Blogs for the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, Adelaide, June 2013

Why Not Vancouver’s CityPlan as a Model for Community  Engagement?



Nimbin, Monday morning June 3

The CityPlan as a Model for Community Engagement in South Australia?


I don’t think so!


During my week in Adelaide, I was dismayed to hear people talking in adulatory tones about the Vancouver CityPlan community engagement model.

I’ve been worrying about this since it was first mooted in NSW last year. See:

Trust me, the 1990s Vancouver CityPlan model is completely inappropriate for a State planning and engagement strategy. In October 2012, I participated in a hard-hitting symposium in Vancouver to unpack the CityPlan model and its relevance for Australian planning and community engagement.

The `Vancouver model’ (CityPlan) of community engagement occurred  twenty years ago  and has now been  completely eroded. There is widespread disquiet about community engagement in the City of Vancouver. A product of 1980s reform movements, it cost millions of dollars. The City of Vancouver has promoted this model widely and senior consultants travel internationally speaking about its benefits.

My main issues are the following:


1. COST: Initiated in the early 1990s, CityPlan was ambitious, visionary, inclusive, time-consuming, and expensive, and the Vancouver citizens who participated–estimated to have included about twenty per cent of City households–value the visions and plans they produced and fully expect to be involved in their implementation. Indeed, as part of CityPlan, Vision Implementation Committees (VICs) across the City received funding to continue to meet and work with City staff to discuss ways to put the visions into action.

In its two stages, in the 1990s, CityPlan cost about  $CAD10 million in 1990s dollars, not counting the salaries of scores of seconded staff over many years in two stages.

Do we have that sort of commitment, resources and staffing to roll this project out on a State-wide scale many times the population of the City of Vancouver?

: CityPlan was for the  City, not the region – or the province– so it was applied to an area that currently has only 583,000 residents. In 1992, the Vancouver population was 472,000.

It is not a `state-wide’ model.


3. WEAK OUTCOMES: The results – in the longer term – are not of a high quality. I have personally witnessed three Vancouver City Council-led community engagement processes (in 2007, 2009 and March 2013) on high-profile projects (Safeway supermarket expansion in Marpole, 2009, Neighbourhood Energy Utility, False Creek South, 2007 and the Marpole Community Plan, 2013) that were woeful.

Absolutely woeful.

Marpole Community Plan Open House,Vancouver, 4 March 2013
Marpole Community Plan Open House,Vancouver,   4 March 2013

I highlighted one of the workshops as a `bad’ example’ in my book,  Kitchen Table Sustainability  (2009).

At the last Council-run Open House I attended, I was told by organisers that only 20 people had come through the door in the first two (of three) hours.

I cannot imagine that we would ever undertake such weak processes on high-profile projects in this country.


4. DOWNSTREAM EFFECTS:  The predicted loss of later community engagement opportunities (if this is actually intended) is a mistake, in my view – and will not wear well, especially with activist and educated communities in South Australia.


5.  EXCELLENT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT MODELS IN AUSTRALIA: We have great community engagement models (with international awards and recognition) and excellent practitioners in Australia – who hold many international awards. Why do we need to cringe away from our own expertise and seek the Visiting Overseas Expert (VOE) and apply overseas models when we have excellent expertise in Australia to guide such a program?



The section of the 2011 Grattan report (Cities: Who Decides?)  on Vancouver’s community engagement processes is not accurate, in my view, about engagement in Vancouver as it is CURRENTLY practised.


The Vancouver sources for the Grattan Report do not reflect the range of opinions in the current discourse in Vancouver around community engagement.

I have reviewed the Grattan report in detail and know some of the cities it reviewed.




What has happened to the Community Visions that CityPlan produced?

And what has happened to the implementation program to realize those visions?

The answer, in a nutshell, is  politics. More specifically, a City Council that many feel has been unduly influenced by development industry campaign contributions, and a City bureaucracy that has returned to an earlier era of top-down decision-making: this threatens to undermine years of goodwill built up through the dedication and enthusiasm of residents who contributed thousands of volunteer hours to the development of guiding principles and visions for the future growth and development of their communities.

In 2009, the City initiated a review of the CityPlan Vision Implementation Program (VIP).


