It didn’t start on my last visit to the Design Nerds. The idea that developers are a menace to society was always strange to me. Whenever voices in a large audience express these anti-developers cry outs, it’s hard to argue with them. Not only do I not make a living as a developer, the cheers are usually decisive and noisy. In my last visit to the Design Nerds on November 22nd, one of the speakers in the evening was Leslie Shieh, a neighbourhood scale developer. As one, she’s honestly expressed her frustration from her own encounters with resentment and mistrust. That was already after my call to the Beedie Group that resulted in a fascinating exchange.
It looks like November 3rd happened a long time ago and still it feels almost like yesterday. A lot has happened since and much more is still ahead. After the November 15th gathering at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House (MPNH) I managed to schedule a meeting with the management of Beedie Living who are the lease holders of the Kingsgate Mall. This mall is strategically located beside what is defined as Broadway East. It made sense to me that the Beedie’s presence in the consultation process at MPNH could be just what a true collaborative process needs. As part of my exploration of the urban planning market I’m looking for ways to learn through active participation and experimental initiatives.
So in November 19th Rob Fiorvento, director of development for the Beedie residential division, suggested meeting at the end of January 2013. It wasn’t a big surprise for me that the time frame was that generous or in other words laid back. What I wasn’t expecting was his mentioning of two other managers that would be at the meeting with him. This is when I quickly “recruited” Sylvia, our facilitator for the Weaving project (WPPP) and Joyce, from the City of Vancouver Planning. I had thought that they would have a lot more to say about the topic of Broadway East Revitalization than I could possibly know.
My idea was to talk with them about what participation in community consultation can yield in terms of benefits to all sides involved: I was inspired by the stories of the development of Collingwood Village from the nineteen eighties; my assignment from Simon Fraser University for the Guy Carleton School also served as reference for possibilities. It turns out that the land on which the Kingsgate mall is built is owned by the Vancouver School Board. Introducing a cultural component to its redevelopment has very good chances to attract support from many stakeholders.
What we’ve learned in the January 30th meeting with Rob and his managers wasn’t earth shattering: developers have complex challenges in managing their business. The Beedie group’s interest in contributing to the well being of urban life seems honest enough to me. This was in essence my summary for our meeting: “My impression from the November 3rd session at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House, was of experiencing History in the Making. Now that we have yesterday (January 30th) behind us I continue to feel that History is being held in good hands.
When it comes to details, processes and complex interactions I’m sure the challenges will not hesitate to show up. I’m honestly happy to have helped open this window of discussion with the Weaving PPP and The City. I’m looking forward to updates and progress.”
Our participation and involvement in issues relating to what goes on in our neighbourhoods can be time consuming and frustrating at times. This doesn’t mean we should let things happen without us, the residents. If we don’t express our voices, no one should know what our needs and interests are. Developers are there for a specific business case. We can say no to everything they propose and delay progress for all of us. We can also make room for listening and considering ideas, asking questions and proposing alternatives. A city is the most complex tool human kind has devised to sustain its existence. Our city needs us to work together. We all are developers.