AJA Logo

AJAs 2020 Finalists

An Empty Lot on Eric Street Holds the Key to the City


Date Aired or Published December 9, 2020
Media outlet where first aired or published: The Independent
Name of Program:
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: St. John's, NL
List awards, grants:
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

A proposal by the City of St. John’s to develop a green space and community garden on Eric Street as public housing appeared intermittently in the news for about a year previous to this story. While previous coverage indicated there was opposition to the project from some residents, none of the existing coverage explored the issues motivating proponents and opponents of the project in any great depth. I felt the story merited a much deeper investigation, particularly as it appeared to sit at the intersection of many of the issues contested in ongoing development projects throughout the city: an affordable housing crisis; sustainability and the role of public green spaces; what form public dialogue and community consultation should take; food security; gentrification; the balance between public accountability and confidentiality. My aim in writing the story was not just to exposit the issues specific to Eric Street, but to use it as a vehicle to illuminate the underlying issues fuelling conflict over municipal development in St. John's: competing interests and differing perspectives over what community consultation truly means. I spent about three months spending time in the neighbourhood, getting to know residents and gaining their trust, interviewing proponents and opponents of the project (including city officials). The greatest challenge lay in gaining the confidence of both local residents and city officials that I could tell their respective perspectives fairly and in a balanced way. There was a great deal of misinformation circulating among both proponents and opponents of the project, and part of my goal was to untangle the gossip from fact and develop a clear and transparent chronology of how the project, as well as its opposition, had developed. I believe an important role of journalism in situations like this is to clear the air of gossip and innuendo by presenting clearly researched facts and chronologies, to enable a more balanced and informed public dialogue. Another benefit of journalism in this context is to offer an objective ear and help communicate the perspective of the different sides in a fair way, to facilitate communication between different segments of the community. As part of this process, I filed several ATIPP requests, producing hundreds of pages of responsive documents, and also reviewed a range of city policies, reports, plans and regulations. Altogether the story took 3-4 months of work to produce. The result offered a tremendous insight not only into municipal decision-making and internal city processes, but also contributed to rendering visible the complex, and often well-intentioned if sometimes conflictual, motivations driving both sides. The story had a significant and ongoing impact insofar as it helped to renew debates about what form the City’s approach to public community consultations ought to take going forward.

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

The Independent is an independent not-for-profit community news publication and has no significant financial resources. The story primarily required an investment of significant time (3-4 months) to research and develop.

Return to list of finalists