With the public debate about the harbour fence continuing on
call-in shows, editorial pages, and casual conversations, a common
thread has (understandably) been a desire for more
information, especially from the Port Authority. That information
is beginning to emerge, and it's very important to give it a
First, the Port Authority has released
correspondence it received from Transport Canada indicating
that there are deficiencies in their security arrangements.
You can see that letter, which dates from last week,
here [PDF]. It refers to marine security
regulations, which are
available in full form here. They've also released some more
detailed renderings both of the fence's
design [PDF], and its exact
extent [PDF]. They also included an
excerpt from their own security review that notes that "The
temporary fencing along piers 8, 9, and 11 form a security concern,
as observed during this assessment, due to their temporary question
and temporary nature."
Also emerging this morning was
correspondence from Transport Canada to the CBC indicating that
"In this case, Transport Canada is satisfied with the Port of St.
John's current security plan and did not instruct the port operator
to erect new fencing." The first part of this statement would
appear to directly conflict with the letter received by the Port
Authority on December 10th - some clarification from
Transport Canada would be very helpful here.
Much of what is emerging can be seen quite positively from a
city-building and dialogue perspective. Transport Canada's December
10th letter to the Port Authority outlines the relevant
regulations - which do require the port to designate "Restricted
Areas" - but say nothing about the form that these restrictions
have to take. On the face of it, it would seem like security
cameras, guards, or even posted notices might be enough to meet
this requirement, without building a physical barrier. There is
clearly recognition in the regulations that local contexts will
differ. We need to know what other options were or could be
So where to go from here? This debate, unfolding chaotically (as
these debates often do) has brought to the surface a number of
issues that should matter to all of us:
- There are still plenty of unanswered questions about
the issue, which has become quite polarized. Happy City
continues to urge everyone involved - the Port Authority, the City,
port users, and citizens - to sit down together in a cooperative
format (not a standard "public meeting") to build some common
ground. We'd be happy to facilitate this at any time.
- Our governance model for the harbour could clearly use
some thought. How can we strike a balance between the
commercial requirements of a working harbour and a recognition that
it is both a critically important public space and a deeply
cared-for piece of cultural heritage for the people of the city?
Dismissing either side of that equation only creates frustration
and anger - can we build a different governance model (or refine
the existing one) in a way that might get us to a smarter
- St. John's is a uniquely democratic community in many ways -
but often a reactive one. We are a small enough community to still
have something of a "public square" on call-in shows and the
internet, and the voices in that square were loud enough to make
this an ongoing issue. Unfortunately, we now risk a
situation in which the city becomes divided into sides who
feel like compromise means "backing down" - and that's precisely
the type of atmosphere Happy City is working to minimize
- As difficult as it is, we need to have a rational
conversation around security and risk. Without it, we
can't seriously think about how the harbour - and many other public
spaces - fit into our vision of life in St. John's. The dialogue
around security -
as Gwynn Dyer pointed out in his inimitable way during this
interview about the fence - is often tinged with paranoia. Once
someone suggests a possible threat, it becomes very hard to dismiss
even the most unlikely of possibilities. This needs to change.
- We need to spend more time thinking about the
integration of the harbour with the city. One of the
reasons people are so upset by the possibility of being fenced off
the harbour apron is that harbour drive itself is a
pedestrian-hostile environment: a wide street full of fast cars,
with narrow sidewalks and no storefronts or amenities, only parking
lots and the backs of buildings. A fence and a few viewing areas
won't fundamentally change that. Regardless of the outcome of this
debate, there's clearly public desire for a conversation here.
Let's have it.
- Hyperbole doesn't help. If built, the fence
won't cut us off entirely from our harbour. If not built, thousands
of jobs won't disappear - and framing the debate in terms of these
extremes does a disservice to the many people willing and able to
offer thoughtful suggestions.
- Happy City needs your help! We would love to
have understood earlier the implications of this discussion (which,
as the Port Authority notes, has come to council twice already).
Quite frankly, it took until recently for the full scope of it to
hit home - and by then, people were forced to react. We'd welcome
more volunteers to help us dig into the details of things like this
- seemingly small decisions that deeply affect how our city
While the current dialogue isn't exactly ideal, it is happening.
Let's keep it happening - but let's keep it civil. It's not at all
clear yet whether there is any will to make substantive changes to
the plans for the harbour - let's make it as easy as possible for
those changes to happen by continuing to inject as many facts as we
can into this. And let's not be afraid to think big.