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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Peel Plaza blues

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SAINT JOHN Last Wednesday evening will prove to be a watershed for uptown development. Common Council voted 8-3 to award a $ 20.6-million tender to build a new police headquarters in the historic city centre district.

What else could bring people back from the suburbs and encourage more visitors to the city?

Peel Plaza (check out the site’s animated videos) is to be home to a provincial court house, police station, public plaza, parking garage and related infrastructure — a joint project by the City and Province. The consulting and planning fees coupled with land acquisition costs are estimated at $9 million, and with the exception of the courthouse, all other structures are the financial responsibility of the City. Council has split the project up in increments, so the true cost won’t be realized for years (with a projected cost of ~$40-50 million).

The City Manager’s report [pdf] is worth reading for a detailed look at the City’s position on the Peel Plaza development.

While the debate for a new Police HQ has been ongoing for decades, does the development purport to do what it’s set out to?

The argument here rests with a) whether this will actually lead to better policing in the city; b) whether the new development conforms to the urban fabric and streetscape of the area; c) whether this triggers additional private development around the project; d) whether this will increase economic and cultural activity in the area; e) whether the station should be placed at Peel Plaza (it was #9 of 14 evaluated sites); and finally, f) whether the costs associated with the project(s), significantly affect progress on Council’s stated priorities [pdf].

Meanwhile, there’s an outstanding $259 million investment coming which is required to build and operate a much needed water treatment plant (the archaic public water system fails to meet most of the current health standards), the $100 million harbour cleanup project (the only city with untreated sewage running in open creeks through its core), and the estimated $75 million for 25% of roads that need to be hastily rebuilt (chronic underfunding will do that).

These are significant challenges and even with the highest tax rate in the province, city resources are limited and stretched thin.

This was a lost opportunity — perhaps the next water boil advisory will remind council of that.

Photograph by Greg Hickman.



  1. I agree that this development is poorly thought out and will not spur the expected Uptown development. Nothing in this development is an attraction that will bring people into Uptown. Parks are nice, but Kings Square is only a couple of blocks away. Police and courthouse need to be central, but not necessarily dead centre; even the city scored this location 9/14 for a police station. And a parking garage … probably the last thing needed Uptown, and it is projected to operate at a deficit to boot. There’s also problems with the urban design and the architecture, that can generally be summed up as too suburban for this location, but at the end of the day there are two problems: 1) Council thinks that forty years of decline can be turned around by a big project and the resulting development that magically reappears in the Uptown; and 2) This project fails to address any of the real issues for Uptown’s decline and stagnation, which are numerous but far from insurmountable.

  2. I feel these are the same concerns we’ve been expressing and hearing about Halifax’s (soon to be) proposed new downtown convention centre. On some fundamental level, the sentiment behind it is on point: both downtowns are in desperate need of innovation and creative thinking — something (or things) that’ll shake some life into much lamented stagnancy we’ve been suffering. It’s the content of that innovation and thinking where we keep falling short. Another monolithic and underused convention centre? A suburban-looking police station and parking garage? Really?

    C’mon, we can do better than that.