It subsequently eliminated budgets for all Committees.

The review said the Community Visions were outdated and limiting, advocates a more robust and inclusive community involvement model and replaces neighbourhood-based Vision Community Action Plans with a city-wide Action Strategy.


Ongoing commitment?

There has been widespread questioning of the City’s on-going dedication to CityPlan. Activists and other concerned citizens are urging Council to affirm its commitment by re-endorsing CityPlan as the primary planning and development policy for Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

Our 2012 symposium showed that. See the video we made of it:



So, what does this say about CityPlan, especially for another government that might be contemplating adopting it as a model for state-wide community planning?

While the original 1990s CityPlan process itself was exemplary and the goodwill it created between residents and the City was valuable, the real challenge has been in the implementation.

Part of this problem is owing to changes in local government and its priorities, but it also has much to do with a need for a real transformation in how decisions are made in the City.

Two decades ago, the City of Vancouver had a commitment to genuine inclusiveness in community engagement. That commitment is no longer evident to an expert observer.


What Can We Do in South Australia?




Lenswood, Saturday evening June 1


I did run out of speaking time on Wednesday night and I wanted to share my final comments in this blog.


The whole lecture is available at:


Here’s the rest of what I said about what we could do in South Australia:

*   *   *

Above all:


(1)     We must take action on these matters without delay.  Inclusion  is at risk here.


THIS MEANS   that we must support affordable housing and ethnically and culturally mixed communities, as effective so-called NIMBY-type strategies work to defend neighbourhoods against social and tenure mix and other forms of integration and inclusion.

With respect to Tributary 1: housing design:



The turbulent river of so-called NIMBY responses

A turbulent river”¦


(2)     We must be more curious about and respectful of the deeper messages about home and territory that so-called NIMBYites are communicating.


THIS MEANS  deep listening, keeping our cool and not labelling, vilifying or jumping to conclusions about people’s motives.


Place-protective behaviour
Place-protective behaviour, not NIMBYism

(3)     We must retrieve and embrace our lost sociological and psychological wisdom about what makes for good housing and good neighbourhoods.


THIS MEANS  that we need more responsible respect for place attachment and human ties to place and territory. We need to understand better the dynamics of place-protective behaviour.


(4)     We must work to create more sensitively designed higher density housing – as if it were going into  our own  backyards.


THIS MEANS  using guidelines based on evidence-based research about what works in higher density housing and using those guidelines that guide our design to assess the effectiveness of the result – from the residents’ and the neighbours’ perspectives.


The fine grain of housing matters − to all residents: here's our new house
The fine grain of housing matters − to all residents: here’s our new house


(5)     We must pay careful – and loving – attention – to the  fine grain  of housing design.  The divine dwells in the details.  


THIS MEANS  that, while we must work effectively at all scales to achieve what residents and neighbours experience as “good design”, tiny details matter greatly. In a high-crime neighbourhood, if I can see who is at the door before opening it, it’s a great boon. It won’t cost more, but it needs forethought.


With respect to Tributary 2: community engagement:


(6)     We must transform our weak, shallow and inexpert community engagement processes into leading practice.


THIS MEANS  paying specific attention to the principles of loving attachment and  LOVE:  listening, openness, validation and education.  South Australia has more wisdom in this regard than any place I know. Let’s tap into it.


There are some very hopeful new signs with the proposal from the State Government for a Community Engagement Board.


(7)     We must evoke the memory of Boston’s West End and remember what happens when we mess with the fundamentals of housing and neighbourhoods.


Boston's West End: this once was a vibrant, multi-ethnic neighbourhood
Boston’s West End: this once was a vibrant, multi-ethnic neighbourhood

THIS MEANS  that we need to be very,  very  careful about how we do urban renewal anywhere – AND in the City of Adelaide.


It’s a very delicate matter and we must proceed with the greatest of care. We need to ask ourselves, what messages are we sending out, particularly to vulnerable public tenants?


We’ve avoided the worst urban renewal mistakes of the other states for decades – let’s not turn back the clock now and start making those obvious mistakes that others now deeply regret.


A beautiful inner city 1970s public housing site: Save Manitoba!
A beautiful inner city 1970s public housing site: Save Manitoba!


