Another two hours of my life I won’t get back, and I learned almost nothing useful. The two hours were spent — in delightful activist company — at the City of Vancouver’s “Broadway Plaza Exploration” open house at the Croatian Cultural Centre tonight.
The idea — or so many of us thought at least — was to examine a proposal to move a projected large public plaza from the site recommended in the Grandview Community Plan (“the Safeway site”) to an alternative location preferred by the owner/developer of the original site. The suggested alternative site is over the Grandview Cut on the east side of Commercial just north of Broadway. Instead, we got a rendering of a map of where the plaza might be; and absolutely no discussion of why the developer didn’t want to simply follow the guidelines in the Community Plan which was the result of three years’ consultation.
Then we got three speakers discussing at some length about sometimes highly technical aspects of designing “good” plazas — edges, acoustics, accessibility, safety, etc etc. I think it is probably a good idea to have “master classes” in aspects of urban planning available to the public; but this seemed the wrong audience. I know I was’t the only one disappointed when the panellists made no connection with the original site, but used their time to propagandise ways to ameliorate the undoubted problems of the alternative site, not the least of which are multiple Skytrain tracks running immediately over the proposed plaza. When asked directly how the design principles for good plazas they had discussed were reflected in the two sites, the only answer was “It depends on the final design”.
And then came a general question period. Of course, we were not allowed to stand and ask our questions. We had to write out the question, hand it to a staff member and they then decided which questions would be asked and answered. MCed by City Planner Andrew Pask We could see scores of questions being passed to staff, but we only got through four or five before Andrew closed the meeting about 20 minutes early.
This was another attempt at consultation, I guess, that failed unfortunately. I applaud Planning for trying different formats but this was really pointless. If we could have had a genuine discussion about plaza design, with experts with competing visions, perhaps, and open questioning, that might have had good value, but this was overly structured and distant.
It was a heavily engineered meeting too: ticketing through Eventbrite, 200 neatly organised chairs, each with a Response form, three index cards for questions, and a pen. There were plenty of staff there, presumably on overtime, lots of coffee, lots of cookies. This was an expensive outing, and all because a developer sneezed. This needs to be weighed against residents with 5,000 signatures on a petition getting just 5 minutes at a public hearing.
The ugly asymmetry of power in this city was rarely more obvious.