When I was growing up all I could hear about bureaucracy was suspicion and dismissal. Red tape and corruption were among the common terms used in relation to any interaction with City staff. The same applied and still does with respect to developers, business people, lawyers and so on. Somehow I developed a habit of questioning many of those sentiments: Haven’t they all been kids in the past?
In 2011 I got in touch with Scot Hein, Vancouver’s senior urban designer. I had just graduated from the urban design program at SFU and was looking for contacts to open my way into the field. We’ve been meeting occasionally ever since. In midday of February 27th I saw Scot for a quick exchange as a preview for that evening’s community gathering.
Scot was happy to prepare this way for the expected interaction with the community. It was good practice for me as well in an exchange of questions, comments and stories.
So the day started with excitement in anticipation for the evening. Although Scot’s revised development proposal for Broadway East relied on community input, there might always be those who could be adversely affected by it. This is one of the main reasons these meeting are so important. The exchange is both educational and cautionary.
A good sign before everyone sat by the tables at Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (MPNH) was the presence of Houtan and Curtis, development managers in the Beedie Group. In January 30th I had met them and Rob in their downtown office for a discussion. With me were Sylvia and Joyce. Rob is Beedie Living’s director of development; Joyce is the City of Vancouver’s planner responsible for the Mount Pleasant file; Sylvia is the facilitator for the WPPP project. In that meeting I got the impression that the Beedie people understand the benefits of participating in the community process.
Kingsgate is defined outside of the Weaving project but is part of the Broadway East redevelopment plan so some gaps in engagement result. Whatever happens or doesn’t happen there will influence the implementation process east of it. Curtis and Houtan are both young and energetic professionals who express a healthy enthusiasm in their vocation. However, one of the messages that they insist upon is that their plans for redevelopment of the Kingsgate Mall site are practically non-existent yet.
City building is a long term endeavour with short term pressures. The directions planners get from council aim to reflect valid responses to urban needs. There’s no escaping that the occasional (and still valid) economic & political agenda play into these directions. How do you employ transparency, collaboration and innovation when directions shift?
Vancouver is in the midst of an ongoing transformation. The Wednesday gathering took me back in time to my experience of standing on a glacier. You can feel the force without seeing it. In City planning you want to at least direct some of the force but be aware of the need to let things happen. It might be the balance between force and pressure; the opportunity to be a guide in the social journey of building our city.
As a preview to what went on in the gathering of the 27th I might have missed a few details and it already looks daunting. But Vancouver is changing fast even if we don’t have a chance to notice every side of that change. This is why I get so inspired. My aim is to see a positive balance between force and pressure. The group effort of urban residents – planners and plumbers, developers and peddlers, owners and visitors – that group effort is what will help us all succeed as a society.