-chair and secretary on the executive. He has led the organization’s first strategic planning initiative, and has co-ordinated a variety of activities and events. Mr. Nolan is a post-secondary education professional and community organizer, and has a B.Sc. and MBA from Memorial University, and a certificate in Public Policy and Governance from the University of Victoria.

“It’s an honour to serve as chair for Happy City St. John’s,” said Mr. Nolan. “Happy City has grown in capacity, scope, and energy over the last few years, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to guide the organization in our continued mission to improve public dialogue around issues affecting residents of St. John’s.”

Founded in 2012, Happy City St. John’s is a non-partisan, non-profit organization with the mission to improve civic dialogue in the city of St. John’s.

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For more information or to schedule interviews, contact:
Rob Nolan
Chair, Happy City St. John’s
Twitter: @HappyCitySJ

Decoding the Development Regulations: What would they mean for St. John’s?

One of the biggest decisions this City Council will make is coming up fast, and most people haven’t even heard of it. It sounds dry as a bone, but the upcoming adoption of new development regulations is going to lay down the rules that will shape our city for many years to come.

You might have heard about “Envision St. John’s”, the city’s brand-spanking-new Municipal Plan, which was adopted in principle this August after a long period of consultation and revision (Full disclosure: Happy City was part of the committee guiding the consultation process).

With themes of “Environmental Systems,” “Vibrant, Complete Neighbourhoods,” “Strong, Diversified Economy,” “Transportation and Services,” and “Quality Urban Design,” this is a big-picture vision document for a more sustainable, livable St. John’s. To quote the plan’s own vision statement:

“St. John’s will have a future of continued economic prosperity and diversity, where citizens have a strong sense of identity and appreciation for their cultural, natural and built heritage and the arts. This city has active, healthy citizens, living in affordable, accessible, complete neighbourhoods. St. John’s attracts and welcomes investment, residents and visitors from the region, the province, and around the world.”

Although the Municipal Plan does have a laundry list of specific goals, that’s all they are: goals. Where the rubber hits the road, for most of them, is the development regulations. These are the rules that govern land use and building in St. John’s. Want to know how many parking spaces you need for your health and wellness centre? That’s in there. Everything from building setbacks to subdivision design to wetlands is in this doorstopper of a document.

With the new Municipal Plan coming in, City staff have been working hard to draft development regulations that would implement it. With a first draft released in August, we’ve been chewing through them (with more than a little help from some very smart people) to see whether the city the Regulations specify matches up with the city the Plan envisions.

Spoiler alert: They don’t quite line up.

The Big Picture

Overall, the impression our readers had of the new development regulations was that most (though not all) of the time they don’t get in the way of the kind of development that Envision, er…envisions.

Indeed, there are some new elements to the regs which really do create openings for the kind of complete, mixed neighbourhoods the Plan dwells on.

What there isn’t, though, are rules that would mandate this kind of development. Under these draft regulations, for the most part, it’ll be up to private-sector developers to take a leap – and that’s not something that they are generally known for.

Before we get into some of the ideas the folks we talked to had about how to improve the Plan/Regulations fit, it’s worth talking about the one place where the regs do seem to have been made with the Municipal Plan in mind – the creation of a “Planned Mixed Development” zoning.

What is “Planned Mixed Development?”

If you take a look at a zoning map of St. John’s, it’s a bit of a crazy quilt, with some pretty small patches of very specific zoning. The proposed “Planned Mixed” zoning takes an end run around that. It can only be applied to bigger areas (4 hectares minimum), and instead of regulating what things in that area are used for, it says that the zoning kicks in once the City has developed a comprehensive plan for that area. Basically, it’s a vehicle to do something that hasn’t happened a lot in St. John’s, which is planning at the neighbourhood scale.

