Vancouver hopes consultation fatigue won’t set in as next phase of citywide plan begins

If it seems like you’re being asked for more feedback on local and regional government priorities than usual, you’re not wrong.

Metro Vancouver is asking people to give thoughts on its Metro 2050 regional growth strategy. TransLink is asking people to take a survey on its Transport 2050 transportation strategy. 

And Wednesday, the City of Vancouver launched Stage 3 of its Vancouver Plan, approved in 2018 and the first attempt at creating a long-term document to guide land-use choices across the entire city over more than 20 years. 

“We really recognize that in terms of the perfect time to plan, we’re very aligned with the regional growth strategy, and the regional transportation plan,” said Susan Haid, Vancouver’s deputy planning director, at an event to kick off the next phase of consultation. 

The city has an online survey (which you can view here) asking people questions about citywide priorities and neighbourhood density, and will be holding virtual and in-person open houses and meetings over the next month. 

Haid acknowledged there were plenty of overlapping consultations for residents to consider at the moment — including the city’s plans for Broadway and the Jericho Lands — but believes the public can balance their engagement.   

“In terms of consultation fatigue … we’re really working to capture community feedback in a co-ordinated way so it’s efficient,” she said.

“We’ve been hearing a lot from the community in terms of very much wanting to co-create the plan, and so I think that’s really a piece of why this is important.” 

Deputy planning director Susan Haid said the emerging directions in the citywide plan support more equitable housing in complete neighbourhoods, an ‘economy that works for all,’ and climate protection with restored ecosystems. 

Getting the public on board

It’s one thing to consult, and another thing to translate those consultations into a plan that will gain the support of voters and councillors. 

More than 170 people in the last week have spoken to Vancouver council, mostly in opposition, to a proposed plan for False Creek South. They’ve argued it prioritizes market strata and rental while demolishing buildings belonging to longtime lower-income residents, moving them to new structures closer to Sixth Avenue.

Council is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday, and if it passes, will begin a process of potentially tripling the number of units in the predominately non-market and co-op neighbourhood.

“I think the community is positive about the general changes and new people coming to the neighborhood,” said Robyn Chan, a community planning assistant for the False Creek South neighbourhood association and a local resident. 

“It’s the way that it’s happening and the proposed phases that are the challenge.”

The presentation by city staff to council said they had conducted surveys with nearly 4,000 Vancouver residents and False Creek South business owners in early 2021 and conducted seven public meetings.

Many speakers to council said they were caught by surprise from proposals derived from the open-ended survey. Jennifer Wolowic, who leads the Strengthening Canadian Democracy initiative at the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, said consultations need to provide specific concepts for people to wrap their heads around. 

“Really be clear up front: what is on the table for the public to influence?” she said, arguing that in the case of South False Creek, it’s been unclear to the public what parts of the plan are open to influence.  

“All of these things have been muddled and put together rather than separating them … be very clear about ‘these are the options that are available to us, based on these tradeoffs. We’d like you to choose between Option A or Option B.'” 

Vancouver hopes to have a draft plan of its citywide plan available for the public by March, and Haid said residents will have clear tradeoffs to choose from in surveys before then. 

“We’re getting more specific in terms of the types of growth and density,” she said. 

“We’re really building that engagement to inform the plan … so when council considers the plan, they can really acknowledge that the public was fully involved throughout the process.” 

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