Evi Mustel: West may be best but can cities retain their quality of life?

Article from The Province with Voices comment below.

Evi Mustel: West may be best but can cities retain their quality of life?.

 

Westerners love where they live and think the future of the Canadian economy lies in the West, not the East. But dig deeper into the data and you find there is a caveat to all this optimism. Westerners also think that there are major challenges that lie ahead for the West’s fast-growing cities,

Citing a host of issues that will only be solved by major public and private investment.

Mustel Group took this snapshot of the West’s urban residents for CityAge.org, an international network of city builders. Conducted in partnership with AskingCanadians, the poll shows that 86 per cent believe that Canada’s future economic growth will come primarily from the West.

Partly for this reason, 92 per cent of westerners believe that the quality of life is better in their cities than anywhere else. In addition to the economic benefits of living in the West, city dwellers think the size and density of their communities, the pace of life, friendliness of their cities, their access to recreation and nature and, in B.C., the weather (because it allows for more outdoor play) are key reasons for rating their quality of life as high.

But there is a sense all these positives can’t be taken for granted.

All western cities are facing unprecedented growth and the
No. 1 concern by residents is how newcomers will be accommodated. The poll found that the top concern for westerners is urban sprawl, loss of agricultural land and the densification of established neighbourhoods.

The urban West is also concerned about whether their communities can provide the needed infrastructure as their communities grow. In addition to the basics — water, sewer, etc. — there is concern that soft infrastructure such as parks, schools, hospitals and other essential foundations of a healthy city will not keep up with growing demand.

Westerners are worried about transportation infrastructure, and are already frustrated with their current systems, particularly in Vancouver and Calgary where congestion is among the worst in North America.

Other top-level concerns about growth are environmental impacts such as air quality and the increased cost of housing, despite planners and developers assuring the public that more housing will help control prices. There is a growing sense that our economies are not sufficiently diversified as the energy sector comes under increasing scrutiny and that neighbourhoods are becoming disconnected because of growing ethnic enclaves from high levels of immigration.

This snapshot — indicating a high level of contentment but a deep concern that we may not be prepared to deal with major challenges — is a good guide for our political leaders in the years ahead.

At the root of many of these concerns is a frustration that city residents are not being engaged, consulted and included in decision-making. Western communities typically do not receive high marks from residents for their community engagement initiatives.

While most really don’t want to see things change, they know change is inevitable and want to have a seat at the table and be included in the planning of their communities. It is time for communities to bring in professional expertise in community engagement, and not solely rely on planners to manage this process. The West can lead this new approach to urban planning.

Evi Mustel is president of
Mustel Group, a Vancouver-based market and opinion research company. Survey partner, AskingCanadians, is an online data-collection firm with access to a research
community of more than 600,000 Canadians.

Voices comment:  Residents in the City of North Vancouver have Councillor Bell, Bookham, Clark and Heywood to thank for the increased public engagement in the CityShaping process.  They supported the following motion by Councillor Bookham on February 24. The additional meetings were not supported by the Mayor and Councillors Buchanan and Keating.  We fear that perhaps they subscribe to the following theory of Roger Brooks:

“I’m begging you to just say, ‘Staff, make it happen.’ The second you go back out there and say ‘Public, what do you think? What should we change?’ all of a sudden, the whole thing is going to come apart,” he said. “You’re never going to get anywhere.”  (quote from the NS News)

The meetings were conducted by an excellent facilitator, Catherine Rockandel and provided valuable information to planning staff. 

Moved by Councillor Bookham, seconded by Councillor Clark 

WHEREAS the new Official Community Plan (OCP) will provide a blueprint

for sustainable growth in the City for the next thirty years; 

WHEREAS the proposed land use changes in the OCP call for increased 

heights and density throughout the City, will impact every citizen; 

AND WHEREAS traditional methods of public engagement, such as open 

houses, have had limited success in attracting citizen participation in the 

dialogue; 

BE IT RESOLVED THAT three separate town hall meetings be scheduled; 

one focused on the proposed land use changes for Central Lonsdale, 

including discussion of the Harry Jerome precinct; one focused on the land 

use changes for Lower Lonsdale; and, one focused on the proposal to 

allow a secondary suite and coach house on RS-1 lots; 

THAT residents in these areas be informed by mail of the proposed 

changes in their neighbourhoods and the opportunity to attend the town 

hall meetings; 

THAT the meetings be facilitated by an independent facilitator; 

THAT the format of the meetings maximize the opportunity for citizen input 

as opposed to staff presentation; 

AND THAT the meetings be videotaped for the benefit of those who are 

unable to attend, but would like to provide input in writing. 

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