SAINT JOHN – Saint John has a long and proud history of parks and green spaces. As the first incorporated city in Canada, it also became the first city in the country to set aside land for public squares in its Royal Charter of 1785. With the creation of the City came the creation of the city’s first green spaces. These parks, “known by the names of King’s and Queen’s Square, shall be and forever remain open, unenclosed and unappropriated to any use or uses whatsoever either private or public…”
These four squares — King’s Square and Queen’s Square on the Uptown Peninsula and their mirror images of King’s Square West and Queen’s Square West on the City’s lower west side — were the first green spaces developed in Saint John. King’s Square, located next door to the bustling City Market, is one of the most used open spaces in the entire city.
The protection of the four “royal” squares from any type of development under the City’s charter does not extend to all city parks. The preservation of public space has been a hot topic in Saint John in recent weeks. This past Wednesday, the City hosted a public consultation session for the Sandy Point Road Study to engage citizens in a discussion about the future of city-owned land on the western edge of Rockwood Park.
Rockwood Park, at approximately 2,200 acres, is one of Canada’s largest urban parks and one of the City’s most important public amenities. The western edge of the park is heavily wooded, difficult to discern, lined with sporadic residential development and includes only one trail to access the park’s interior. Over the years, parcels of land along Sandy Point Road had been acquired by the City with the intention of eventually integrating them into the park. However, recent development pressures have caused the City to question what the best use of these lands would be.
The Sandy Point Road Study is a planning exercise that is attempting to discern the best use of these city-owned lands. On Wednesday, residents were given a brief formal presentation and were then asked to break into working groups to discuss their visions for the future of their park. Citizens came out in full force to discuss what should happen with these lands – should they finally be fully incorporated into the park or should limited development be allowed to create new stewardship communities? Can development be designed appropriately to complement natural surroundings, or would allowing development on these lands chip away at the integrity of the park?
As a result of this consultation, an independent report will be prepared and submitted to the City for consideration. Common Council will then have to decide what they believe will be the best use of the land, whether as part of the park, as a potential development area, or as a mix of both. Residents will be watching closely.
photo by Giovanni Paquin