Britannia-Woodland Workshop: From Participation to Ownership

Microsoft Word - Britannia-Woodland - Workshop - Backgrounder V2 In the hall of the Vancouver Opera rehearsal building, tables were arranged by topics. I usually like to move between tables but this time I stuck with the one focused on Local Economy. Other tables dealt with Arts & Culture, Heritage, Parks and Public Space, Social Sustainability & Social Issues, Transportation and Housing.

But there are three topics that keep intriguing me when dealing with community engagement: Participation, Contribution and Ownership.

On Saturday, December 6 the City of Vancouver held a workshop dedicated to exploring residents’ interests and insights for the neighborhood in the next 30 years. What I feel is working in favor of the planning process is a good combination of participation, contribution and ownership. On my way to delivering a workshop at the Urban Design Masters program in UBC it was great to participate in one. I’m inspired by the process going on in Grandview Woodland these days.

Participation: one of the most challenging issues of setting up a workshop is attracting a significant audience.

When it’s sunny outside – they thank you for coming out on such a lovely day; when it rains – they thank you for taking the time. Well yes, no one can promise this process would yield tangible results, let alone benefits to the community. So the fact that people show up is admirable. And residents don’t hesitate to express their complaints: these range from the usual “the rich/the developers always get their way” to the more specific, personal stories of encounters with city policies and the looming threat to maintaining a business.

Contribution: when residents do participate, their contribution to this process can be significant.


Andrew Pask, the City of Vancouver planner for Grandview Woodland in one of his summaries in front of the screen.

Half an hour before the workshop I was still sitting outside the Britannia public library. I’ve exchanged a few words with a guy who was browsing through the garbage bin. He was in search of cans and bottles. It was a rainy morning. “The stuff people throw away in this neighborhood! It’s disgusting!” he grumbled sort of to himself. “So, you’re complaining?” I asked him, intrigued by the scene and curious to tap into his message. Homelessness was mentioned quite a bit throughout the day. The main issue was concern for those who seem to be entrenched in this type of living. The homeless is our symbol for everything that’s bad about gentrification, rightfully or not. Whether you need to move away to a cheaper space or are at risk of being thrown to the streets, talking about the homeless is not only an expression of care to those who are there: it is a tangible fear for our own fate.

Ownership: when you come to a workshop and contribute to its discussions, chances are that your care and attachment to the neighborhood increase.

As my talk with the guy collecting bottles extended a bit, I’ve heard that he comes from Saskatchewan. He is in touch with his family there. He seemed pretty interested to know where I was heading. But when the library opened at 9:30 AM the man slipped inside with the rest of the people waiting outside. I headed a few blocks south to where the workshop was about to begin. Eventually I couldn’t notice the guy at the workshop. But whatever story this encounter had entailed, I took it as just another one that makes this neighborhood.

Question: “Does this process help City Hall ease its way to execute a predetermined agenda or does it truly engage the community in meaningful development of our city?” The two parts of this question don’t seem contradictory to me. However, if participation, contribution and ownership are core elements of community engagement, trust, education and futility are a the real challenge of its purpose. Here is an interesting article relating to this.

Moving forward is an interest we usually have as much as it tends to be a necessity. “OK, so now what?” you may ask. On our way to action, questions can be useful. In Grandview Woodland it looks like the sense of ownership is strong. This makes for significant participation. The challenge is in how to turn the contributions made, into significant moves forward – for the benefit of current residents as well as future populations.


The Grandview-Woodland Assembly Roundtable

In recent years I’ve participated in a few Grandview Woodland community meetings. Following the decision to establish the Citizens’ Assembly I felt curious to catch up and stay involved. A Roundtable session happened at the Maritime Labour Centre on November 26th 2014. It turned out to be an intriguing exchange of thoughts and ideas.

