The past few days have seen a flurry of discussion over a
proposed fence along the St. John's harbour apron. Media outlets
are reporting the issue, a twitter campaign was started by
well-known locals, a petition has been circulating, and a protest
is set to occur on Monday afternoon.
The Port Authority and City Hall are defending their actions and
citizens are asking a number of questions. We are in a situation
where lots of people are frustrated, looking for answers, and in
some cases pointing fingers.
How did this happen, how could things have been different, and
what can we do next?
The Port Authority decided to build a permanent fence to meet
requirements for tighter security and to replace the existing
temporary one. The proposal was brought to a special meeting of
council with a request to cost share the $900,000 project. It was
then tabled at a council meeting where all councillors voted for
the City to contribute the funds.
The vote was
reported by CBC and an opinion
piece was written in the Scope. Happy City shared this
information on our facebook page (here,
and twitter feed.
However, while those who saw the news expressed concern, we felt
the proposal was not well known or understood. So when we learned
more details we decided to bring broader attention
to the issue.
The story struck a chord, and now it's difficult to find anyone
in St. John's who is not aware of the "Harbour Fence Issue". But
with that awareness, at a point so late in the process, comes a
difficult challenge of finding a solution that doesn't involve some
sort of sacrifice by the parties involved.
Much of the tension and controversy could have been avoided had
the Port Authority, City Hall, and citizen representatives been
able to sit down and craft an approach to securing and beautifying
the harbourfront before even commissioning the design of the
The CEO of the Port Authority
noted that they "couldn't discuss the matter with 120,000
people." On the face of it, that statement makes sense - how do you
get an entire population into a room to have a sensible chat? But
Happy City believes that it is indeed possible, and in fact
necessary, to somehow engage with the majority of citizens about
issues that matter to everyone.
Engagement requires time and at this stage of the game it
appears to many that decisions have already been made. So, what can
be done now to calm nerves and move forward?
First, the Port Authority can post a statement outlining
comprehensive details of the proposal and the rationale behind the
decision. There is still a great deal of uncertainty out there
about what specific new rules or regulations this fence is meant to
address - and without an exact picture of what these requirements
are, it's difficult to have a meaningful conversation about
options. If there were options considered and disregarded, that
would be great information to pass along to citizens (along, of
course, with the rationale for doing so).
Second, City Hall could help by expressing an openness to ideas
regarding the fence and harbour rather than simply defending their
decision and saying nothing can be done.
Third, we propose that these two parties work with Happy City to
plan a public "Harbour Charette." This event would bring experts,
decision makers, and citizens together in constructive dialogue on
how to best develop the harbour to maximize its potential for all
stakeholders. These events have been proven to work well,
particularly when the primary players sanction them.
Following this process might seem daunting, but it may be our
best shot at truly building a city that everyone has a say in. If
we're hoping to have a discussion with 120,000 people, now's our
chance - they're already talking.