Public Input by Blog (Or, 'Care to Comment on the New EcoDensity Charter?')

Brent Toderian's picture
Blogger

I believe it's very likely that within a few years, planning departments will be using blogs, and perhaps other social networking site options, as approaches to public input on planning policy or development applications.

Perhaps some are doing it already?

In Vancouver we're thinking about this, but we're not there yet. Already though, bloggers are doing some of it themselves, commenting on new policy or processes, usually based on what they've read in the media. It went a step further recently, as bloggers watched nightly (via the live internet feed the City provides) as over a hundred delegations made presentations, and answered questions from Council (with play-by-play commentary from the bloggers) during the seven-night special council meeting on our EcoDensity Charter and Actions second draft.

My planning colleagues in other cities no doubt have their own stories. For example, I'm told in Calgary Alberta, a very high profile application for a "famous" country nightclub, saw their relocation attempt refused earlier this year. When the application was being considered by the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board in April, there were over 250 formal letters of opposition to the relocation received by the Board. At the same time, there was considerable dialogue occurring in internet forums and on Blogs. I'm told the website Facebook had a group called "Vote for Cowboys" that logged over 2600 members, and had a continuous update about the process from the refusal to the Appeal Board hearing. (There were three anti-Cowboys Facebook groups, none of which had more than 30 members). While there was considerable discussion through these media regarding the decision, it did not translate into people voicing their support through the "usual channels" when the application was considered at the Appeal Board.

Could or should this have been considered legitimate input?

The interesting aspect of blogs and social networking sites, is the interaction opportunity. Blogs enable "safe" debate. A down-side is that the debate is often somewhat anonymous, but there can be pros and cons to that. In any case, it does add a dimension that the usual public input options don't bring.

On Tuesday of this week, we put the third EcoDensity drafts resulting from public input, on our website (EcoDensity). Council will consider them on June 10th, and the public is being encouraged to send written comments to Council before that on the new drafts. Comments are already coming in at a steady flow.

So in keeping with the above, I thought I would post below, word-for-word for those who've been hearing about what EcoDensity would and wouldn't do, the new draft Charter. You can also go to the website to get the staff report and resulting actions if interested. The Charter is intended to be the high-level "commitment document", that if approved by Council, would change the way we approach city-building. It isn't intended to answer the "how" - that's for the actions (and this is just the first list of actions, as there may be "generations" of actions). It's intended to be strong, clear and transformative, to guide all the actions that flow out of it. Thus its specific wording is very important. The process since the launch of EcoDensity has educated and directed the words, and with the release of this revised draft, we're asking the public to tell Council what they think of these words before they potentially approve them on June 10.

So lets see if this blog format can generate input. What do you, Planetizen readers, think of the words below? Feel free to join the public dialogue and tell us what you think. Respond below, or email mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca (but to be fair, if you're from outside of Vancouver, let us know where you're from).

 

II. REVISED VANCOUVER ECODENSITY CHARTER

 

How Density, Design, & Land Use

Will Contribute to Environmental Sustainability, Affordability, & Livability

 

Preamble

Vancouver's Mission Statement:

"To create a great city of communities which cares about its people, its environment and the opportunities to live, work and prosper."

Vancouver's CityPlan:

"As the Region grows and there is increased pressure on our environment, the City will give priority to actions that protect the environment Residents want lower and modest income families to be able to live in the City People will have more opportunities to live in their neighbourhoods as they pass through various ages and stages of their lives."

Vancouver's Climate Change Action Plan:

"The most important long-range strategy for managing housing and transportation related green-house gas emissions in an urban context is land use planning for higher density, mixed-use, walkable communities – frequently referred to as smart growth."

This EcoDensity Charter builds on these past commitments, and challenges all of us to address change more proactively, and adapt our city and our way of life so that Vancouver's future is more sustainable, affordable and livable. We must change how we live as a city and region, and as communities and neighbourhoods, households, and individuals. We know that greater change must start now, but the "what, when and where" of change continues to be determined. The city-wide discourse that generated this Charter, and which will convert it into action, needs to continue.

This document represents a commitment statement of the City of Vancouver -- a Charter between the City and its citizens, both current and future.

 

The Facts

1. Vancouver is one of the most livable cities in the world. It has been planned and developed to respect and reflect the natural beauty that surrounds it, with a high level of design, public amenities and services.