In the Municipal Plan, there are 7 areas marked out as “intensification areas” where the City should plan to add density in the future. It seems pretty obvious that the “Planned Mixed” zoning could be a tool here. Council could (we think) take one of those areas (say, the area around Ropewalk Lane), rezone everything in it to “Planned Mixed,” and then get cracking on crafting a plan for its mixed-use future.

There are, however, a couple big question marks here:

  • Political will: By the standards of St. John’s, it would be a highly unusual thing to have Council rezone a block of properties without being asked to do so by the owners – and it’s unclear why owners would request it on their own. If your expertise is in running a strip mall, would you want to open up a conversation that might lead to a plan for 4 stories of apartments on top of it? In any case, the chances of enough property owners coming together to assemble a whole intensification area into one new neighbourhood plan are pretty minimal. If this city is going to have planned intensification, leadership will likely need to come from the very top.
  • Planning capacity: there are some very skilled people on the planning staff of the City – but there aren’t very many of them. We have 3 planners here, and doing comprehensive neighbourhood plans for seven intensification areas (alongside their regular work) is a pretty big ask. Without leveraging some exterior resources (MUN, perhaps?) it’s hard to see this happening anytime soon.

Ideas for better alignment between the Plan and the Regulations

We recently sat down with some smart people for an evening with the Draft Development Regulations, and here are a few of the ideas we heard about how to make them a better fit with the goals of the plan:

  • Include accessibility/inclusion, pedestrian access, and transit service in the Submission Guidelines (Section 4.4.1): When someone proposes a development idea to the City, there is a long list of things they have to include in that proposal – from the location and site survey to storm water and snow management plans. What’s really striking, though, is how car-focused this checklist is. Applicants generally have to provide information about vehicular access and off-street parking, but there is no requirement to provide information on access by any other mode (foot/bike/bus). There is also no requirement to provide information about access for people with disabilities. Even without changing the assessment criteria, it would be interesting to see what would happen if applicants were required to at least show their thinking on these issues. To be a bit more bold, there could even be a points-based assessment of proposals, with points for each type of access.
  • Put in rules about setbacks and street-fronting entrances: Outside of the downtown core, St. John’s has an overwhelmingly car-focused design philosophy. Buildings tend to sit far back from the street, with big parking lots in front of them. This makes the experience of walking (or biking) down a main street downright unpleasant, and certainly not conducive to the vision of accessible, complete neighbourhoods that is in the plan. The regulations could change this by requiring new buildings to come right out to the property line, with parking in the back. To make this work, they’d also need to specify that the buildings need to have doors on the main road – otherwise you get buildings like Shoppers Drug Mart at Torbay/MacDonald, which is close to the street but forces pedestrians and cyclists to circle it. This is one of those cases where regulations are key; having 2 doors on the building is an added cost and complication for developers; without being compelled to do it, they rarely do, especially when using off-the-shelf designs for brand-name stores and such.
  • Be more proactive about landscaping requirements:  the word “tree” doesn’t appear anywhere in the draft development regulations, and there is nothing in there to restrict the common practice of scraping a new development area down to bare rock before building; with the intense environmental focus of the new Plan, this could be an area where the City could enforce more creative solutions.
  • Revisit minimum parking requirements: Outside of the downtown core (where there are some exemptions), pretty much every development in St. John’s has substantial minimum parking requirements. The City could relax them and let developers decide how much parking to provide; they could even mandate parking maximums so that parking isn’t overbuilt.
  • Density bonusing: many cities now have a system in which developers can build more density on a site (say 5 stories instead of 4) in return for providing a public amenity (a park, or a bike trail, or some such). This could be another way to use the development regulations to encourage new urban forms in St. John’s

Those are just a few ideas that came up on a quick read-over of the regs; we’re sure there are other tweaks that folks might find! If you find one of your own, email admin@happycity.ca and we can add it to this blog post.

