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Municipal Cognac

There’s a Pedestrian Recall—recall on pedestrians, everyone! I hear they’re getting tired of walking in the streets with the cars when sidewalks are covered in snow, and having to wait atop ice mountains for the bus to arrive. They sometimes push these things called strollers, or use wheelchairs and other mobility aids, that cannot levitate over curbs. They complain about light poles being placed in their right-of-way, and they require crosswalk painting to be kept up every year. Get rid of ‘em—bring on the new pedestrians! 

LOL, anyway: what this is really about is whether or not the signal timing (that doesn’t require anyone to push a beg button at an intersection / crosswalk) established at the outset of COVID-19 response should be altered or discontinued. Council decided to reinstate the pushing of the buttons outside the City “core,” as outlined in yellow on the map below.

The decision was made to allow for more efficient flow, and to help buses stay on schedule, as we gradually return to pre-COVID levels of traffic. Cllr Hickman is fully supportive—“it avoids driver frustration, I think it’s a good thing,” he said. He also thinks it will be more convenient for pedestrians. 

This might be true during fair weather months, but it’s an entirely different story during the winter. Staff’s decision note states, “individual signals are often placed on pedestrian recall [no need to push buttons] temporarily during the winter if the pushbuttons are inaccessible due to snow accumulation.” My question is this—are there staff dedicated to identifying inaccessible pushbuttons, or is this done on a complaint basis? If council committed to promptly and comprehensively clearing snow from sidewalks, this would be a moot question.

Road Standards Halting Resident’s Crown Land Lease Application

The owners of 9 Robert’s Road over by Forest Pond in The Goulds have requested a Crown Land Grant for a 200 m2 strip along the front of their property. The City’s Development Committee rejected this because Robert’s Road is “substandard” and might need to be widened in the future. Now that the City knows this, it wants to have the rights to the land for itself, for said future widening. I get it, but at the same time, damn! That’s cold, SJ! 

Cllr Collins didn’t get a chance to go down and check on the situation before the meeting. He asked for a deferral ‘til next week so he can see if there’s any way around this to let them have what they’re asking for. Council was willing to do this. 

The question of standards has always been a curious thing for me. It’s nice to have the dimensions of things set, and never have to think about them ever again—definitely streamlines things. But, does any given standard serve people best every time? 

I started digging into this years ago when designing my tiny house. I realized how pervasive standards were, and that their purpose was generally to simplify manufacturing and construction (so more money can be made). For example, the standard kitchen counter height is 36 inches above the floor. This is based on the average height of adults in the US, and to allow ergonomic use of a knife. My partner and I are both a bit taller than average, so we decided to go for 38 inch countertops. There’s no real reason not to, it just takes a little extra thinking and prep. 

Obviously, kitchen counters aren’t roads—roads, of course, being the sort of thing that first responders rely on to protect public life and safety. But I think it is always worth questioning standards, and finding the root of their intention. If we can serve that need in an alternative way, that better suits the everyday use of space while maintaining safety and accessibility, it’s worth exploring. I’m interested to see what Cllr Collins discovers.

The St. John’s Corporate Climate Plan

Edmundo Fausto, the City’s Sustainability Coordinator, strikes again! The Corporate Climate Plan for St. John’s is a very important document, the adoption of which marks a milestone in our commitment to responding to the climate emergency. This sort of stuff is what I work on in my day job—generally for smaller municipalities, but the principles are the same. This plan will act as a roadmap, leading to defined greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the net-zero future we’re all after, by mid-century. 

Cllr Froude explains: “We have a corporate climate plan, which is specific to the operations of the city as an organization, and then forthcoming in the next few months, hopefully [there] will be a community plan. So in the corporate plan, we include snow [clearing], vehicles City staff drive around, waste in City facilities, electricity used by City facilities, and then community is separate from that.” 

If you’re still wondering about the importance or relevance of this work, this excerpt from staff’s Direction Note lays it out nicely:

“We have already observed temperature increases of about 0.8°C since 1942, warming of sea surface temperatures, an increase of intensity and duration of some storms, and a long-term sea level rise of about 1.9 mm/year since the 1940’s. It is projected that without action temperatures will have increased by 2.7°C by 2050s, leading to other significant changes in precipitation, winter conditions, and sea level rise. This would exacerbate existing risks for vulnerable residents, disrupt infrastructure systems, and lead to economic impacts.”

