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So Moved, St. John’s: March Municipal Megapost

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Municipal Vermouth

Last week’s meeting took 17 minutes to complete, (what felt like) half of which were spent commenting on alternative St. Paddy’s Day celebrations and reminding people how important and easy it is to pick up dog poop. This is the current state of progress and championing change in your capital city. 

There was a nugget of gold that shook out from Paddy’s pot, though. Cllr Korab vouched during the meeting that “Shea Heights has the best pizza subs in the city.” I could not resist further inquiry here—a deep dive into this fabled snack will be released in the near future, so stay tuned. 

We opted to roll coverage from the March 10th Committee of the Whole meeting, and the last two Council meetings, into one grand piece to keep you caught up. 

What’s A City To Do About Unsuitable Affordable Housing?

There are 200 people on the City’s Affordable Housing Division waitlist. The vacancy rate for Housing was 19.7% as of the end of 2020 (38% of which were 3-bedroom units). The City is “exploring creative partnerships to fill units,” and has already partnered with Connections for Seniors in an effort to lower the vacancy rate. 

Cllr Skinner explained that the cost of renovating the larger existing units to create more 1-bedroom availability can be prohibitive. He also pointed out how this illustrates the need to consider alternative types of housing that can be constructed going forward, like tiny homes and low-carbon homes. 

Given that architecture’s highest honour was just awarded to a couple in France who have turned to adaptive re-use in answering the call for affordable housing, I think we should at least be seriously exploring this approach here. In addition to creative partnerships, the City should be looking to creative repurposing strategies. 

This is a very complex topic. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that 1-bedroom units aren’t the be-all end-all for solving individual housing needs. Isolation can be prohibitive to folks getting back on their feet. Perhaps the city could look to examples of co-housing from across the country and the world.

Data Behind The Dangerous Effects Of Driving

Between 2012 and 2019, traffic collisions on city streets decreased in frequency and severity. However, “the extremely high rate of fatal and injury collisions with vulnerable road users (pedestrians and cyclists) is obvious,” states the report prepared by staff. Here are a few noteworthy charts and tables from the report:

And yeah, you guessed it: Rawlin’s Cross is the number one most dangerous intersection in the city, with a grand total of 162 collisions, 29% of which resulted in injury or fatality. The rate of collisions was 160% higher than the second most dangerous intersection—Goldstone at Thorburn. 

This report is full of insights, so if you’re curious, I do encourage you to have a read. 

Cllr Froude explained that staff have requested approval to procure the services of an external firm to “identify the exact issues at each of these locations,” which will lead to “designs on how we can improve the local infrastructure to reduce the poor safety performance of these particular areas.” 

It is also recommended that reporting continue on an annual basis to keep a close eye on how things progress. 

The reasons we’re getting outside help on this is because (1) it’s a specialty service, and (2) the scope and volume of this work varies, making it less efficient to hire on extra staff through the whole year.

The motion was unanimously approved. 

In Case You Forgot: We’re Still In A Climate Emergency!

The first round of engagement for the Resilient St. John’s Community Climate Plan (draft expected by the end of this summer) has been completed, and the City has produced a ‘What We Heard’ document to make sure they were successful in their active listening. 

Once completed, the plan will identify a “30-year Climate Action Strategy to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), while reinforcing efforts to stabilize energy costs by supporting energy efficiency.”

14 members of the public showed up in November 2020 to share their thoughts on this stuff. In addition, 30 members of the St. John’s Multi-Stakeholder Sustainability Team (who were selected by the City’s Environmental and Sustainability Expert Panel) took part in “detailed planning workshops” 

From the various sessions, a word cloud was generated to capture the most prominent words mentioned most often. 

The top four opportunities to reduce GHGs identified by workshop attendees were:

  1. Improvements to public transit
  2. Supporting the availability of local food and products
  3. Retrofit existing residential buildings to reduce energy
  4. Supporting electric / hybrid vehicle use

Specific actions to achieve these goals were listed in order of priority (from a total of 4496 votes).

Cllr Froude explained that these ideas will be considered within the context of the changes in climate that are already affecting St. John’s and are anticipated to increase. These were also discussed, voted on, and ranked during the sessions:

Edmundo Fausto, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator, is leading the charge here. He explained that beyond identifying opportunities to mitigate climate change, a big part of this work is also characterizing and understanding the specific impacts or consequences when climate change causes a shift in the natural or built environments. 

For example, if flooding occurs in a particular area, basements can fill with water, causing a lot of practical and financial problems for people. 

All of this is highly excellent and promising. However, the plan that is being produced absolutely MUST plug into the City’s policy cycle, as well as annual and 4-year budget development. 

If you like the sound of any or all of these things, you need to tell Council! This is such a golden opportunity for positive reinforcement. Formal engagement will continue as well, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

And For All This, Nature Is Never Spent

Mary Dalton, Poet Laureate of the City, graced us with two pieces of verse on Monday in celebration of World Poetry Day (March 21). The first was God’s Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The second was one by Mary herself—Kitchen Lessons—drawing upon Newfoundland proverbs about food. 

Cllr Hickman looked a little confused. The only other one brave enough to keep their video feed going while they listened was Mayor Dan.

Poetry might be scary at first for some of us, but it’s truly quite a treat. We could probably do with less accompanying images of sunrises and forest paths, though. 

There are more poetry readings to look forward to through the month of April: World Poetry Month.

Parklets! 

The City made a Discretionary Use application to itself for Outdoor Eating Areas and Lounges along sidewalks in the Downtown and Churchill Square, with all permit fees waived. Approved!

Parklet allowances will extend from May 22 to October 31, 2021, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. The recommendation is that parklets be limited to parking stalls, and an encroachment onto the sidewalk of up to 0.5m (1.6 feet), IF a sidewalk width of 1.5m can be maintained. 

Parklets can extend the full width of a business or storefront, or, even wider with written permission from the neighbour. Parklets can be availed of by retailers, too. (I can’t stop saying the word “parklet.”)

Interested businesses must apply, and then enter into a lease agreement with the City, which will outline the size of the space and other requirements. They have until May 31 to get their requests in. 

Very important note: a set of guidelines and detailed checklist on inclusion and accessibility are being written to help business owners when thinking about the design of their parklet.

Backyard Suites!

Cllr Hanlon raised a very exciting topic in the go-around! She heard that Halifax changed their by-laws in September, 2020, to allow stand-alone secondary dwelling units in people’s backyards—apparently close to 40 applications have come in since the regulatory shift. 

Cllr Hanlon wants the City’s planning staff to look into the same for St. John’s, along with rooftop gardens, and received Mayor Dan’s blessing to engage.

This would pave the way for tiny homes, and apartments above garages. Not only could they be used for tenants, or family members, but also home offices! So many possibilities. 

I might be biased as a tiny house advocate, but sure, what odds. Colour me tickled f*cking pink.

Municipal Brandy

2021 Grant Allocations were approved on Monday. This is a truly amazing thing that is done with our tax dollars. Cllr Froude thinks it’s something “all residents and businesses can be proud that they are supporting.” The total amount given to community groups, sport groups, artists and art organizations, special events, and festivals summed to ~$1.2 million. 

“If you look at what that leverages […], that amount of money is a significantly good investment in our community, and the people in our community,” said Mayor Dan.

Cllr Skinner pointed out how the small investments in each group or individual often get doubled or tripled through other sources, because that’s just how grants work—providers prefer to build on or match that which has already been supported. 

The full list of recipients is really a sweet thing to linger on. During a time when it feels like human connections have evaporated, it reminded me of the beauty of community. It’s still very much there, and will bloom again when able.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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