Roundtable 12: Participatory Planning and Design


Meaningful input from residents, decision-makers, technical experts, and other stakeholders is critical to creating vibrant communities based on a successful urban design vision. Vancouver is seen as a global leader in participatory planning and design but the danger of a credibility gap between public consultation processes and perceived results is a persistent concern.

  • What have the City and/or developers done right and what barriers currently exist?
  • What does meaningful partnership with community residents look like and how can engagement momentum be maintained?
  • How can expectations be managed and partnerships with diverse stakeholders be built and maintained?
  • What can be learned and replicated or scaled up from good examples of participatory planning?
  • Beyond community engagement, what other components are needed for successful neighbourhood design?

Roundtable Discussion

This roundtable was very popular and had 12 participants as well as a table lead Ouri Scott and notetaker Carlin Sandor. Participants were mostly professionals in the planning, urban design, and architecture field, all of whom had expertise in community engagement. A few others joined representing participants in neighbourhoods that had engaged with the City to create neighbourhood plans such as the West End Plan.

Discussion centred on best practices for effective engagement of community members.

Participatory planning revolves around trust. Trust is shared and requires building a relationship. If you don’t have a relationship, what do you have?

Sam Collins, WSP

Now what? How can citizens have input into city plan?

Gabriella Emery

Key Findings

  • There is a gap between professionals and communities.
  • A good community process takes money, experience, and time.
  • There is a need to recognize structural barriers to participation to make engagement accessible to all.
  • Effective participation must move to empowerment.
  • Planners need to learn to work with youth and seniors.
  • Combat social isolation with good social connections.
  • Respecting and honouring people’s time is important; listen respectfully, engage honestly.
Ouri Scott, Architect AIBC,leads community members in a visioning session on Indigenous values for the Britannia Renewal project.



  • Share knowledge and lessons learned – positive and negative shared learnings.
  • Improve involvement of community members in the planning process.
  • Understand that engagement is entering into a relationship.
  • Establish shared underlying values of the particular planning project. Use shared values as a tool for decision making.
  • Build flexibility into planning process to meet specific community needs.
  • Provide appropriate budgets to support real engagement.
  • Use an intersectional lens to create equitable involvement, and incorporate all voices.
  • Provide transparency – an honest and accountable planning process, implementation + action, with a follow-up strategy and feedback loop.
  • Create a Playbook for Participatory Planning – recommend best practices.


  • Provide childminding.
  • Outreach – meet people where they are, send experienced + competent people out to communities with clearly defined goals.
  • Use a range of inclusive and innovative engagement strategies.
  • Translate materials into relevant languages.
  • Acknowledge that potential participants may have limited time.
  • Change how we do things, involve vulnerable groups and elders and youth.


  • Educate + empower involvement – train staff and public be able to more fully participate; build mentoring and capacity building in community.
  • Empower informed choice – give people tools to make decisions.
  • Educate the community – properly fund thoughtful sharing of information, background, and materials, ie. how the process works, what is possible, what zoning terms mean, etc.
  • Provide graphic tools that enable the average citizen to comprehend and understand parameters and ideas.
  • Share knowledge + lessons learned, both positive and negative. Explore case studies for participatory planning best practices, from Vancouver + cities around the world.


  • Create Neighbourhood liaisons.
  • Incorporate a follow-up strategy and feedback loop so people know they have been heard.
  • Incorporate best practice for participatory planning into the City Wide Plan.

Related Initiatives

Developing the Britannia Renewal Master Plan was undertaken with an Indigenous lens, values led participatory planning process and included over 3,500 touches. It employed a wide variety of planning events including consulting vulnerable populations, stakeholder groups, open houses, vision workshops, speaker events, and a forum on housing. All events were supported by clear information on the process, what would be done with participants input, graphic communications framing the context of the project, and a meal. Materials included takeaway brochures, information boards, and a slide show presentation. All materials were made available in an on-site space of community engagement – the “Blab.”

Developing the Hastings Park Master Plan involved extensive public and expert consultation with the goal of transforming Hastings Park into a greener, more active, year-round destination, while ensuring its economic viability and long-term sustainability. The Plan is now being implemented over a 20 year timeframe.

RayCam Centre is an active community centre on Vancouver’s Eastside serving low-income residents with a specialization on families. RayCam Renew represents four years of visioning and productive collaboration between the Renew team and stakeholders including community (existing and new residents), staff, funding partners, local businesses, and professional consultants. The vision for a renewed RayCam includes 200+ units of housing, 3 daycares, expanded recreational spaces, seniors, local health, and youth programs, facilities for partner organizations, NGO’s, and local startup enterprises and social enterprise businesses. @RayCamCentre,

The Indigenous Wellness Team – Provincial Health Services Authority aims to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous people, and to close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous British Columbians. The program has been looking at issues of social isolation and recognise that while technology can enable community-building it is important for people to have physical spaces in which to meet and develop meaningful relationships.

The Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan, approved by Council in November 2010, was developed with input from Norquay Village residents and property and business owners to help guide growth and development throughout the neighbourhood. The Implementation Committee is a self-organized community group that monitors what is going in Norquay.

CityStudio Vancouver is an innovation hub, founded together with SFU and the City of Vancouver, where city staff, students, faculty, and community members work together to design experimental projects that make Vancouver sustainable, liveable, and joyful.

The City of Vancouver’s Coastal Adaptation Plan (CAP) – Fraser River Foreshore, one of the first programs of its kind in Canada, was the result of the development of a new planning process to engage and co-design values-based solutions with the public. A values-based approach to climate change adaptation is one that acknowledges that the impacts of climate change are only partially understood through technical assessments. It foregrounds the subjective, qualitative dimensions of what people and cultures care about to help us develop a shared understanding of the challenges that we face. Future project phases will develop measures for the community values that were identified through the CAP project so that they can be used along with more technical engineering criteria to help evaluate potential adaptation options.

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