Nimbin, Monday morning June 3
The CityPlan as a Model for Community Engagement in South Australia? I don’t think so!
During my week in Adelaide, I was dismayed to hear people talking in adulatory tones about the Vancouver CityPlan community engagement model.
I’ve been worrying about this since it was first mooted in NSW last year. See:
Trust me, the 1990s Vancouver CityPlan model is completely inappropriate for a State planning and engagement strategy. In October 2012, I participated in a hard-hitting symposium in Vancouver to unpack the CityPlan model and its relevance for Australian planning and community engagement.
The ‘Vancouver model’ (CityPlan) of community engagement occurred twenty years ago and has now been completely eroded. There is widespread disquiet about community engagement in the City of Vancouver. A product of 1980s reform movements, it cost millions of dollars. The City of Vancouver has promoted this model widely and senior consultants travel internationally speaking about its benefits.
My main issues are the following:
1. COST: Initiated in the early 1990s, CityPlan was ambitious, visionary, inclusive, time-consuming, and expensive, and the Vancouver citizens who participated—estimated to have included about twenty per cent of City households—value the visions and plans they produced and fully expect to be involved in their implementation. Indeed, as part of CityPlan, Vision Implementation Committees (VICs) across the City received funding to continue to meet and work with City staff to discuss ways to put the visions into action.
In its two stages, in the 1990s, CityPlan cost about $CAD10 million in 1990s dollars, not counting the salaries of scores of seconded staff over many years in two stages.
Do we have that sort of commitment, resources and staffing to roll this project out on a State-wide scale many times the population of the City of Vancouver?
2. SCOPE: CityPlan was for the City, not the region — or the province– so it was applied to an area that currently has only 583,000 residents. In 1992, the Vancouver population was 472,000.
It is not a ‘state-wide’ model.
3. WEAK OUTCOMES: The results — in the longer term — are not of a high quality. I have personally witnessed three Vancouver City Council-led community engagement processes (in 2007, 2009 and March 2013) on high-profile projects (Safeway supermarket expansion in Marpole, 2009, Neighbourhood Energy Utility, False Creek South, 2007 and the Marpole Community Plan, 2013) that were woeful.
I highlighted one of the workshops as a ‘bad’ example’ in my book, Kitchen Table Sustainability (2009).
At the last Council-run Open House I attended, I was told by organisers that only 20 people had come through the door in the first two (of three) hours.
I cannot imagine that we would ever undertake such weak processes on high-profile projects in this country.
4. DOWNSTREAM EFFECTS: The predicted loss of later community engagement opportunities (if this is actually intended) is a mistake, in my view — and will not wear well, especially with activist and educated communities in South Australia.
5. EXCELLENT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT MODELS IN AUSTRALIA: We have great community engagement models (with international awards and recognition) and excellent practitioners in Australia — who hold many international awards. Why do we need to cringe away from our own expertise and seek the Visiting Overseas Expert (VOE) and apply overseas models when we have excellent expertise in Australia to guide such a program?
6. THE GRATTAN REPORT
The section of the 2011 Grattan report (Cities: Who Decides?) on Vancouver’s community engagement processes is not accurate, in my view, about engagement in Vancouver as it is CURRENTLY practised.
The Vancouver sources for the Grattan Report do not reflect the range of opinions in the current discourse in Vancouver around community engagement.
I have reviewed the Grattan report in detail and know some of the cities it reviewed.
7. WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN VANCOUVER SINCE CITYPLAN?
What has happened to the Community Visions that CityPlan produced?
And what has happened to the implementation program to realize those visions?
The answer, in a nutshell, is politics. More specifically, a City Council that many feel has been unduly influenced by development industry campaign contributions, and a City bureaucracy that has returned to an earlier era of top-down decision-making: this threatens to undermine years of goodwill built up through the dedication and enthusiasm of residents who contributed thousands of volunteer hours to the development of guiding principles and visions for the future growth and development of their communities.
In 2009, the City initiated a review of the CityPlan Vision Implementation Program (VIP).
It subsequently eliminated budgets for all Committees.
The review said the Community Visions were outdated and limiting, advocates a more robust and inclusive community involvement model and replaces neighbourhood-based Vision Community Action Plans with a city-wide Action Strategy.
There has been widespread questioning of the City’s on-going dedication to CityPlan. Activists and other concerned citizens are urging Council to affirm its commitment by re-endorsing CityPlan as the primary planning and development policy for Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.
Our 2012 symposium showed that. See the video we made of it:
8. IMPLICATIONS FOR COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA
So, what does this say about CityPlan, especially for another government that might be contemplating adopting it as a model for state-wide community planning?
While the original 1990s CityPlan process itself was exemplary and the goodwill it created between residents and the City was valuable, the real challenge has been in the implementation.
Part of this problem is owing to changes in local government and its priorities, but it also has much to do with a need for a real transformation in how decisions are made in the City.
Two decades ago, the City of Vancouver had a commitment to genuine inclusiveness in community engagement. That commitment is no longer evident to an expert observer.