2. Important steps have been taken over many years, through CityPlan, Community Visions, and many incremental decisions, to achieve a city of livable, diverse, neighbourhoods and compact, mixed-use, walkable communities for people. These steps and intentions must be built on and respected as we move forward to do more.

3. Vancouver's future is at risk. Climate change, environmental stress, resource depletion and rising costs-of-living are seriously threatening Vancouver's environment, economy, livability and long term sustainability.

4. Vancouver City Council has set numerous goals related to climate change1
and the addressing of the City's greenhouse gas emissions. Meeting these requires rapid and deep action.

5. The Region's population continues to grow, and if new, diverse homes are not built in our City, Vancouver's already expensive housing will only get more unaffordable while sprawl is pushed out elsewhere.

6. Vancouver is the region's downtown, providing employment to a broad range of households and household incomes, and housing should be available in the city that is affordable to those who work in it.

7. Vancouver's ecological and carbon footprints indicate that we are consuming too many resources and emitting too many greenhouse gases to sustain our lifestyles.2
Despite our successes in building a livable city, Vancouver is contributing to climate change and is not as sustainable a city as it could be.

8. Our City's footprints are powerfully determined and influenced by our patterns of density, design and land use. Together, building and transportation energy alone make up 87% of our emissions.3

9. A compact city is an efficient, sustainable city. A more dense city uses less energy, provides easier access, and is more affordable than a less dense city.

10. The need for deeper and more rapid change has become clear as our achievements are being outpaced by accelerating environmental, affordability and quality-of-life threats.

 

Because the City of Vancouver believes that

A. Climate change represents the most significant environmental, economic, social, livability and quality-of-life threat to the City's future, and more significant action to mitigate and prepare for it must begin today.

B. The pace at which we move to climate stabilization, and achieve a more resilient, prepared city, is critical for Vancouver's future social, cultural, and economic sustainability.

C. At the same time, the City's affordability and continued livability must be fostered in order for us to progress successfully, resiliently and sustainably.

D. We need to do more, for ourselves and future generations, and as an influential model within the Region and to other North American cities, as our contribution to growing efforts around the globe.

E. We have the opportunity to manage change, to choose and design our future in the face of these threats, to create a more ecologically sustainable, affordable, and livable city of neighbourhoods.

1 Including: 6% reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) below 1990 levels by 2012; 33% reduction in GHGs below current levels by 2020; 80% reduction in GHGs below current levels by 2050; all new construction in Vancouver be GHG neutral by 2030. Source: City of Vancouver, Climate Protection Progress Report, 2007.

2 7.71 hectares of land per person is necessary to produce the goods and energy that the average Vancouver resident consumes. This equates to 4 planets' worth of resources if the whole world lived like Vancouver. The average resident also produces 4.9 tonnes of greenhouse gases. Sources: FCM, Ecological Footprints of Canadian Municipalities and Regions, 2001; City of Vancouver, Climate Protection Progress Report, 2007.

3 Total of buildings and light- and heavy-duty vehicles combined. Source: City of Vancouver, Climate Protection Progress Report, 2007.

 

The City of Vancouver therefore commits to:

I. AN OVER-ARCHING ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITY

a. Make environmental sustainability a primary goal in ALL city-building decisions – in ways that also foster and support affordability and livability.

b. Promote strategic, well-managed density, design and land use as primary tools in achieving this goal, in all city-building decisions.

II. TOWARD AN ECO-CITY

a. Align density, design, and land use holistically and comprehensively with other tools and methods for environmental, economic, social, and cultural sustainability, to achieve mutual and cumulative benefits, including sustainable strategies for:

transportation and parking;

green energy and waste systems;

affordable housing choices for all;

parks, public realm and recreation;

arts, culture and creativity;

heritage conservation;

urban health;

vitality and public safety;

urban agriculture and local food access;

social planning and development;

economic development opportunities;

and many other related City initiatives.

III. A GREENER, DENSER CITY PATTERN

a. Achieve greater densities smartly and strategically, in land-use patterns, locations and designs where carbon footprint improvements and environmental gains are highest (e.g., around fixed-transit; walkable shopping, employment and amenity areas; district energy sources, etc.) and where affordability and livability are also fostered.

b. Promote "gentle" (e.g., rowhouses, infill), "hidden" (e.g., lane-oriented housing) or "invisible" (e.g., secondary suites) forms of density in suitable locations across the City with design that respects neighbourhood identity and sense of place.

c. Densify in ways that constantly enhance and reinforce a city of walkable neighbourhoods, improve biking and transit infrastructure and movement meaningfully and consistently over time, and reduce and de-emphasize automobile use and ownership.

d. Protect and ensure proper space for diverse jobs and economic activity close to home for a balanced, resilient city with minimal commuting as the city grows, including protection of key commercial and industrial districts for economic activity rather than housing.