At the very start of the evening a few disgruntled voices were heard from the audience. They had good points: 1. The draft was only presented at the meeting instead of being circulated for prior review and better preparation. 2. A contentious development plan has triggered the forming of the ‘Assembly’. The knowledge of a community plan prepared before that has come to light recently: Scot Hein, who had been senior urban designer for the City of Vancouver at the time, mentioned it in a comment on the Price Tags* blog. The comment from the audience inquired about the availability of that plan for review by the public. (* You might need to scroll a bit: the location of Scot’s comment is automatically updated when more comments are added)

My general impression is that we very often (me included) find it easier to complain about what seems wrong before acknowledging the positive aspects of what’s in front of us. What’s good about this habit is that it shows we care. However, in reality, in most cases confrontational discussions tend to put at least one side on the defensive, leading to a pretty unproductive discussion. At the Roundtable event there were signs of that although eventually the evening ended in a feeling of progress; it looks like the Assembly has gained useful insights for the next phase of its work.

One of my comments at the table referred to the use of the word Values in the handed Draft. A few nods of approval were made by other participants. Below are some more thoughts that expand a bit on that. Below my thoughts I’ve put the Draft for context. Hopefully this helps the Assembly further on their way to stepping into the Options stage:

It might be useful to point Grandview-Woodland Values in much shorter sentences for the benefit of focus. Diverse individuals, by nature of their individuality do not necessarily have the same set of values. This leads to my next point:

Values to Guide Change need to be very few and as open as possible for discussion, debate and clarification. This way we can achieve the desired understanding and diversity expressed in this document.

There seems to me to be confusion in terms throughout this document. What I value is not necessarily A Value. The effort of articulating the points described in this document is admirable. Participating in this process inspires in me a sense of responsibility to its success. When words are put down in writing, I find it necessary to be precise yet inviting; easy to follow yet meaningful. Would it help calling the list here Acknowledgements instead of Values?

The question ‘What are Values?’ might be a guiding principle for fine tuning this document.

More valuable points were brought up in the evening. The above is just a drop in the sea of explorations that will hopefully lead this lovely neighborhood to another day of progress, another decade of success, another century of city building.

Below you can read the Draft document as scanned and extracted following the evening described above.

DRAFT- Values to guide change in Grandview-Woodland

Character and History:

We first acknowledge and value that we are on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples. This is not just history but an ongoing and living presence within Grandview-Woodland.

We value residential friendly change in line with the current character of built forms and streets. This neighbourhood character has been defined by its unique history and we want to continue to attract, welcome, and sustain diverse people, communities and buildings.

We value the character and history as it currently exists in Grandview-Woodland. We want to build upon that history and character while understanding that this can mean change or maintaining what is here.

Appropriate Change or Just & Appropriate Change:

We understand that change is inevitable, but are concerned with the pace and type of change occurring in our neighbourhood.

In order to embrace change, we seek to promote social and spatial changes that are integrated, gradual, sustainable, appropriately scaled and responsive to the needs of local residents and the City’s residents more broadly. This is accomplished through extensive grassroots community engagement that is inclusive and democratic.


We commit to promoting and defending diversity of all forms. In planning for the future, Grandview-Woodland has a specific interest in the diversity of people, housing, public land use, and economic opportunities.


We want a reasonable way for people of all socio-economic levels to live lives free from stress of an uncertain future in regards to their money, security, and ability to grow.

Well-being & Health:

We value maintaining green spaces and a quality of life that fosters mental, physical, and social health in the places we work, live and play.

We view health in a way that recognizes peoples’ different social and economic histories and experiences. We also value walkability and encouraging active health.

Environmental Sustainability:

We think environmental sustainability includes at least three dimensions:

  1. Communities that are resilient, scalable, more complete, clean, vibrant, and have local economies.
  2. Green spaces that promote ecological literacy, biodiversity, food security, physical activity and well-being for all.
  3. Green infrastructure that is energy efficient and minimizes waste. It should also support people in reducing our collective emissions and resource use.

Mobility and Accessibility:

We value a transportation system that:

  1. Offers a well-integrated, sufficient, efficient and affordable mix of modes of transportation for all ages and abilities.
  2. Makes active transportation safe, convenient and delightful while managing traffic congestion.
  3. Allows the movement of goods and services that supports a thriving local economy and a major port, while reducing impacts and ensuring effective emergency response.