Climate change mitigation work is a lot like accounting. Instead of dollars in and dollars out, the unit of measurement we focus on is carbon. The carbon that comes into the system (the City) is in the form of fossil fuels and organic waste (from kitchens, toilets, woodworking, etc.), while the carbon that exits the system is in the form of greenhouse gases. Tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e), to be specific. There are many kinds of greenhouse gases that contain carbon—H2O (water vapour), CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), O3 (Ozone), N2O (nitrous oxide), CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons). In order for us to do proper accounting and understand the impacts of our actions, we have to put them into the same ‘currency’, aka tCO2e.

Reductions planning and tracking are being anchored to a baseline—the emissions released in 2018. That year, St. John’s emitted 12,458 tonnes of CO2e, and spent over $12 million in energy expenses. 

Remember—this is just for municipal operations. There is a lot more carbon that gets sent to the atmosphere from our city. Residents, businesses, provincial operations, and federal operations all must be accounted for as well. Council and staff have to start where they hold the most control, lead by example, and then work with community to support the broader goal. 

The Government of Canada has established legally-binding legislation on this front. By 2030, emissions must be slashed by 40% below 2005 levels. By 2050, we must achieve net-zero (the carbon moving into and out of the system are equal). 

The plan we have on the table right now gives us the following:

  • A budget of 142,100 tonnes of CO2e between 2022 and 2045
  • Proposed emissions reduction of 4.2% per year
  • A midway reductions target of 40 – 50% by 2030
  • The result of achieving net-zero possibly as early as 2045 (no later than 2050). 

This aligns with both the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and federal legislation.

There’s a ream of short-, medium-, and long-term ideas put forward on how to achieve the reductions we need. Net-zero building construction and retrofitting, switching the City’s fleet over to electric, reducing water consumption, and a corporate organics diversion program (big compost!), are just some of the highlights.

Unfortunately, “the framework presented by the Climate Plan does not prescribe how the City will achieve its greenhouse gas targets at the site level.” There are also “no detailed net costs estimated for each strategy” contained within the plan (as there are many ways through which the plan can be implemented). This means that another body of work will be needed, to figure out how to get from A to B on the road to carbon reductions. This sucks. But, we gotta start somewhere, hey b’y! 

George Street Working On Itself To Be A Better Person

A redevelopment study for George Street is being resuscitated (first report was done in 2007), and $20,000 (from the 2021 Capital out of Revenue) was approved to re-engage consultants for updated renderings (fancy life-like images of concept designs). So many re-s. 

The original study looked at ways to “change the perception of George Street, to create a gathering place for a wider range of activities, to better define the area, and to make it more equitable and physically accessible.” Cllr Skinner shared that the Executive of the George Street Association are coming to the table with their own money to contribute to this work. “There are plans for multi-million dollar investments on George Street, without going into too much detail,” he said.

The May 25th Mini-Meeting In a Glass Shell of Emotion

Paul Pope (of Pope Productions) was awarded the Legend Award (with St. John’s Tourism).  His work has created hundreds of jobs, and leveraged tens of millions of outside investment in our local economy. He received a beautiful hand-blown glass tuckamore tree that transformed before our eyes into “conceptual art.” Inexplicably, when Cllr Hanlon picked it up, it suddenly detached from its base and shattered on the ground. I think she was a bit broken up about it, even though it was a total freak accident. I’m sure artist Brian Power can repair it! 

This is a Renaissance painting.

Municipal Brandy

Mayor Breen brought news that St. John’s has launched its 10-year Healthy City Strategy. The pillars of the Healthy City Strategy are: Inclusion, Environment, Housing, Transportation, Health Neighbourhoods and People, and Urban Design. The project is now open for public input, and there are virtual public sessions happening on June 8th, 9th, and 10th, 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. “What is it to you that makes a healthy city?” Mayor Breen asks. You call also call 311 to share your thoughts.

Just in case you didn’t know, the Built Heritage Experts Panel rules. The new Bank of Montreal that is being constructed next to the Murray Premises on Water Street wanted to switch their exterior facade from brick to a “mountain oak faux wood” vinyl siding because the pandemic has impacted brick availability. This request got a thumbs down, and the motion was deferred—the developer was invited in last week to discuss other alternatives, but “no common ground was reached between the applicant and the Heritage Panel.” The motion was once again deferred at the meeting on the 25th to allow for even more discussion, but staff are holding fast on their recommendation to reject the vinyl.

The only place vinyl should ever be approved, in my opinion, is at Fred’s Records. 

Lastly, if you find yourself staring down a challenge this week, think of Cllr Wally Collins and do your best giraffe. Confused? Watch this video clip from council chambers:

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Jess Puddister is The Independent's Municipal Correspondent, writing a weekly column titled, So Moved, St. John's. She's been working with Newfoundland and Labrador municipalities since 2017 mainly on climate change response strategy, eco-asset management planning, and sustainable development advocacy.