Is The Online City Hall the Future?

A couple of evenings ago, I ZOOMED into a meeting of the Vancouver City Planning Commission. They have a project in which they designate certain things that happen each year as worthy of being added to their Chronology of planning in the City. This particular event was to discuss the seven things that VCPC have tentatively determined were the most important planning events of 2020.

The seven events listed were:

  1. The Climate Emergency Plan
  2. Public space re-allocation
  3. Online City Hall
  4. The Downtown Spaces for People Strategy
  5. Black Lives Matter [in planning]
  6. Temporary shelters for sex workers; and
  7. The Slow Streets movement

There was a significant intervention by one of the panelists who gave a long speech describing the past and present evils of colonialism and displacement, and who felt that the entire Chronology project needed to be rewritten as all planning decisions in the City are made “without First Nations involvement.” That being said, the other panelists had their say on the seven items listed.

Most of the items were essentially dismissed with the exception of the passage of the Climate Emergency Plan by City Council. I have had my say on this Plan, considering it to be nothing but a greenwashing in advance of the 2022 election. However some panelists considered it to be a major achievement.

When asked if there was a landmark building from 2020, none could be named, although several noted the integration of social housing with other facilities such as the Fire Hall and the Strathcona Library.

Surprisingly though, to me at least, many panelists consider the move to online City Council meetings and public hearings as the one item that will prove to be sustainable over the next twenty years. Frances Bula, the moderator, said that it had been a “profound revelation” to her to hear so many different voices weighing in on Council matters, increasing engagement. Antonia Ozundele who works actively with youth said that this was clearly the wave of the future as youth live in a digital world. There was some discussion about the digital divide — in which certain groups are marginalized by their lack of access to technology — but there seemed to be agreement that this could be solved.

None of the panelists raised the issue that online meetings actually insulate Council members from mass protest, which is my main concern. I miss having a crowd to cheer on or boo statements being made. It is a bland experience without them.

One Response to Is The Online City Hall the Future?

  1. pennystreet546 says:

    I agree about the relative blandness of virtual council meetings, but I also do agree that more people participate. On GWAC, we’ve been surprised that many people come out to our monthly meetings when they’re held on Zoom — many more than would have attended face-to-face meetings. So it might end up being more inclusive and egalitarian if public meetings are held online. You don’t have to physically GO to a meeting and you can also leave unobtrusively if you get fed up or bored.

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