Yesterday at SFU’s City Conversations, three of metro Vancouver’s young and keen city councillors spoke about the communities they represent as well as their challenges and visions for the future. Predictably, much of the conversation revolved around housing, transit and their affordability and accessibility, or lack thereof. When I asked the enthusiastic councillors about public engagement in their communities and how the public’s input was used to make decisions and inform community plans, I was encouraged by their astute responses.
North Vancouver Councillor Mathew Bond spoke about the two-year engagement process his municipality undertook that brought out more than 5,000 people to provide input on the development of the current OCP. He touched on accessibility; at least one of their engagements provided day care so community members with children could attend. As well, he mentioned equal representation of stakeholder groups; making sure that not just the squeaky wheels were heard. Finally, he reflected on the importance of closing the loop; informing participants how their input was used, so they don’t feel their valuable time was wasted.
Councillor Patrick Johnstone spoke of New Westminster’s OCP process, which has been underway for the last two years. During this process, over 1,000 people have contributed their ideas on a city map. He said New West Council has learned that you must go to the people. City hall meetings don’t collect much of a crowd, and certainly not a diverse one, so they have been visiting lacrosse games, coordinating pop-up city halls, and attending other local events to meet the public where they already are.
At the City of Langley, Councillor Nathan Pachal admitted the city has more work to do to move the municipality towards accepting public engagement as a general practice. However, he understands its importance and has been vocal with other councillors to incorporate engagement more into the formal process.
While these three municipalities seem to be at different stages in their applications of public engagement in their planning and decision-making processes, the trajectory is clear: The culture of public engagement is on the rise, which is good news for us all.