We value the ability to walk, ride and drive anywhere at anytime in a safe and reasonable manner. We also desire to protect and include all members of the community, whether it is inside the home or in the neighbourhood at large. Safety should be guaranteed for, among others: women, children, people no matter their ethnic/cultural background, those with addictions, disabilities, or mental health problems, seniors, First Nations, and people of all sexual orientations.

We also want to encourage more collaboration between the community, law enforcement, community policing organizations, first responders, and harm reduction programs.

Finally, we value a neighbourhood that is family-friendly—safe, clean and encouraging of play for all ages.

Unthinking Design

I guess when you organize an event that the words design and thinking are embedded in its title you’re inviting challenges from the audience. Yes, I became frustrated very quickly with the discussion. Yes, I’ve stayed standing at the back of the room, where the chairs were laid out in a circle. The event threw me back in memory to the design thinking unConference of 2011.

Read a bit about my design thinking unConference
first impressions and following thoughts in the embedded links.

However, now we were invited to a free event. We watched a movie and convened afterwards to engage in discussion. I was hoping to feel more engaged following the not totally impressive movie (Design & Thinking). Why then did I say yes when asked if I’d enjoyed the movie?


I’m not a big fan of the term design thinking. You design, you think, you do those things all the time. The two words together don’t add up to much more than any of them on their own. But still they’ve allowed a few people to generate a buzz which has probably pushed their revenue stream a step further. And then some others are offering design thinking programs, unConferences, a LinkedIn Group or two…

Our world is full of opportunities and challenges. When everyone knows you, knows what you do and looks up to what you can offer, your life can be easy. How many people do I know that are blessed with such a reality? My guess is ah, none.

So part of the energy that I feel exists in the room when I come to design nerds events is that of craving for opportunity. For some it is employment, for others it’s just some sort of connection. Whatever your reason and however impatient I might become with design nerds gatherings, I’m always impressed with the platform. It is engaging, thought provoking and occasionally inspiring.

Did we really need the panel following the movie? Were the talents in the room fully employed? I can go on raising questions but my point is that no matter how open minded I might be when I engage with others, my expectations come with me, pulling at my sleeve, like a child seeking attention. So I was standing at the back of the room, as were many others, mostly because sitting throughout the movie was enough for me. Of course I was making sure to have a convenient escape route. But just like I’ve enjoyed the movie even though it wasn’t entirely interesting, I was hoping to engage in compelling discussion.

The intro and panel, unfortunately, were not the right vessel to transport me – from the passive experience of watching the movie – into the public realm of open discussion. And here I am, reading my own words and saying, hey look: design thinking; public realm; open discussion! Each of them encompasses a world of thought and action. Together they provoke even more. So what is it that I expect when I sign up for an event? Should I expect even more?

The Medium Is The Message

Planning can take us through a day, a week or a month. Whenever a plan is well crafted, there is a sense of joy in its execution. However, diversions usually strike us without our control. My sense of good luck has been strong in many of my encounters this year.


This really was an eventful one for me. Our stories and the way we tell them reflect the passing year and help us reflect on the year to come: an inspiring display of resilience and recovery following a serious road accident to my in-lawsCanadian citizenship in August; fascinating city building processes; mind boggling disasters around the world; gaining confidence in my writing. Nothing seems to relate to anything so making the connections is a matter of creativity, optimism and storytelling.

I am looking at the prospects of 2014 with growing anticipation.

May you have a Happy New Year.

Room & Space

Some more thoughts following my recently published piece on


Politicians should prioritize investment in culture.

People care about Culture.

Urban life can be pretty simple provided you embrace its complexities.


Everything is connected to everything.

Between expectations and reality, our mission is to find the balance that works for us.

Elections are insignificant if you don’t participate in the matters that matter to you.


The search for a balanced reality is an ongoing effort.

Do I Know You From Anywhere?

