Above: Phil Ouellette, Jacqueline Hamilton, Jennifer Brown, David Dobbelsteyn, Jeff Cyr.
To the casual observer, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the signs of change within Saint John’s uptown core. Brick Park, Saint John’s Knowledge Cluster, is at the centre of a cultural and lifestyle revival that’s been gaining momentum over the past several years.
Growth begets growth and the pace of change is not lost on the City’s Commissioner of Growth & Community Development Services, Jacqueline Hamilton. In fact, her department has played a significant role as proponents and enablers of change, and she’s been watching with pride as the pace and rate of change has picked up.
Hamilton’s first position with the City was Deputy Commissioner of Growth and Development, a role that tasked her with leading the City through an extensive public and stakeholder engagement and policy process required for the development of PlanSJ, Saint John’s municipal plan. The foundation laid by that plan outlined a vision and direction for growth, development, and change.
Since the rollout of PlanSJ in 2011, the City has undergone many changes; streamlining services, building on opportunities for growth and development, and encouraging positive change.
“We’ve experienced significant change in the last four years,” notes Hamilton. “Internally, we’ve moved away from simply acting as a regulatory department, providing approvals and high-level planning. We acknowledged that we were too static and needed to become more of a partner. We needed to change in the right ways and build on the momentum of PlanSJ for our stakeholders and our citizens.”
That shift in thinking resulted in big changes within the City’s growth department – most notably, the development of the One Stop Development Shop – the merging of multiple development and approval functions from three separate departments into a single customer-facing “storefront”.
“Introducing the One Stop Development Shop was a game-changer for us,” says Hamilton. “We overhauled how we work by introducing over 60 different service improvements designed to enhance the level of service we offer our customers. We’re engaged and invested in developing Saint John to reach its full potential. We are facilitators of growth and development.”
But Hamilton and her team aren’t resting on that one accomplishment. In fact, it’s just the first step in the City’s and current council’s growth agenda. With growth as the main priority, positive change has been the order of the day and that’s playing out in a number of ways.
The City’s Growth and Community Development Services added more depth to its team in 2015 with the addition of Phil Ouellette as Deputy Commissioner of Planning. Positioned in this new role, Ouellette immediately took a leadership approach to champion the growth function of the service.
That commitment to fostering growth from within the City as an organization meant renewing and building on relationships with the development community, transforming the relationships with the City’s economic development agencies, breaking down silos between departments, and building bench strength internally.
With the right team in place, their path is clear: support council’s Roadmap for Smart Growth, which outlines three key priorities that align with the goals of the service area:
Further, the Roadmap includes several strategies in support of these goals, along with 52 associated actions. Each action item is aimed at capitalizing on opportunities for growth and putting the city on a path to a more prosperous future.
According to Hamilton, meaningful progress has already been made.
“We’re already getting down to business on the action list,” says Hamilton. “As it stands now, we have two-thirds of the list either underway or completed – and that’s some significant progress since we launched the roadmap in March, 2017.”
One of the biggest successes thus far has been around governance. Hamilton explains that in working with community partners from the economic development agencies, the City has reset expectations and ensured that clear mandates are in place for each – with concrete deliverables and individual mandate letters.
A re-alignment of the real estate functions and agencies has also allowed the City to establish a new approach to managing strategic real estate opportunities. Through a coordinated approach led by a new organization called DevelopSJ, the City will be positioned to seize opportunities and optimize resources, while pushing for growth in Saint John’s tax base. This complements initiatives underway to focus on population growth and also drive urban growth through a progressive neighbourhood planning program.
Through the evolution of the Growth and Community Development Services, and the widespread community support for the Growth Committee and Roadmap, there is a massive appetite for change in Saint John. That translates into an eagerness that helps the City navigate through uncertain times and challenging issues because more and more people are pulling in the same direction – and that direction is onward to a prosperous and sustainable future.