Today’s 10:00am to 2:30pm workshop with the City planners on the future of the Commercial & Broadway “transit-oriented” development area was a hugely successful re-start to the entire planning process. If only they had held this kind of workshop 6-9 months ago, they might well not be in the trouble they find themselves today. And if they extend the same kind of workshops to cover all the sub-areas in the neighbourhood, they might actually produce a plan we can all accept.
In their introductions, Matt Shilito and Andrew Pask for the City admitted there had been a “disconnect” between planners and residents and that “we clearly didn’t get it right.” Calling the Emerging Directions section on Commercial & Broadway simply “a first kick at the can,” they announced that all their proposals for the area were now withdrawn; that the process begins again today, starting from scratch.
There were about eighty attendees at the meeting, plus perhaps two dozen City facilitators. Andrew began with his standard “the process” slideshow. This was followed by an analysis of the “Hopes For The Meeting” and “Fears” stickies that we had been encouraged to post as soon as we registered at the door. The major fears was this event would be a waste of time and the general mistrust of both the planners and the process. The “Hopes” messages leaned heavily towards a need for the City to actually listen.
We were divided into ten tables at which we worked together as a focus group. Each table had a large detailed map of the Commercial & Broadway area, on which we wrote and drew all over, and on which we later built blocks representing height zones.
The first exercise, which lasted for about an hour, was to imagine the Commercial & Broadway area in 5 or 10 or 30 years hence. In actuality this involved discussing larger themes (such as why density? why density never means affordable; the nature of transit-oriented development) and brought out some themes that were generally agreed: open spaces, a gathering plaza, more trees, street level retail activity, affordable residential and commercial space, the creation of a self-sufficient “village” through local services and walkability.
The second exercise was “Circles and Blocks” during which we attacked the map with coloured markers to identify areas of the sub-area that we felt should be left alone, or, if a change was to be made, the degree of change we could accept. On our table we quickly reached a consensus, more or less, but when we got out the building blocks (like lego pieces), it was clear there were at least a few different ideas about what low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise actually meant in terms of height.
It was interesting to see that, while the exercises were supposed to be neutral to the original planning proposals, how quickly we all adopted, mostly unspoken, the rationale for building up this area. The differences between our ideas and those of the planners were ones of scale. Our consensus position had a single 12 storey building at the Safeway site, but dissenting scenarios had in one case nothing taller than 6 storeys, while another conceded a 22 storey highrise on the supermarket. The meeting finished with the facilitators for each table reviewing the work. Now, as always, we need to see what they actually report out — but they know now we will be watching.
In his closing remarks, Andrew suggested there would be “several” more steps on the Commercial & Broadway sub-area; but all were being rushed for the end of this month to meet, I guess, the original schedule which will see the entire process finished by Christmas. But that, of course, doesn’t allow for time to hold similar workshops on the other five sub-areas across Grandview, all of which have significant upzoning unsupported by local residents, and all of which are as important to the neighbourhood as Commercial & Broadway.
It is certain that all the media coverage generated by citizen protests in the last couple of weeks got us this meeting. We need to keep the pressure on for all the other sub-areas, as well as more work on the transit zone. We can do this by maintaining contact with the press to express our sentiments, to attend the GWAC meeting on Monday night, and by joining the 500+ others who have signed the petition for more consultation.
Given the level of distrust around planning here, the planners chose the most cack-handed way of organizing this meeting, generating further distrust and suspicion. In the end, it was a good and worthwhile meeting — we can only hope the planners learn the lessons.