This advocate has some ideas to put the Village mall's unused parking to better — and greener — use

Initially, Myles Russell had planned to run in the next municipal election in 2025 but he said when Froude resigned, it sped up his time table.
Myles Russell, a civil engineering technologist and Streets Are for People director, sees big potential for unused spaces in mall parking lots, such as at the Village Shopping Centre. (Submitted by Myles Russell)

A St. John's sustainability advocate says he looks at the unused parking spots in the Village Shopping Centre's parking lot and wants to turn the grey into green.

Myles Russell, a civil engineering technologist and a director with sustainable urban planning organization Streets are for People, says mall parking lots that sit mostly empty should be repurposed to bring in greener space, additional housing and better public transit.

"Most of our malls across North America were built in the '60s and '70s in a very car-focused era. They also went to the extremes to provide parking for the worst-case scenario," Russell told CBC News.

However, he said, most days of the year malls aren't packed with shoppers so plenty of parking spaces go unused. He says that space could put to better use.

There is a movement to turn malls into lifestyle centres which include parking, he said, so homes could be built on top of the Village mall or in the parking lot. He pointed to Montreal's indoor pedestrian network, an underground system that links transportation and shopping centres, which is starting to be adopted in Nordic countries.

Myles Russell says mall parking lots are underused and could be put to better use, for both residents as well as the city of St. John's.
Russell says mall parking lots are underused and could be put to better use, for both residents as well as the City of St. John's. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

Russell said a playground could also be installed inside the mall.

"There's no reason the City of St. John's could not lease space inside of an existing building and put in public space," said Russell.

Ditching vehicles

There are neighbourhoods in St. John's where up to 60 per cent of residents don't have a vehicle and they walk, bike and use public transportation to get around, said Russell. But apartment rentals often include parking fees in the hundreds of dollars to offset the cost of parking garage construction, whether the tenant owns a vehicle or not.

"Building infrastructure that forces them to pay it is just unnecessary."

But it can also be difficult to get around some areas in town if people don't have a vehicle, said Russell, adding that some core Metrobus routes run only hourly.

Myles Russell has big plans for what he'd like to see the Village mall become, like housing and more green space.
Russell says he'd like to see unused parking at the Village mall be used for housing and more green space. (Myles Russell/Reddit)

Around the Village mall are core roads that aren't being used in high frequency since roads like the Outer Ring Road, Team Gushue Highway and Pitts Memorial Drive were introduced, he said. He suggested taking roads that no longer see the same heavy traffic flow and turning them into core express bus routes.

"I'd be just suggesting to the city, let's just keep cars off half of that road and force that to bus only. Those roads are not even remotely to capacity even in the worst-case scenario. So we have lots of space for those systems and the cost is not that extreme."

Russell said his plans would save the city money. An empty parking lot with no amenities is "worth nothing" to St. John's.

"If you were to take a lot of high-density buildings, plop them in there, remove the burdens of car parking — on a regulation standpoint — you now increase the value of that land immensely. And you drive up the value of the land, you generate more taxes," he said.

"As long as the regulations allow for these things to happen, the city puts in no effort and gets an immense tax benefit."

He said if his plans were implemented, with a bit of incentive to developers, the returns could be quickly seen in a few years and multiple new apartment buildings could be built.

CBC News has asked Plaza REIT, the real estate investment trust that owns the Village Shopping Centre, for comment.

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