St. John’s, NL: Not Much Time, Many People to Reach

The City of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador has a storied and long history. It also has a mobility issue.

In their Smart Cities Challenge application, the City plans to tackle this mobility issue head on. To get people moving in safer ways, they hope to rely on new data collection tools and sensors. Investment in infrastructure and active-transportation is desired, as is the $10 million prize they have applied for.

The CityInclusive team interviewed Maggie Burton in early April, a new St. John’s City Councillor at large, violinist, poet, management consultant and mother of two. Needless to say, we were grateful for her time. We also touched base with Rob Nolan from the local volunteer-run NGO Happy City, who partnered with Burton in developing the application and conducting outreach in the community. Both interviews were conducted by phone, despite our great desires to get out to Canada’s eastern-most urban area.

Engaging in the Challenge was not a straightforward decision for the City. It came late in the game, in March, making the partnership with Happy City an essential one. The organization dates back to 2010, and has since actively engaged the community through surveys, online discussions, events and workshops. Working on the Challenge application was the organization’s first-time partnership with the City.  

Community Engagement and Inclusion

Nolan acknowledged the organization’s community engagement strategy is typically more strategic and coordinated. For the Challenge, it was “rapid and focused.” The decision to target mobility and public health came about from conversations among different groups before the Challenge was announced.

The engagement strategy included bringing together community partners around the same table, encouraging the sharing of ideas of local residents, actively canvassing the general public for opinions through online surveys (more than 500+ responses were received), and targeted outreach to stakeholder groups involved in mobility/public health discussions. Nolan and Burton even made a TV appearance to talk about the Challenge on a local TV station.

When thinking about inclusion, Burton thinks of mobility; of literally making sure “everyone can get from point A to point B.” In a city like St. John’s, that’s still a challenge; especially for its large international student community, the elderly, the poor, and new Canadians; the “invisible people” which, contrary to popular belief, are increasingly diverse.

In regards to inclusion in community engagement practices, Burton reiterated the short time-frame was challenging. They were, however, intentional about working with local Memorial University to get surveys to students, to include youth voices. They also reached out to groups working with specific populations including people with disabilities, the elderly, and those who are homeless.

Going Forward

Both Burton and Nolan agreed that the Challenge definitely galvanized momentum and interest in municipal affairs and public health issues in St. John’s. Regardless of the outcome, they are committed to taking the project forward.