Friday, June 27, 2014

Vancouver's Department of 'What if?': a License to Disrupt

Credit: Brandon Yan
A remarkable thing happened this past week. On Wednesday, June 25th, over 30 past Vancouver City Planning Commissioners sat in room at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue to talk about Vancouver's Planning legacy and future (Although, it turned out be more about the Commission's). With experiences dating back to the 80s, it was a room replete with knowledge.

While I have struggled to find a purpose for myself at the VCPC meetings, this unique event has energized my spirits towards this potentially important citizen advisory body. I can't attach names to any of the comments that were made as per Chatham House rules but some persistent themes came up.

The VCPC's Purpose
I'm a little relieved to hear that past commissioners also struggled to figure out what exactly a powerless planning commission is supposed to do and how it's supposed to do it. In fact, it was repeatedly suggested that the VCPC should be Vancouver's 'Department of What if?' By that, they meant it should not be afraid to take risks, be creative, and most of all, be disruptive. One past commissioner said that the VCPC's absolute lack of power is actually its greatest asset - it has nothing to lose.

Disturbing Trends
Further, it was also clear that those that spoke up at this round-table were concerned about equity and justice in Vancouver's future. To paraphrase a past commissioner:
"No one has acknowledged that no one cares about being the Greenest City. We are now concerned about the growing inequality, instead."
In a city that is seemingly dualistic by nature, one that consists of people with a lot and people with very little, how do we ensure Vancouver is planned for everyone?

I'll leave you with this video of Meg Holden's (SFU Urban Studies professor/my MA supervisor) SCARP Symposium presentation. If you don't have time, tune into the 11 minute mark when she asks a great and relevant question:

All this being said, the VCPC is a citizen body. I'm more than happy to chat with you via email/twitter. Let's be disruptive together. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Vancouver City Planning Commission

Vancouver City Hall - Wikicommons
So the first month of 2014 is behind us. The last part of 2013 was a whirlwind of activity for me: I started a new job (update: I still love it), put together a directed reading course for myself for this semester (update: read what you tell your prof you'll read!), and I was also appointed to the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC).

The VCPC has a long history in this city and has had many different mandates but its current form came about mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. It has gone from a central institution in city building to one more along the side-lines, as a strictly advisory body (mostly due to the advent of modern day planning departments). This is not to say the VCPC cannot play a significant role - they've done some great work. Currently, the VCPC:
advises City Council on planning and development issues in the City, and may report to Council on any proposal likely to have a significant effect on the future of the City. The commission organizes conferences, consultations, competitions, presentations, and research on topics including housing, public realm, neighbourhoods, transportation, and public engagement. - City of Vancouver 
We've only had two meetings so far and it's been mostly orienting the new commissioners, like myself, and some procedural things. Not sure quite yet what kind of work we'll be getting into, however, the year is young yet.

Personally, I'd like to be more involved in planning engagement/consultations (which is also an academic area of interest for me). I'd like to see the commission be more visible so I've been tweeting from our meetings (#VCPC). If you're interested, our meetings are open to the public for observation and you can find the meeting details here. Feel free to shoot me an email or tweet before hand, too.