In general:  if we are to develop higher density housing that is inclusive and welcoming, we must take decisive action. And quickly.


THIS MEANS  our state and local governments need to work together. We’ve had enough rhetoric. We now need practical advice.


My Commitments and Suggestions




Lenswood, S.A., Sunday morning June 2


This is the last part of my lecture that I did not get to on Wednesday night.


Here are my commitments and my suggestions:


We have a huge responsibility here.


These are urgent matters of direct relevance to everyone who cares about planning and community engagement in our cities today.


We urgently need cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary collaboration on these urgent matters.


Could there be a role for our Adelaide universities in this work? I’d eagerly participate, coordinate, collaborate”¦


I am eager to pursue this work in practical terms and to collaborate with other scholars, researchers and practitioners in all the land professions.


Offer of a short course


I would be willing to offer a short course on the social design issues raised in this paper at any university (or universities) that would like to have such a course. Perhaps a summer course sponsored by a number of Adelaide-based universities and the Government of South Australia in collaboration with the  Curtin University Sustainability Policy  Institute in Perth, where the Director, Professor Peter Newman, is a passionate advocate for housing density increases.

Professor Peter Newman
Professor Peter Newman


I am an Adjunct Associate Professor there and would certainly try to make something creative and relevant happen.


I know from decades of teaching that there is a great hunger for this learning and that, once it is offered, it is readily embraced.


We could call the course:


Housing Density and Social Factors for Planners and Designers



How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love High-Density Housing.


Is anyone interested in working with me? Let’s talk later.


The NIMBY clearinghouse


NIMBY Clearinghouse blog
NIMBY Clearinghouse blog


I am also in the process of setting up an online NIMBY psychology clearinghouse and am looking for student researchers to work with me.


This is unfunded work but I already have three overseas postgraduate planning students signed ready to begin work with me in June.


Please let me know if you’d like to participate or offer an institutional home for this work.

* * *


I am honoured to be speaking at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre today in what I regard as my Australian home town. Thank you, again.


A dear, wise friend


I have a dear, wise friend who grew up in public housing in South Plympton. Her mother worked in a factory and her father was a bartender.


She’s taught me a lot about housing, responsibility, relationships and place attachment over the 39 years I’ve been her friend.


Old friends, 1978
Old friends, 1978


I close with her words – my friend, Adelaide born and bred, planning theorist, Professor Leonie Sandercock – from her recent article on loving attachment:


The chemistry of attachment

is relationship

The ethics of attachment

is responsibility.




Source:  Erfan, Aftab and Leonie Sandercock (2012).   “Plato’s Lacunae: On the Value of Loving Attachment in Community-Based Planning Research and Practice” in Libby Porter, Leonie Sandercock and Karen Umemoto, eds. “What’s love got to do with it? illuminations on loving attachment in planning”,  Planning Theory & Practice,  13(4), December: 593–627.


Real Community Engagement




Lenswood, Sunday afternoon June 2

Over the past week, many people asked me to describe authentic community engagement, especially in light of my concerns about some of the policies being proposed in South Australia.

Some of my views on leading practice are here:

Community visioning and guided imagery

I love community visioning.


But not the way you’d imagine it: not that emasculated, pale version much loved by local government–in this state and throughout Australia.


I love the REAL THING. Here are some excerpts from a recent article:


Sharing my vision for Bonnyrigg, 2005
Sharing my vision for Bonnyrigg, 2005


My approach to community guided imagery builds on Clare Cooper Marcus’ work and the work of many practitioners and theorists and reflects years of experimentation.


The method I use is a variation of  guided imagery, an approach widely used in management, therapeutic and sports psychology contexts.  I use a carefully crafted script to take a group on an imaginary passage into the future. People make themselves comfortable, close their eyes, clear their minds and, at my instruction, either recall and experience the past or imagine the future.


Setting the Scene


Guided imagery is a right-brain activity that forces people to break out of analytical thinking patterns, which may be exactly what critical thinkers need to solve their problem. There are ways to reach an understanding of a situation through guided imagery that are not possible exclusively via rational thought processes.


