Toderian’s 10 Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement”: A confused response

“Engagement Done Well”


In a few days, Vancouver planner Brent Toderian will be speaking in Sydney, where last year he was training planning bureaucrats in the NSW State Government in community engagement.


His conference topic is “Density Done Well”.  My topic in the preceding session was “Engagement Done Well”, making the point that density done well needs community engagement done well.


My speaking post was mysteriously cancelled – without explanation.


I wonder if it had anything to do with my support of the Better Planning Network’s concerns about the proposed NSW planning legislation.


In any case, while Toderian is selling Vancouverism to Australians, I am eagerly listening to Vancouverites – and especially to Vancouver’s activists. It’s a Council election year there and it’s on for one and all when it comes to community engagement.


But it’s definitely not on in the ways Toderian would have us believe.


Cultural Imperialism


I’ve written before about Toderian’s and Vancouver’s cultural imperialism (https://sarkissian.com.au/vancouvers-ecodensity-policy-reflections-on-australian-plannings-cultural-cringe-and-cultural-imperialism/).

 

Of course, Toderian is free to express his opinions about community engagement but they should not  masquerade as facts when describing the Vancouver experience.


Vancouver is where we learn by bad example.

 

I was astonished to read a recent Planetizen post by Toderian and Jillian Glover:  “10 Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement”.  I drew it to the attention of some  Vancouver  activists and  acquaintances.


https://www.planetizen.com/node/67656?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&
utm_campaign=03132014


The Densification Wars

I’ve just returned from Vancouver and spent some time listening to the concerns of community activists. I also spoke at an activist meeting in January about what Vancouverites are calling “The Densification Wars”.

 

Speaking at the "Densification Wars" event in Vancouver January 2014

Speaking at the “Densification Wars” event in Vancouver January 2014



See:   https://vimeo.com/87643788


I have my own responses to the Planetizen blog. They have to do with matters of inclusion, governance and influence. Matters that go beyond the use of techniques.

 

But the Vancouverites have their own ideas – and they are sharp as tacks when it comes to spotting an “advertorial” for Vancouver.


So I asked my Vancouver friends what they thought of the Planetizen post by Toderian and Glover.


My computer was smoking as the furious responses arrived from the Canadians.


Initially, one friend replied that it was at worst “advertising” and at best “creative fiction”.


Jak King
, Chair of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, weighed in with his insightful comments. They are copied in full below along with his contact details.  Seems to me that  Jak knows what he’s talking about.

 

Jak King Photo: Yolande Cole

Jak King Photo: Yolande Cole

*     *     *



I read with interest the piece in Planetizen by Brent Toderian and Jillian Glover.   Had they not kept mentioning Vancouver, I never would have recognized the city they are describing.  

 

In one section, they claim that this is “a region known internationally for its public consultation” — really?  

 

In whose fantasy is that?  

 

The fact is that locally the current City of Vancouver administration is known for being complete failures at engagement.   In 2013, one of our major local newspapers, the Vancouver Courier, conducted a survey to find the most important story of the year, and their readers chose neighbourhood discontent with civic engagement by a huge margin.

 

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, of which I

am chair, was formed last summer specifically to focus and assist the unprecedented opposition to City planning from right across Vancouver.   We began with 18 neighbourhood associations and now have 24, covering about 90% of Vancouver’s population.

 

The City recently published the final Report of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Engaged City.   The report was completed without consultation with or input from any of Vancouver’s numerous and active residents’ associations – that’s a perfect example of how engaged they are.

 

What the Plantetizen article does highlight is this City’s administration’s ability and indeed willingness to create public relations exercises in which citizens are invited to participate but which result in those same citizens having no genuine influence on policies that, most of us believe, were done deals before the first invite was ever sent.  

 

Bread and circuses are all we get.


Jak King

Chair, Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods

https://gw-ac.org

Phone + 1 604 253-6232+ 1 604 253-6232

Twitter @jakking49

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Activism in Planning in Australia: A Delicate Balancing Act

I’m celebrating: 2013 was a great year for community activism in planning.

 

In New South Wales, concerted action by many forces, including the Better Planning Network (https://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/fund-the-better-planning-network-in-2014/), resulted in the State Government withdrawing the contentious and flawed proposed state planning legislation.

 

The Better Planning Network has more than 430 community groups and many more affiliated individuals (like me), and this number is growing every day.

