• Why Saint John
  • PlanSJ
  • This blog

I have spent most of my life in Vancouver, Ottawa and other large cities. My professional background is in knowledge management and communications, and I run my own consulting business.

I’ve lived in Saint John since about 2000, and I love it here. Saint John lies in the heart of some of the most beautiful landscapes in this country, if not in the world, and that natural beauty was what struck me most when I first spent time in this city in 1990. The City of Saint John itself also has great beauty, in its streetscapes and buildings and waterfront, in its moody fogs, cool summer afternoons and desperate winter storms, in its parks and trails and marshes, and even in its aging industrial spaces. Many Saint Johners take that beauty for granted.

The city lies at a nexus … land and sea, rivers and ocean, urban spaces and wilderness, the new and the old, all of it compact and accessible. It’s a walking city (and the best cities are always those where one can walk). That accessibility is something you simply don’t have in most larger cities. Here, you can drive from downtown Saint John into total isolation in about 10 minutes, or walk to one of the largest urban parks in North American in 20. My commute from uptown to my house in the suburbs takes eight minutes (12 in rush hour), and after a few drinks I can crawl home in half an hour.

Saint John is a city of opportunity — large enough to offer opportunities to succeed, yet small enough to offer opportunities to become involved. Doors are open to ordinary citizens. I’ve had a voice in community affairs here and chances to become engaged in decision-making that I never experienced in other, larger communities. Those opportunities are there for any Saint Johner. To a certain extent Saint Johners take that accessibility for granted too.

While it’s the economic engine of this province, Saint John offers many of the charms of small town living. Everyone seems to know everyone. While that loss of anonymity has its own costs, the sense of close community is truly precious. And again, Saint Johners tend not to recognize the value of those community and social networks in their daily lives, because many of them have never known anything else.

Those are just some of the reasons I have chosen to make Saint John my home for so long, and why I jump to defend it against its detractors — either those from away, or Saint Johners themselves. But let’s be clear: Saint John is not an idyllic land of milk and honey. The streets are not paved with gold. (And if they were, some hater would be complaining that they were too shiney.) Saint John faces desperate challenges, including a falling tax base, failing infrastructure, and all the other problems that plague many cities of its size in this country. The water system is ancient and crumbling. The roads fall apart every winter and spring (just like roads in every northern climate). Saint John has more than once been thrown under the bus by provincial and federal governments, and there’s been a loss of critical industries and businesses over the decades. There’s also been a diversion of residents from Saint John itself to outlying communities, where those residents can enjoy the proximity to a city without having to pay for that benefit (which means fewer taxpayers actually paying the bills). And finally, to top it all off, Saint John’s future is inextricably linked to the future of New Brunswick as a whole — a future that appears grim politically, economically and demographically as an aging population, globalization and climate change threaten economies and livelihoods.

I’m not an optimist about Saint John’s future, and I think its citizens deserve better than they’re going to get. But despite my pessimism (or realism) I think it’s important for us to try to protect this community and to find ways not only to make Saint John sustainable, but to optimize quality of life for the people that choose to live here.

This isn’t just about today’s citizens; it’s about the people who may live here 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Sustainability is going to rely on immigration as much as retention, and on new industries far more than old. We need to realize a new vision of Saint John that’s going to appeal to people elsewhere in this country or elsewhere in the world, and look for ways of fostering new business that leverage our assets and aren’t limited by our challenges.

For that to work Saint Johners have to look at themselves and their community realistically. For some, that means letting go of nostalgic ideas of a return of industries like shipbuilding and shipping. For others, it means being more realistic in their criticisms of the city. (Because it seems to me, as a relative outsider, that no one hates Saint John quite so much as a Saint Johner.) We all need to park our baggage and focus on positive transformation.

For all of us, that means making a commitment and getting involved. The opportunities are there. The need is there. We have to start working constructively to find a way out of this cul de sac. Our neighbour Moncton did it in the 80s after the CNR closed. We need to do it now.


For me, getting involved has taken a number of forms, the most direct of which has been joining the City of Saint John’s PlanSJ Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC). PlanSJ is Saint John’s initiative to update its municipal plan, something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. PlanSJ is very important to the future of this city.

The PlanSJ process relies heavily on public input and consultation, and a key part of that strategy is the integration of citizen representatives into every possible part of the process. I’ve been working with the other CAC members to support that effort and to represent the interests of Saint Johners throughout the process.

This blog

A key part of engagement and representation is communication and education. PlanSJ needs to fully reflect the vision of the citizens of this community, and the community must take ownership. The CAC serves as a conduit between the municipal planning process and the public as a whole to enable that ownership and the development of that vision.

Part of what I do as a CAC member is communicate with the public, and tell Saint Johners about what’s being discussed, what’s being considered, and what’s happening in this critical process. For me, a blog seems like the best solution. Some other CAC members are taking similar approaches, either with their own blogs, FaceBook, or Twitter. Still others are using more traditional methods of engagement. We’re all doing what we can to connect the PlanSJ process with the public.

I’ll post technical information from the PlanSJ process, minutes from meetings, maps, and whatever other bits and pieces seem interesting or relevant to the municipal planning process. I’ll also post articles stating my own position on related issues. Please note, however, that any positions I state in this blog are mine alone, and do not represent an official position on the part of the CAC.

Also note that this blog isn’t just about PlanSJ. I’ll post articles of more general interest to Saint John citizens here, all in the vein of public affairs, planning, and urban development.

I welcome input from the public. Feel free to email me, either directly at dave at drinnan.com, or via the comment fields on this site.

Thanks for visiting!