Friday, May 13, 2016

Urbanarium Debate Let Experts Plan: Post-mortem

Should citizens be more empowered to decide what gets built and where in Vancouver?

Or is the process already too prone to public pressures, stifling the creativity and know-how and vision that professional planners are hired to provide?

These were the questions debated Wednesday night at the UBC Robson Square theatre. Speaking against the resolution Let Experts Plan were Charles Campbell and Michael Kluckner. Speaking for it were Judy Rudin and me. What is interesting about these debates is that the audience is invited to vote on their preferred position prior to the start of the debate, and then again at the end.

In this case about 56% of those in attendance were in favour at the start, and 58% were in favour at the end.  The debate was filmed and will be soon be posted on the Urbanarium site

While I prefer not to read presentation notes, I did prepare some slides, and notes as set out below:

Sadly it was reduced to 3 storeys at Public Hearing due to neighbourhood objections
Today you can barely see the project, and virtually all the objectors have moved away
And here's the obtrusive, obscene project today!

One last case study in West Vancouver

I’m delighted to be here, and will tell you why I’m here in a moment.
I’m also delighted to have Judy as my debating partner. Not a planner; an engaged, concerned thoughtful citizen, with considerable experience in community consultation, whose opinions I have come to admire through her presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Before I tell you why I am here, let me tell you where am I coming from (powerpoint presentation)
Now why I was invited to participate in this debate?
Two years ago I wrote a Vancouver Courier column “Is it time to say goodbye to the experts?”
So who are the “experts”? planners, architects, transportation engineers, sustainability planners, etc.
Professionals who are educated to see an issue within its broader context.
My column was in response to
·      Creation by city of Vancouver of Citizens Assembly (which Charles will talk about)
·      Planitzen article The Fall of Planning Expertise’ which describes how we seem to have lost respect for "experts" — those who have knowledge and/or experience in a particular field — and replaced it with a kind of "expertise egalitarianism" whereby everyone's opinion is given equal weight.
In my article I wrote that
In the face of such conflicts, the author suggests planners should ask: Are the powers and politics now vested in "community participation" undermining the planning profession?
Planners receive a broad education and experience in a range of disciplines including urban design, regulatory processes, technical modeling, economic analysis, environmental issues, and how to engage with a community.
Armed with this knowledge, in many instances they are attacked for being arrogant and elitist for insisting they know something the ordinary citizen does not.
Increasingly, residents believe their personal opinions should trump not only the planner’s individual expertise, but the collective expertise of the planning profession.
Most planners acknowledge that the community has every right to participate in the planning process. However too often they hear objections to proposals from neighbourhood residents who simply do not like what is being proposed.
Objectors believe that should be sufficient justification for the City to reject the proposal or neighbourhood plan.
The situation is exacerbated since there does not appear to be any agreement on who should be the final authority on decisions related to planning and development; the local residents or the planning profession.
Or often in the case of Vancouver, the City Manager’s office, Mayor or Council?
I look forward to debating this tonight with my colleagues on the stage.
There’s no disagreement that neighbourhood residents should have a say in terms of what happens in their neighbourhoods.
But they need to be informed, and obliged to make decisions taking into account the broader public good.
Too often citizens camouflage their objections….they talk about protecting the environment or worrying about traffic and parking when they are really concerned about people moving in who are ‘not their kind’, or the fear of reduced property values
What happens when the citizens have the final say?
Look at Vancouver today….we protect single family neighbourhoods; we force development where people often don’t want to live….along busy arterials, rather than one street off the busy arterials, etc.
Because we too often let residents plan, those Dunbar residents who want to move into a townhouse, have to leave Dunbar. They move to White Rock, or Richmond or Langley, or UBC….Why? because the Dunbar Vision, prepared by the residents, doesn’t really allow for townhouses except for locations where they’re not likely to be built.
What are considered the best neighbourhoods in Vancouver? The south shore of False Creek, Coal Harbour, North Shore of False Creek, Champlain Heights….places created by planners and other experts, not local residents.
Or places like East Fraser Lands created by informed citizens aided by experts.
We should let the experts plan, but they should take direction from neighbourhoods and exercise professional judgement.

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