A few more words following the evening at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) titled ‘Testing the Limits: Smart Cities, Technology, and Open Everything’.

What Evgeny Morozov is trying to promote, judging from a few pages gleaned on the web, sounds absolutely valid to me, worth consideration, dare I say, important. The thing is, my visit to the discussion he was part of and probably where he was the main attraction, was triggered by the same tools we, or some of us, are also cautious about: communication tools of “the digital age”.

Wikipedia: “Morozov expresses skepticism about the popular view …”;  Eventbrite: “Join us Thursday August 8 at 6pm for a public dialogue …”

What I have experienced failed to impress me as meaningful dialogue. And it’s not so much the speaker, who was unfortunately so humbly full of himself; it wasn’t the other speakers, who I felt, were hard pressed to respond to Evgeny’s energetic mini lectures.

One of the components of any public gathering is the format. Within that setting, people in a room carry with them what you can identify as culture. Evgeny comes from one; the event moderator comes from another. Evgeny is ‘enthusiastically debateful’; the moderator, ‘Canadian’ i.e (for this matter), non-confrontational, lightheartedly self-deprecating.

Morozov has a lot of interesting things to say. In writing I’m sure he is articulate and thought provoking (I haven’t read any of his …yet). As a speaker he is… how should I say it…, well, so humbly full of himself. I can relate to that. Almost every morning my wife is at risk of being blown away with my outbursts of ideas, musings and thoughts pouring out of me. ‘Being Evgeny Morozov’ might turn out to be a compelling sequel to the movie featuring John Malkovich.

‘Being Canadian’ on the other hand is probably not the best choice for being a moderator in a discussion titled “Testing the limits”. However, being Hanna Cho, Curator of Engagement and Dialogue at the MOV, is not a position to take lightly. More gleaning from the web results in some impressive information relating to her. But the culture divide, it seems, resulted in a room full of words and hardly any discussion.

In today’s choice of communication tools a question mark is looming over any kind of human interaction. I am still in the process of assessing my use of the tools available. When I go to a public meeting my expectations are only one component of my being there. My being there also includes observation, listening, thoughts, interests and who knows what else.

Did we get Dialogue?

Could we have done things differently?

Why were we there?

What’s your story?

Testing the limits of our patience

The invite for the evening at the Museum of Vancouver looked interesting: “In this dialogue, we delve into how a ‘smart city’ will impact privacy, personalization, accessibility, and citizen (versus consumer) engagement?”

Some members of the audience seemed content with the content.

Two members of the panel, David Ascher (Mozilla Foundation) and Andrea Reimer (Councillor, City of Vancouver) seemed a bit perplexed with the monologue’ish elaborations of the third member, Evgeny Morozov, a Belarusian writer and researcher who studies political and social implications of technology.

I left the event feeling “What tha Hell Was That All About!?”

On my way out I managed to exchange a few words with another member of the audience. When I’ve used the words frivolous and nonesensical she said she was a bit too young to be judgmental. However, we both agreed that Evgeny’s messages seemed a bit conflicted. Could it be his way of marketing his books?

The topics of the discussion will always remain fascinating. Here’s a quick display of non committal points extracted from my reliable, technologically non-judgmental notebook. Some are just notes I’ve taken during the evening; some are thoughts turned into words:

Solutionism: an expression coined in response to the trend of focusing efforts on finding solutions no matter whether an issue requiring any, exists or not.

Sensors: the ever expanding use of them in public and private realm.

Copyright: the questions surrounding our ability to protect copyrights.

Smart as the prefix of many tools and accessories, the implications of the term on our lives and actions.

Stupifying of individuals: can it be that the rush for “smart” devices allows people to act stupid?

Controlled Ignorance; Informed Ignorance

Return to congregation: The quest to be informed.

The language of debate.

Historicize this debate.

It seems to me a bit pointless to summarize this evening’s discussion for any meaningful insights. Sometimes just being there is good enough. When the content fails to engage there’s always room for thought, the room itself, the people. I said hello to a fellow biker and had a nice ride home.