 

Group-shot-Hazzard-office-protest-380x251

On 28 November 2013, the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, announced that he would withdraw the NSW Planning Bills until February/March 2014. The Minister made this announcement because of heavy amendments made to these Bills in the Upper House by the Labor, Greens and Shooters and Fishers parties.

 

Aside from some misguided planners and the developers’ lobby, nobody had anything good to say about the community engagement components of the Bills, which were my main concern.

 

I argued on a number of occasions that it was unrealistic – strategically and psychologically – to expect residents to be happy with community engagement limited to the strategic planning stage. Many people, including prominent lawyers, judges and local government, agreed.

 

We are all praying that the State Government will avoid the old trick and not undertake the next stage of consultation during January (as often people do!). It’s too late to put the plans on display on Boxing Day in a distant galaxy – but stranger things have happened to hitchhikers in New South Wales!

 

It was a big win, nonetheless.

 

Dear Manitoba

 

Blog image 2 Manitoba merge

 



On a smaller scale but equally as important, we had a major win in South Australia, What architect Ian Hannaford called his “Dear Manitoba” has been saved from demolition or redevelopment, as have two other inner city site with public housing tenants.

 

I cried when I heard the news from a Manitoba resident.

 

 

 

Big Win for Activism!

A Big Win for Activism!

 

 

 

I love Dear Manitoba; as a Member of the SA Housing Trust Board, I was involved in its planning and design in the early 1970s and even lived there briefly in the early 1980s. This year Manitoba will celebrate its fiftieth birthday.

 

All credit to Alice Clark and Shelter SA and the indefatigable residents of Manitoba and the other two sites.

 

And a compliment to Social Housing Minster, Tony Piccolo, who finally saw the light.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA.

 

Brickbats to Renewal SA. Do you know that two years ago they hand-delivered their original letters to Manitoba residents on Christmas Eve?

 

Can you believe that?

 

The letters were very vague and contained nothing that could give anyone confidence; they created terror and anxiety at a time of year widely known to be difficult for vulnerable people (for all of us, actually)…

 

I find it hard to imagine that the Board of Renewal SA approved those sorts of heavy-handed and insensitive tactics.

 

There are experienced people on that Board who certainly should know better:

 

https://www.renewalsa.sa.gov.au/Latestnews/tabid/102/EntryId/17/URBAN-RENEWAL-AUTHORITY-BOARD-ANNOUNCED.aspx

 

I can’t imagine the experienced Renewal SA officers I know doing such a terrible thing.

 

How did this happen? Who approved it?

 

And, more importantly, how can we make sure that

vulnerable public tenants are not treated in such a manner again?

 

Let’s hope the corporate memory of Renewal SA survives into any new incarnation.

 

The message is clear: Do not do such cruel things! Just do not do them!

 

A delicate balancing act

 

Man walking tight rope illustration

So, it’s been a good year for activism.

 

And a challenging one.

 

At this very moment, with my only sibling, I’m co-designing a memorial for my mother who died in her hundredth year. She was a shocker, severely mentally ill.

 

So you can imagine that it’s a delicate balancing act  – emotionally and practically  – to create such an event – for the two daughters and our friends and families.

 

Similarly (a comparison in sharp relief during this highly charged week), it’s a delicate balancing act being a planner and an activist.

 



Punishments are routinely doled out.

 

Doors quietly close and invitations are summarily withdrawn. People sidle away at cocktail parties, eyes fixed on their shoes.

 

Activists know the price we pay for speaking out when others cannot  – or will not.

 

For activism is more than rubbing raw the sores of discontent, as the American activist Saul Alinksy would have it.

 

For planners with a conscience, activism is keeping the voices of marginalised people alive in public forums and debates about planning.

 

In tough economic times, I find (sadly) that some of my most respected planning colleagues simply ignore emails that ask them to speak out about ethical matters. They seem to have hardened their hearts against the plight of disadvantaged people. Or, at least, they’ve silenced their inner voice.

 

But, like finishing off the tiramisu at Christmas dinner, somebody has to do it.

 

And this year it was me. On both fronts.

 

I’m proud to have helped the courageous people (you know who you are), who really, truly, put themselves on the line for justice in planning and housing.

 

Here’s to 2014

 

Here’s to a 2014 with more planning and housing wins for vulnerable people in Australia.

 

And here’s to a 2014 with more respect for those planners who choose to support them in ways that push the envelope for our more conservative colleagues.