We’ve ReImagined Vancouver for 2040. What Next?

The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA) celebrated its 25th-anniversary last year by hosting a public engagement – an elaborate visioning exercise to mine and collect Vancouverites’ dreams for their city in 2040. Over 11,000 responses were heard, recorded and compiled – an impressive task.

The DVBIA has now published its report, ReImagining Downtown Vancouver, and yesterday SFU’s City Conversations held a dialogue to exchange thoughts on the report and continue to discuss aspirations for the future of our city.

Some fabulously wonderful ideas have come out of the engagement: enlivening alleys to include art installations; cafes and other places of interest that open up and create safer street environments. I’m also pleased that the city is embracing food trucks. The City Conversations crowd heard from Vancouver City Councillor, Heather Deal, that this a component of a scheme – amongst other initiatives – to get people to talk to each other. How wonderful!

I especially love the report’s focus on the creative economy, using small businesses, the arts scene, and even craft breweries as a positive synergy between the arts and economic development. I wanted to cry “hear, hear!” when Charlie Smith, the editor of the Georgia Straight, pointed out that by encouraging the creative economy we are “moving from consumption of goods to the enjoyment of experiences”, and by doing this we are having a profoundly positive impact on our environment and our city.

This dialogue served as a bit of a closing-the-loop session, or follow up and reporting as we also call it in the public engagement realm. And while the report, and the ideas it extols, are exciting and visionary, the session did leave me with a sense of… well, what now? The question itself was actually asked by a very astute Janet Webber, Program Manager for SFU Public Square. What action items has the city developed out of this report? What policy changes or action plans are being developed?

Of course, it is early days yet, but I found the responses from Councillor Heather Deal and Charles Gauthier – President of the DVBIA – to be far from concrete; it was clear that nothing has been planned.

It’s also not clear how this report is connected to the decision-making process, or if it is at all. As the IAP2 manual cautions, “when decisions are not communicated transparently, people do not understand how public input influenced the outcome.” In fact, communicating to participants how their input affected decisions is one of IAP2’s core values.

So, if and when decisions are made in downtown Vancouver that are rooted in the outcomes of this exciting and productive visioning process, the public should be informed. If they are not, they may become disenfranchised and question the value of participating in future public engagement opportunities.

We sure hope that the City of Vancouver will take ReImagining Downtown Vancouver to heart, because it sounds like a pretty fabulous place to be.