Finding that common ground (Vancouver Sun)

Finding that common ground.

Quoting in part:

Not every citizen has the time to get involved in neighbourhood planning or development issues, yet everyone has an opinion and a legitimate right to be heard. Often developers feel that the public discussion that goes on is not representative, but is dominated by the vocal minority. At the same time, citizens feel their voice isn’t being heard and public consultation, especially the checklist-style outreach done by municipal planners, isn’t meant to really tap community concerns and opinions. It was suggested that developers and citizens would benefit from better formal intelligence that accurately measures citizens’ opinions and attitudes. There was agreement in the room that access to opinion polls and other information of this kind would be valuable in informing planning and development decisions.

There was also agreement around the suggestion that public discussions about neighbourhood planning and development need to start with a focus on built form and the real physical aspects of proposed development, rather than shirking these realities while talking about visions, values and wish lists. “Show me, don’t tell me” seemed to be the theme. Everyone wants to know what things will look like if the plan is followed. That brings the certainty both developers and citizens want.

New development can be designed in many different forms. Each form of development has its negative impacts and positive attributes. It is hard to decide on making trade-offs if you don’t know what alternatives are available. Community activists at the forum suggested that when developers are presenting plans to citizens for their input and feedback, they shouldn’t present a single plan that shows only one way of achieving the outcome. Multiple options should be presented.

Citizens can then assess the tradeoffs and provide their preferences on the various options.

Often, developers approach their project design challenges by assessing these various options. But city hall seems to be the problem on this one in terms of presenting development plans this way. Most development and zoning regulations don’t provide enough flexibility to consider multiple ways of achieving the same outcome.

City hall was identified many times during the discussion at the forum as the problem rather than the solution in the quest to better plan, design and build communities. In fact, the biggest area of agreement between citizen activists and developers was around their frustration with city halls and the way municipalities deal with planning and development.

The most encouraging thing I took away from this meeting is that there is a lot of opportunities for neighbourhood activists and developers to occupy their common ground and, together, convince city halls through the region that things need to change

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