Thoughts on process

The Development Regulations also include some rules about the process around development in the city, and our evening readers had some thoughts on that too:

  • Changing the notification rules: Right now, the draft regs say the City has to publish development notifications in a newspaper (ie, the Telegram) 14 days in advance, and notify the neighbours whose properties would be affected. We know that city staff have been reading about other notification options; would it be worth building in a requirement to have a poster on site with an image of the proposal, or an email notification on city lists?
  • Avoiding frivolous applications: If you watch council for a while, one thing you see is a steady stream of applications that use up a bunch of time, with not chance of success – developments in protected watershed areas are the classic example. Are there ways to head these off earlier by changes to the regulations?

More broadly, one place where there has been little process has been in the review of these development regulations; there has been nothing like the extensive public consultation used to develop the Municipal Plan. With a new council in place, the approach may change – but for now, it’s up to us all to give the new regs a read and share our ideas.

This blog post has focused on tweaks to the draft regulations – we’ve also heard from some folks with big ideas on how to change them more fundamentally, and from folks who are comparing the existing regs to the proposed new ones. We’ll feature those ideas in a series of blogs in the coming weeks!

Healthy Communities Forum

The Northeast Avalon Healthy Communities Forum is taking place on October 30th from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. This event will take place in the Foran Greene Room at City Hall ( 10 New Gower Street).

Please RSVP to healthycommunities@stjohns.ca by October 25th.

If you require support or accomodations to participate please email:healthycommunities@stjohns.ca by October 25th 2017.

Here is some information regarding the forum:

Background – What is the Healthy Communities Movement?
The Healthy Communities Movement in Canada, and the similar World Health Organization, Healthy Cities Project, took root in the 1980’s.  Today the Healthy Communities approach is used in many communities throughout the world to bring together groups from many sectors to plan and implement strategies to enhance community well-being and address complex community issues. For an example of an established Healthy Community Movement, please go to:
http://bchealthycommunities.ca/
http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/healthy-city-strategy.aspx

Healthy Communities – Northeast Avalon

There is a lot of great work being done in our region to promote health, wellness, physical literacy, transportation, healthy eating, housing, social engagement, safety and inclusion.  Individuals and organizations seeking to improve the health and wellness in the North East Avalon have recognized the need for a collective impact approach to different factors affecting the health and wellness of our community. The Healthy Communities Movement, provides a proven framework for bringing diverse stakeholders from different sectors together to improve the health of individuals and our community. A Healthy Communities Forum will be hosted on October 30, 2017 in St. John’s with the goal of bringing leaders and stakeholders from different sectors together to learn about the Healthy Communities Movement and how this approach can be used to create a healthier, happier North East Avalon.

Healthy Communities Forum – October 30, 2017
Keynote Speaker & Lead Facilitator – Dr. Trevor Hancock

Dr. Trevor Hancock, one of the founders of the Healthy Communities movement in Canada and the world, will be the keynote speaker and primary facilitator for the Forum.  Dr. Hancock is a public health physician and health promotion consultant and senior scholar at the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria.  He is the founding Chair of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition and was also instrumental in initiating BC Healthy Communities. He has consulted healthy city/community projects in several countries (notably Sweden and the USA) as well as across Canada. He was the principal consultant for the Healthy Toronto 2000 project and a consultant to the Canadian and the WHO Europe Healthy Cities Projects. He is currently on the board of the Child and Nature Alliance and the Stewardship Council of the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care, and is an advisor to the “Healthy Communities: An Approach to Action on Health Determinants in Canada” project, a collaboration of four provincial Healthy Communities networks.

Draft Format/Agenda – Healthy Communities Forum – October 30th, 2017

9:00 am          Healthy Community Vision Workshop
10:30 am        Break
10:45 am        What is Healthy Communities? What are the Benefits? How do we become a Healthy Community?
12:00 pm        Lunch
12:30 pm.        Northeast Avalon What are we doing? What do we want to do next? – Panel of Key Stakeholders
2:30 pm         Break
2:45 pm         Table discussions – Next steps?
3:45 pm         Feedback – closing panel
4:30 pm         Forum Ends