All about design

The degree of engagement in community consultations can be felt throughout an event. However, a great way for facilitators to get a sense of it is to invite participants to summarize the discussion.

In the February 27th workshop the discussion around the table was lively and inspiring. An interesting potential conflict evolved from the idea of reducing car traffic and parking along Broadway. Bikers and biking might benefit whereas businesses and residents could suffer.

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Frieda, a senior resident of the neighbourhood, seemed pretty decisive in her interest to keep things as they are. Andrew, a young resident presented the bikers’ side. When time came to conclude Scot still nudged his head my way looking for a candidate to present the evening’s outcome. I decided to stretch my position of active participant and relay the call to Frieda. She had in my view raised pretty intriguing concerns and insights throughout the evening.

With what looked like a humble shrug, Frieda confidently stood up and started. She surveyed the map in front of us beautifully. It was fun listening to her take on the discussion that evening. In each section along Broadway she provided straightforward descriptions of issues. Without any effort however, Frieda peppered her words with the occasional shrewd remark. Her remarks reflected some of the differences between participants along the way.

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As mentioned, not everyone walked out of the event feeling a lot of progress was made. However, the benefits of community consultations extend beyond the content developed in them. The waves of interest each member generates have a power to reach more people whether they are families, friends or broader circles. Not all the questions are answered in a single meeting and more continue to be raised.

Some questions are specific, like “Will six stories on North side of Broadway reduce the sun on my porch in the afternoons?”; “Do we need another Big Drugstore?”; “Are there ideas that would be better to implement significantly away from the core?”

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Other questions are more abstract, philosophical and open: “What are the questions we ask and what are the questions we fail to ask?”; “What happens if?”

The degree of engagement of the community in the redevelopment process of a neighbourhood will probably remain challenging. The balance between common sense and controversy is not in the hands of anyone. Questions asked leave room for thought, discussion and proposals. Eventually decisions have to be made and actions be taken. I’m excited from being involved in this process. This is a great opportunity to employ design in dealing with issues on an urban scale. We grow our city (advance development on a large scale) by making it smaller (useable by its residents).

Design is a matter of life.

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