One Last Kick at the Plan

CAtables

Tonight, the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan had its last community roundtable. The subject of discussion was the draft sub-area recommendations, on specific parts of the community like Cedar Cove, Nanaimo, and Broadway and Commercial.

I arrived shortly before seven and the line up of participants was nearly out the door, while inside, most of the tables were almost full. I managed to get a seat at one of the Britannia-Woodland discussion tables, then during the second round, sat at a Commercial Drive discussion table. People were still arriving as the discussion started and as with all of the meetings I’ve attended so far, there were enough participants to fill at least a half dozen more tables. As it was, people found space where they could, or sat two-deep for some of the more contentious discussions.

CAlineup

As always, I was impressed by the knowledge and commitment of the Assembly members and the community members who came to the meeting. There were fruitful discussions and agreement on many issues, though there will never be consensus on others.

Here are a few of the highlights from the summaries at the end of the night:

  • More creative use of industrial lands is needed.
  • Nanaimo Street needs to be developed, but in a way that respects current residential uses.
  • Affordable housing is the crucial issue for the Britannia-Woodland sub-area.
  • Cedar Cove needs to be better integrated into the neighbourhood, with transit and Commercial Drive-like spaces for small business.
  • Commercial Drive needs to be kept affordable for independent, small-scale businesses. Ideas like allowing businesses to make use of laneways might be part of the solution.
  • Public space needs to be truly public, rather that the private-public space seen in places like Yaletown, that’s not truly accessible to citizens.
  • Co-operative housing and other affordable housing need to be protected and promoted, so that we can retain a mixed income community.

No consensus was reached on the development at Venables and Commercial and there was also a concern that though there has been broad consensus at all public meetings on a height restriction of four storeys, the proposals that are presented to the public keep integrating greater height limits.

There was broad support, with some objections, to the plan for bike lanes along Commercial/Salsbury, along with wider sidewalks from 1st to Broadway. The active transportation plan for Commercial seems like it’s going to become a reality.

There’s a divide of opinion on how to protect and expand affordable housing in the neighbourhood. Some believe that density created through condo development and tower construction will achieve that, though the results elsewhere in the City show the opposite effect. Others (including me) believe that density achieved through infill, smaller development, and more distributed density will help protect existing affordable housing stock, while allowing more to be built. Creative approaches to preserving existing buildings, while allowing redevelopment are seen as crucial by many of us.

Those are just a few of the points made tonight. And there’s still a little time to comment on the draft before the Assembly’s last meeting on May 9th. You can email them at assembly@grandview-woodland.ca and you can download a copy of the draft here.

I don’t hold out much hope that the City will respect the recommendations of the Assembly or the neighbourhood at large. But I still don’t think this process has been a waste of time. The Assembly has done an admirable job of recording the views of the neighbourhood and sifting through all the information that’s been given to them.

Most importantly, the overwhelming interest in the process shows just how active our neighbourhood will be in challenging the City if it should present us with something that doesn’t reflect the concerns and ideas that this community has voiced.

Deeply Local: Grandview-Woodland’s Citizens’ Assembly

Juxtaposition

These are some of the things I love most about my neighbourhood: I can walk the length of the shopping street as quickly (or sometimes more quickly) than the time it takes for the bus to arrive and carry me from one end to the other; the variety of foodstuffs and staples available within walking distance; the wealth of restaurants and coffee shops; brick and mortar bookstores, record shops, and even a video store; the mix of heritage homes, 1950s walk ups, and affordable apartment buildings, many with room for vegetable gardens; a feeling of engagement with one’s neighbours across the district. The things that I don’t love include the increasing unaffordability of the neighbourhood for both residents and small business owners, the proliferation of condos designed to last little longer than a mortgage cycle, and the increasing feeling that our neighbourhood is destined for suburbification and its attendant disconnection from the deep feelings of community that have been built here.

With all this in mind, I found myself inside on a sunny Saturday along with almost seventy other Grandview-Woodlanders, debating the questions around the construction of a Citizens’ Assembly and the part it will play in crafting the plan that will guide our neighbourhood’s future. The City hired a facilitator who specializes in forms of deliberative democracy like Citizens’ Assemblies and over the course of the afternoon, participants had an opportunity to tackle at least two of the structural questions the City put before us. We met in small groups for half-hour periods, then at the end of the day, there was a summary from each of the tables about the most important ideas that had emerged. All ideas were written up on tear sheets that were taped up around the room and at the end of each session, participants marked their priorities dotmocracy-style.

We were encouraged to choose the discussions we felt most passionate about, but a more accurate assessment for me would be that I chose the discussions I was most worried about. My choices were Composition of the Assembly and Community Engagement. Some of the ideas that came out of the first group included: representing three kinds of tenure – owners, renters, and housing co-op members; reserving seats for aboriginal members, whether or not candidates are identified through the initial call out; using a multi-pronged strategy for recruiting candidates that includes outreach to community groups as well as more passive strategies like mailouts; that twenty Assembly members was probably too few and fifty probably too many; and making sure that there’s representation across the district. The ideas that came out of the second group drilled down a little deeper. Outreach by Assembly members to community groups to capture viewpoints that might not be represented by the Assembly, especially those of vulnerable populations. The three levels of the process (City-led, Assembly, and Community) should not be separate, but should inform each other – community consultation should happen in conjunction with the Assembly and the City, rather than separately; the Assembly’s report should be brought to the public for critique and comment on a regular basis; the City’s plan should be both informed by the Assembly’s proceedings and incorporate the Assembly’s critiques and comments.

I hope that when the City finishes gathering the suggestions from the two sessions and the online consultation, that the information is presented in an unabridged form and that the Assembly is constructed on the most representative basis, not just on the basis of demographic diversity, but also with a socially just distribution that accounts for differences in privilege.

I came away from Saturday’s session with a cautious optimism, not because I believe that this process will be the salvation of my neighbourhood, but because I was engaged with so many people who care about the district as much as I do. I know that a number of people felt the session was too constrained and directed by the City – you can find out more about that here and here. My hope is that the Assembly might help shift the focus of Grandview-Woodland’s future away from developers and toward residents and that through this process, the City will come to value the area as the model of liveability (mixed-income, walkable, diverse, lovely) that it is already.

It’s not too late to comment on the Assembly composition debates. You can find the Discussion Paper here and the link to the City’s questionnaire is here.