The Vancouver City Planning Commission is delighted to be partnering with the SFU Urban Studies Program on the 2017 Rethinking the Region forum on the role and impact of advisory groups on decisions about our urban form and experiences. Our mandate is to advise the mayor and council on matters affecting the long term future of the city. Last October, representatives of VCPC participated in Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador. UN member countries, including Canada, adopted a New Urban Agenda (NUA) to guide cities internationally for the next 25 years.
After reviewing the Agenda and participating in discussions with other cities from around the world, VCPC decided to reference the New Urban Agenda as an overarching lens through which we might assess Vancouver’s current and future progress. We identified five themes that we perceive as having particular relevance to Vancouver and the region.
- Resilience (in the face of climate change, sea level rise and disasters)
- Engagement for Real (participatory planning and public engagement)
- Financing Public Life and Space
- A City for All (diversity,inclusion and affordability)
- Creating Common Unity (the role of communities and corridors.
Today’s forum on advisory groups is particularly important to our interest in participatory planning and public engagement. While we have a long history of public engagement in this region, VCPC sees gaps in the overall effectiveness and satisfaction with some of these processes. Open houses, town hall meetings, short presentations to advisory groups and electronic surveys are pretty standardized in the region. The process is predictable and often leaves participants dissatisfied.
The public feels that their views haven’t been incorporated, developers feel they are asked to give too much, advisory groups feel consultations are token, and staff feel caught in the middle. On a continuum of participation that moves from show-and-sell to co-design, Vancouver residents and advocacy groups seem to desire shared power at the co-design end of the
continuum, while the city and developers prefer to operate from a show/sell/adjust/defend model of power retention. In this context then, what can be done to make engagement more meaningful? Is there a role for advisory groups to bridge the gaps that emerge?
Tina Nabatchi’s insights will provide a framework for our discussions. The forum is focussed on case examples from the points of view of advisory group members and of elected officials who receive advice from such groups. We are especially grateful to the members of the Seattle Planning Commission and the Department of Neighborhoods for joining us and
sharing their experiences.
VCPC will be incorporating our learning from today’s forum into our ongoing work to provide insightful advice on the topic of “Engagement for Real.” Thank you for your attendance and participation.
Nola Kate Seymoar, Ph.D
Vancouver City Planning Commission