Grassroots group holds discussion forum at city hall
BY DAVE BARTLETT - THE TELEGRAM
A grassroots group, which wants to see more citizen participation in planning the future of the City of St. John's, hosted a forum at city hall Saturday.
About 30 people showed up to the Happy City forum to answer three questions in smaller groups.
Each group then presented their ideas to the participants at large.
The questions discussed were:
- What makes St. John's a great city in which to live?
- What gets in the way of the city working for everyone?
- Describe the future St. John's of your dreams.
Organizer Dave Lane told reporters the aim of Happy City is to find common ground through discussion. "The purpose of the meeting today is to bring people together to start talking about how St. John's is changing and how we might be able to manage that in a way that suits everybody a little bit better, he said.
"We feel when people talk with one another in a civil way and in an informed way, we make better decisions together."
Happy City uses the Internet and social media to spread its message.
It hopes to move away from polarizing issues and instead discuss the grey areas.
"You're always going to have debates and disagreements and we feel that if people do come together and talk a little bit more ... we think people will just make better decisions even though they disagree with one another, said Lane.
Petersen designed the format of the forum as an alternative to traditional public meetings where "there's for and against and tempers rise, often, and sometimes you don't get beyond those disagreements"
Petersen said this way everybody gets their say within the smaller groups. Switching up the groups between questions creates a more respectful and co-operative dialogue throughout the day.
“Not everyone wants to write letters to the editor, some people just want to come out and hear what others have to say,” he said.
Shane O'Dea is a past vice chairman of the city's heritage committee.
O'Dea would like to see a cleaner city and a city that is easier to walk around, especially at this time of year when snow is on the ground.
"The city is doing a good job now, of say plowing sidewalk. But frequently it's (still) hazardous," he said.
Development is one of 0'Deas concerns.
"We've had a series of potential crisis in the last year over building developments downtown, he said.
O'Dea said there's a need for an updated city plan as the current one, he said he believes, ends up putting people at each others throats.
"People would work together better if they knew the rules in which they could work," added O'Dea.
Small business owner Peg Norman also attended the event.
"I'm very interested in the city that I live in and the city that I run my businesses in and I think it’s very important to have a conversation on a fairly regular basis on ... where we want to see our city going,” she said.
With so much development going on, Norman wants to make it's kept at a "human scale."
Deputy Mayor Shannie Duff also spoke to reporters during a morning coffee break.
"I've always been very much for public engagement,” she said. "I just think cities belong to the people. And when people care, that's the sign of a healthy city."
Duff came to support the event, but also to listen to what participants had to say.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for anyone in politics to be able to hear, right at the grassroots, what people are saying,” she said.
"The more people ... care, the more people talk, the better a city we're going to have.”