PlanSJ, the new municipal plan for Saint John took effect in Feb. 2012.
The objective is to focus on growing the city up, rather than out and in doing so increase population density. However Murtaza Haider, the director of the Institute for Housing and Mobility Studies at Ryerson University questions the likely hood of success.
An expert on housing and mobility he said that cities like Saint John will have a hard time getting more people to live downtown, as long as the area’s real estate prices are relatively low. ”Wishful thinking seldom helps,” he said.
He suggested that private developers are unlikely to build high-density units like larger apartment and condominium complexes when land for low-density development is relatively inexpensive and he used historical development in Toronto to illustrate his case. “Nothing got built until the land values reached that level where it made sense to build highrises and high density,” he said. Haider offered that high-density construction occurs almost entirely by high real estate prices.
“If the land values are not high, developers will not build high density, even if you have areas designated as high density. What will happen is nothing will get built there.”
His comments took me to a conversation about PlanSJ I had with Councilor Donny Snook a couple of weeks ago over coffee in the old north end. I asked Donnie; :”If I decide that asphalt parking lot was going to be my garden and I sprinkled some seeds on it, what would happen”? His reply was nothing would grow.
Next question; “What if I tore out the asphalt, cultivated the soil and then planted the seeds”?
His reply was you would probable get a garden. No big surprise there. As Haider says it’s all about appreciating value.
Then I turned my attention to PlanSJ and the Old North End. Next question to Snook; “What reason do we have to believe that there will be development and re-vitalization in the Old North End in the absence of “cultivation ” and “investment” in this area by the City”?
I didn’t wait for an answer. The answer folks is very little or none.
Unless the City is prepared to make a commitment that sends a strong message to would be investors and developers that we are serious about re-vitalization of the Old North End we will see derelict abandoned building replaced with empty lots.
Empty lots that will add nothing other than a few dollars to an already eroding tax base.
I wonder what the Old North End would look like and what the appeal for people would be if we had taken the 20 plus million for Peel Plaza or the Transit Taj Mahal and invested it in the Old North End, you know “people or projects”?
It’s your City and your tax dollars. Think about it.