Vancouver’s Planning Culture

Stories from the Ground: Identifying Core Principles to Guide Vancouver’s Planning Future.

On October 13, 2015, the Vancouver City Planning Commission and UBC’s School of Community Regional Planning jointly hosted a dialogue to reflect on and identify essential principles to guide planning in Vancouver.

In facilitated discussion, a diverse group of 60 individuals from many backgrounds and with experience engaging with planning processes in Vancouver shared personal stories with features that highlighted significant practices, lessons and values. Working in small groups, participants examined their pool of lived experience with a view to identifying a set of planning principles that have represented us at our best, and that have continuing value as we plan for the future of our city and its neighbourhoods.

The documentation from the event, including the stories and reflections of individual participants, will be posted online. As an early report-out, the facilitation team of students enrolled in a facilitation and mediation class in UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning has compiled a set of key themes based on their notes and experience: An aspirational portrait of Vancouver’s planning culture.


What Makes Us Vancouver? An Aspirational Portrait of Vancouver’s Planning Culture

We are a city that places inclusive, meaningful engagement at the center of every planning process. Meaningful engagement is flexible and multi-faceted in order for the voices of all sectors of the community to be heard. Meaningful engagement is also collaborative and committed to power sharing in decision-making.

Our planning processes are rooted in respect and trust. Both professionals and non-professionals are respected for their unique contributions and work together to make sense of complex information, choices and consequences, through encouraged conversation.

Our planning processes are clear and transparent. They begin by educating the public, building capacity for participation, sharing expectations and process assumptions upfront, documenting every step of the way, and demonstrating how decisions are arrived at.

Our planning decisions are grounded in good information. We expect rigour in the analysis that leads to production of data, and we expect humanization of data, through visualization and quantification, making it easily understood by the public.

We appreciate the need for planning at various scales of time and space. We integrate innovative site-specific design and neighbourhood-level planning with careful and efficient city-wide systems planning. Our planning appreciates the need for variety and the gifts of the unexpected, leaving room for surprise and delight.

We acknowledge the cultural history of the land and its Aboriginal people. Our planning decisions reflect and celebrate our distant and recent histories (cultural, social, architectural), and we carve out spaces in our city for thriving cultures, creativity and play to increase the well-being of our diverse population.

As a city we are committed to equity and fully face the challenges of making our city affordable and liveable for all in the face of global forces and rising costs. We are looking for an inclusionary vision for housing that demands the participation of senior levels of government.

We are global leaders in creating excellence through urban form. In our city, liveability is created through a varied and diverse urban landscape, developed at the human scale and appropriate to each neighbourhood’s context and character. We recognize the importance of the relationship between land use and transportation, and we make community plans that take the regional transportation framework into account.

Our city includes and integrates spaces for business and industry to succeed. We empower neighbourhoods to respond to regional and neighbourhood-specific economic needs while we support small, innovative businesses of all types by providing a relatively easy path to approval.

We plan for integrated social and ecological landscapes. Our planning provides access to quality natural spaces as a right for our citizens and ensures a resilient, thriving environment.

(Captured and complied by the facilitation team from the discussions at the joint UBC SCARP-VCPC event on October 13, 2015)


This dialogue was the first of the three events in October exploring our planning principles and culture under the theme, Vancouver’s Planning Principles and Culture, produced by three organizations closely associated with planning in Vancouver:

The catalyst for the events was that Vancouver will soon welcome a new Director of Planning to provide leadership and guidance in addressing the complex urban planning challenges facing the city, following the retirement in November of Brian Jackson, General Manager of Planning and Development.

The second event was a SFU City Conversation on October 15th on Politics and Planning.

The third was a panel discussion on October 29th, Future and Past: Planners and Planning in the City of Vancouver, presented by SFU City Program and SFU Urban Studies. The panellists were four former Vancouver directors of planning: Larry Beasley, Ann McAfee, Ray Spaxman and Brent Toderian.