“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.
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.
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”.
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.
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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.
Chair, Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods
Phone + 1 604 253-6232+ 1 604 253-6232