If you live in St. John’s you hear it all the time and you likely have an opinion: George Street is not what it used to be.
Changes are happening downtown, infrastructure development, a struggling economy, diversifying culture, and a mix of drugs and violence that continue to draw critical media attention.
Having spent more time in St. John’s than anywhere else in my life and hearing many sides of the argument, I choose to reserve judgment. I still enjoy the nights where I find myself on the Street with family and friends, but the topic of George Street and its future is one that persists both in the media and during casual conversation. So what is happening downtown that has everyone talking?
Greg has been an active street-goer for the past four years. Standing outside Christians Pub he smokes a cigarette while hoards of people drift past in the excitement of the night. I approached Greg and asked his opinion on where he thought George Street is now.
“I think it’s more violent,” he said, “I hear about a stabbing or fight happening all the time.”
He believes the money from the oil and gas industry and the increase in organized crime is what has caused the rise in violence.
“Money fuels the violence, when these guys come back from out west with big paychecks or become involved with drugs and gangs obviously your going to see the effects on the street, it’s where everyone comes to be with one another.”
Speaking as a recent graduate, I don’t have the means to go out every single weekend and dish out a chunk of my paycheck for a few drinks, but I see friends of mine downtown who work in the oil and gas industry spreading their money around like they won the lottery. Where money flows freely, so do the drugs and violence.
Though some believe the violence is a recent phenomenon, others say it is an historic trait of our beloved George Street.
“Downtown has always been this way,” said Tina, a veteran of the Street that has worked there since the age of 19.
“There’s always been violence as far as I can remember,” she said “I think it’s just now you hear about it more than you used to cause of social media and websites like Spotted on George and stuff like that.”
George Street was once the place to socialize in St. John’s. For many years the only way to meet people was to go out into the world and find them, this is no longer the case. There are social networks where people freely communicate, relationship apps like Tinder that skip the mingling and go straight to the business, and websites like Spotted on George that completely lay out the nights events. George Street has become more transparent than it once was, and as a result the violence that was once clouded in mystery is now open to for world to see, and scrutinize.
When asked where she thought George Street was going Tina responded, “The stabbings that you hear about might become more frequent cause you never heard those stories 10 years ago, but that’s just the drugs. I don’t think much will change on George Street. There’s always been violence.”
Seamus O’Keefe is the executive director of the George Street association. During a recent interview with the CBC, O’Keefe was asked his perspective on the increasing concern over the violence on George Street. “I believe it’s still the same environment. I don’t think too much has changed over the last decade.”
As the representative that oversees George Street and it’s coverage in the media O’Keefe commented on the growing drug culture.
“We do see more of a prevalence of drugs on George Street, but no more than anywhere else in St. John’s,” he said to CBC, “We really don’t know what’s coming in that front door.”
When asked about the violence on George Street O’Keefe responded, “I think it’s the same level as it was before, but with social media and smartphones your hearing about it more often. I don’t think the frequency has increased, just the reporting”
George Street is a dear part of our culture here in St. John’s, and for those of us who still enjoy ourselves we grow evermore saddened by the damaging publicity that continues to plague the news outlets of our great city with respect to the downtown area. Technology has made the world smaller and has exposed the truths that were once hidden in the back alleys and dark corners of the street. To some these shocking truths have changed the way they view the street, but to us who realize the historical nature of violence and the changing landscape of our culture we know that George Street is, and will remain, the epitome of love and fellowship here in St. John’s.