On Saturday, Sept. 22, UNBSJ played host to “What’s the Future Saint John?” This four hour public forum, comprised of four guest speakers, attracted an audience nearing 70; consisting mainly of concerned citizens, local business leaders, politicians, and perhaps two or three students (including myself). Despite the gloomy weather, the atmosphere was warm and inviting; the audience was encouraged to participate in the discussions via twitter. Between the speeches, the spectators were asked to tweet their responses to such questions as, “what do you love about Saint John?” and, “what are your top priorities for Saint John?”
Kicking off the event, Lisa Hrabluk, a freelance writer, energized the crowd with a brief, yet entertaining history of Saint John, touting the innovative nature of our citizens; past and present. Public speaker, Louis Zacharilla followed, proclaiming Saint John as a success story he now shares when speaking globally; helping other cities recover from declining populations and “blue collar” employment. He emphasized collation between the arts, business and political community as being immensely important for city growth.
Retired politician, Elizabeth Weir spoke briefly, reaffirming Saint John’s potential for growth. Lastly, Deputy Mayor Shelley Rinehart detailed Saint John’s recent makeover with the rebranded “loyalist man,” our thriving health sciences sector, and the ever-growing tourism industry. Her speech was enjoyable but, like the others, the material was somewhat vague and addressed the past and present, not the future.
The event was hugely successful in terms of building a sense of community, energizing the crowd to “get involved” in public discourse. This was aided considerably by organizing the community barbeque held afterwards, setting the mood with live music. However, there were negatives as well. Considering that the venue was on campus, it was surprising to see how few students attended. Also, the occasion lacked substance when discussing our city’s future. This was quite a blunder, since many young adults choose to live elsewhere. A comprehensive strategy for Saint John’s future may have attracted this age group to stay. All in all, the event’s poorly chosen twitter hashtag described it best; “wtfsaintjohn.”