Uptown Saint John – Park and Pray

Uptown Saint John Park and Pray

A journalist was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau of his newspaper.
From his apartment, which overlooked the Wailing Wall, he noticed the same old man praying every day. The journalist thought, there could be a story here. He went down to the wall, introduced himself and said: “You come every day to the wall. What are you praying for?” The old man replied: “What am I praying for? In the morning, I pray for world peace and then I pray for the brotherhood of man. I go home, have a cup of tea and I come back to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”
The journalist continued to question the old man.
“You mean you have been coming to the wall to pray every day for these things?” the journalist said.
The old man nodded.
“How long have you been coming to the wall?”
The old man became reflective and then replied: “How long, maybe, 20 years or more.”
The journalist was dumbfounded.
“You mean you have been coming here every day for all those years?” said the journalist.
The old man nodded.
The amazed journalist finally asks: “How does it feel to come and pray every day for all those years?”
The old man extended his hands palms up, shook his head from side to side and said: “How does it feel? It feels like I’m talking to a wall”.

This week I returned from a one week vacation in Toronto and Hamilton, I drove miles and miles and miles, not once did I see a policeman or meter attendant ticketing cars. Given the volume of traffic and shortage of parking spaces you would think that handing out parking tickets in these cities would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Would you agree?

Maybe they have figured out that it’s better have a vibrant downtown economy and appreciating retail and commercial properties that generate healthy property tax dollars instead of parking meter nickles and dimes?

Friday my first day back and what do I see on Canterbury and Prince William Streets? Our trusty diligent platoon of meter Nazis handing out parking tickets. I don’t blame the parking attendants I blame a nickel and dime mentality from Common Council and City Management that in my opinion don’t have clue one on how to revive a city core. That’s pretty strong language right?
Going back to “talking to a wall” let me take you back to July 31 1989 the day I wrote a letter to then Mayor Elsie Wayne, for anyone counting that’s 27 years ago.

“With regard to parking, I am the first to agree that we need rules and enforcement. However, when the enforcement of those rules appears to be applied for the purpose of generating revenue, as opposed to a deterrent for abuse, then I believe the cure is worse than the illness. In light of significant efforts in recent years on the part of businesses and the city to woo customers back to the uptown area, practices that annoy the very people you are trying to attract would seem to be counterproductive. In short, revenue derived from a revitalized area through business-related taxation, etc., would literally dwarf revenue generated through fines for parking violations. In closing, I would like to say that if the public has a negative perception of a policy or enforcement then perhaps we should examine what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

I admit I’m not as persistent as the old man at the Wailing Wall, but I find myself going to the parking wall one more time, this time I’m motivated as the result my trip to Ontario and a trip I made to Bangor a few years ago. It was early morning and the Bangor downtown city core was busy with people. One of my first observations was a giant sign on the side of the Bangor Public Parking Garage that read “First 2 Hours Free.” The next thing that I noticed was no parking meters.
I asked a lady about to get into her car; “Where do you pay for on-street parking? Her reply; “You don’t, there’s two hours free on-street parking and after that, if you don’t move your car, you may get a ticket”. Do you suppose in your wildest dreams Bangor had decided that providing free limited-time parking would attract shoppers to the downtown and help in their downtown revitalization program?
At the time I called the City of Bangor. I was advised by a Shirar Patterson in the Bangor Economic Development Department that parking meters were removed sometime in the 1980s.
It had been decided by City Management and /or Common Council that local downtown businesses might require “limited-free parking” if they were going to have half a chance of competing with the outlying malls with their “indoor facilities” and “unlimited free parking”
Pretty radical thinking wouldn’t you say. It must be working because Patterson told me that 26 new businesses had opened in the downtown while only three had closed. Bangor also offers discounted rates for businesses and city-centre residents.

Has anyone, council, city management taken the time to walk the Saint John city core streets and make note of all the for lease and rent signs? Have you noticed on most days that you go to Costco they give out “free samples” Why do you suppose they do that? Maybe you will like the product and buy the product? Do you suppose that if Saint John had a “limited free parking” on the streets and at the new parking garage that more folks “might” shop downtown and in doing so help struggling businesses keep the lights on?

If council’s long-term objective is to create a more vibrant and sustainable city core then the Parking Commission’s policies and practices are sabotaging that effort.
Think about it.