The beginning of the script must be well thought-out. Many proponents of guided imagery emphasize the importance of  preframing.    It’s wise to prepare participants for the  intensity of the process  they are about to experience and to explain that guided imagery is not a strange “way out” experience but is used often, especially in sports psychology, and increasingly in business and organizational development, to help people improve performance and achieve clarity about their goals and plans.


Sophia van Ruth guiding the visualisation, Bonnyrigg, 2005
Sophia van Ruth guiding the visualisation, Bonnyrigg, 2005


The  wording  of the script is critical to success. By paying attention to careful wording, we can ensure that we prompt only in a  generic  sense. Rather than guide participants into a bus station or a train, we can ask them to visualise the transport interchange and they can work out for themselves what the mode of transport might be. The key is to cue for a response but keep it generic while stimulating participants’ unique intelligences, communication and learning styles.


The nature of the guided imagery is largely determined by the needs of the planning project. What is important is that the participants’ privacy be respected (they can sign forms to allow us to use the material if we need to) and that all their material is analysed in the most respectful and thorough manner. Drawings may be copied and themes and qualities drawn out for further analysis. We try to return the drawings as soon as possible to participants, so it’s helpful to have a colour printer or photocopier on hand. Where permission is given, all contributions must be acknowledged in reports.


Participants may feel a strong attachment to the product of a deep process and may be unwilling to have their drawings reproduced.


I strongly believe that  genuine  community visioning – using principles of guided imagery – can help people tap into their heartfelt hopes and dreams for the future of their communities. In forty years or using this approach, I have found that it can be used in any setting.


Sharing our dreams is part of the work of progressive planning. It’s one place with a level playing field – anyone can dream! Working with the sophisticated and tested methods of guided imagery, we can help bring about the future that is waiting to be born.


It’s difficult to capture the quality of a guided imagery experience when participants seem to align with a common desire to create a happy future for their community. That’s very different from a common vision – and it’s very powerful.


Listening to people share their images often brings me to tears.


Save Manitoba!



Lenswood, Saturday afternoon June 1


After a lovely sunny week in Adelaide, I’m spending the weekend in the Adelaide Hills – blessing the softly falling rain – reflecting on my week of meetings and tweets – and my Hawke Centre lecture on Wednesday night.


I did run out of time during my talk AND I was delighted to be able to share my time with the Deputy Premier of South Australia, John Rau. I felt his presence at the lecture supported my views.




We need to listen to residents. Governments need to listen to residents.


Sneaking into Manitoba


Not wanting to disturb my new friends in the Manitoba development, I snuck into the site this morning to have another look at the shared open space and the elegance of Ian Hannaford’s design.

The simple but elegant site plan
The simple but elegant site plan


The simple beauty of the design is revealed in this site plan on a sign outside Manitoba.


Go and have a look for yourself!


The birds were singing when I arrived. Inside, standing in the shared on-site open space, I was aware that the sounds of Adelaide’s traffic were muted.


An urban oasis


It was a peaceful oasis.


This is what we dreamed of – on the Board of the Housing Trust over forty years ago.


We were ambitious and optimistic. Many of us were working on the topic of residential social mix. John Byrne and I wrote Masters of Town Plannign theses about it at Adelaide University.


Tenure mix was on everyone’s lips. We wanted to make housing in the City of Adelaide – our home patch – as fair, inclusive and equitable as we could.


The three inner city sites were our first initiative. And a very good one, at that.


Inside the shared on-site open space: Where's the slum?
Inside the shared on-site open space: Where’s the slum?

In the last week, meeting many people in the land professions in Adelaide, I’ve come to a sad but I think accurate, new assessment: we appear to have lost our corporate, cultural memory about the good and innovative housing initiatives that characterised the Housing Trust’s work in the seventies and eighties. That’s tragic – if it’s true.


I don’t want everyone to be singing songs about our glorious past. But we do need to remember. Maybe the powers-that-be in Renewal SA have forgotten – or never knew – how thoughtful and cutting-edge our humble and modest initiatives were.


A modest initiative


The General Manager of the Trust, Alex Ramsay, was a modest man so we didn’t do things with a lot of fanfare.

A.M. Ramsay
A.M. Ramsay


But we did do things that made a huge difference in the lives of people living in low-income households.


And the Manitoba development was one of the jewels in our humble crown.


Save Manitoba!

Where's the slum?
Where’s the slum?