Why non-experts should have last say in changing neighbourhoods.
By Michael Kluckner and quoting in part:
Under the current system, planners seem to be unable to influence anything other than the built form. In the current Vancouver case, the market is only responding to the economic, not the social, needs of cities, creating a glut of small one-bedroom condos and a lack of new family accommodation.
(Comment from Voices: Case in point – current application for a new rental building on East 3rd – out of 40 units, 17 will be studios starting at 409 sqft)
‘In praise of skeptics
Why is public involvement necessary? Because the public is essentially skeptical and conservative — they are the only people whose interests in cities extend beyond the economic and ideological. The public provides a necessary brake on the swings of fashion that bedevil the practice of planning and land development.
Are the public NIMBYs? We are hard-wired as a species to defend turf, and the only thing which trumps it is economic gain. Ask any wealthy person of your acquaintance: “do you have a desire to pack yourself in with strangers, or are you using your money to buy space and light?”
It’s the relationship between planners and the property-development industry that is so problematic, because both see the city as a business opportunity, which is philosophically at odds with people who want just to do their jobs, meet their friends, raise their children and be able to live with a reasonable level of security as renters or owners.
(Comment from Voices: Even more problematic in the City of North Van with the current majority slate on Council primarily funded by developers in the 2014 local election)
Planners, and their bosses, are addicted to change: neighbourhoods may work in practice but if they don’t work in theory they get “planned for the future.” Fixing things that aren’t broken is a way of destroying the natural evolution of cities. Without the check-and-balance of empowered citizens, you get a situation like the 1950s and 1960s, which is on the verge of happening again. It’s called “green” now; it looked exactly the same but was called “progress” then.
However, I’m not making an argument for no change, but an argument for citizens as partners who are given the same status as planners. City-building is like a three-legged stool: planners, the public, and the property industry. If any leg gets too long the edifice is unstable. City Council, which sits on the stool, is then in danger of being pitched off.
There is a truism that “people are experts at knowing how they want to live.” More than 20 years ago, a youngish Vancouver councillor named Gordon Price told me, “You don’t get re-elected by trampling on people’s dreams.” In the final analysis, it’s about democracy; as Winston Churchill noted, it’s a terrible system but no-one’s come up with a better one.’