IV. MORE HOUSING AFFORDABILITY, TYPES, AND CHOICES

a. Use density, design and land use strategically to support and facilitate greater housing affordability and diversity, in partnership with all government levels, through:

an increased and consistent supply to help moderate housing prices;

the significant achievement of more affordable housing choices (sizes, types, finishes, locations and tenures), throughout the City and in every neighbourhood, including more affordable options for households with children, seniors, empty-nesters, singles, students and work-force;

the facilitation of purpose-built rental housing construction;

the facilitation of housing choices outside of the regular market system (such as co-operative housing); and

the reduction of living costs related to energy and transportation.

b. Plan densification strategically – including when and where to densify – to recognize the value provided by existing affordable housing stock, including the strategic retention and enhancement of existing purpose-built rental options.

V. GREENER AND LIVABLE DESIGN WITH A "SENSE OF PLACE"

a. Design all density with architecture and public realm that marries meaningful and significant ecological performance, with lively, beautiful, responsible, people-oriented design, particularly as density levels increase.

b. Design new density to achieve both sustainable, timeless design, and respect for authentic neighbourhood values, context, character and identity, at all scales.

c. Combine heritage conservation, and the sustainability inherent in retention/reuse of existing structures and materials, with more dense, efficient, sustainable design and technology.

d. Design sites and buildings wherever possible, to replicate natural systems and functions (e.g., evaporation and infiltration of water) while minimizing waste.

e. Incorporate extensive natural and designed green features in creative ways, on sites and on/within buildings, to maintain connections with nature and mitigate urban heat/greenhouse gases.

f. Apply ecological "best practices" for public realm and infrastructure design to achieve sustainable, beautiful, safe, accessible, adaptable, and engaging streets, parks, and public places. Designs should embrace natural processes, use environmentally responsible materials, and consider opportunities for food and energy production.

VI. GREENER AND LIVABLE SUPPORT SYSTEMS

a. Ensure that parks, open space and public places, and other amenities, services, and infrastructure needed to support Vancouver's neighbourhoods as they grow, are provided in a timely way relative to the population levels they serve.

b. Advance and achieve sustainable district energy systems, at all scales, and particularly at mid and higher densities that make such systems more feasible.

VII. NEIGHBOURHOOD VOICE, NEIGHBOURHOOD RESPONSIBILITY

a. These commitments will be achieved with creative education, engagement and dialogue with all voices, while anticipating the needs of future or un-represented voices.

b. This requires a balance between the need for city-leadership, and respect for neighbourhood-level influence, capacity-building and ownership.

c. We will respect and foster the voice of neighbourhoods, and their special values, aspirations and approaches.

d. We will also challenge all neighbourhoods across the City to help meet the commitments of this Charter, and their shared responsibilities to their City and beyond, and to future generations. An Eco-City must be made up of many Eco-Neighbourhoods.

VIII. HOW WILL THE CITY USE THIS CHARTER AND MEET OUR COMMITMENTS?

a. We will consider this Charter in all aspects of our decision-making regarding the management of change in the City, and all decisions on city-building.

b. We will coordinate achievement of these Charter commitments with continued implementation of CityPlan, Community Visions and area policies, the Community Climate Change Action Plan, and other Council-approved policies and plans.

c. Where an existing policy, plan, standard or rule (hereafter referred to as "direction") specifically requires or prohibits a decision that may conflict with commitments of this Charter, the City will continue to be governed by the specific requirement or prohibition (e.g., height, density or land use), until the direction is consciously reconsidered by Council after appropriate process and consultation.

d. Where existing direction allows flexibility, discretion, interpretation or the weighing of choices, or where there is no governing or guiding direction, approaches that will support the achievement of these commitments will be emphasized.

e. New directions and approaches will be reflective of the commitments of this Charter and will seek to overcome barriers and obstacles to its implementation. Existing directions will be brought into alignment with these commitments over time.

f. We will bring to bear the appropriate resources, methods and timeframes for creative, responsible, thorough, transparent, engaging and educational planning and consultation to meet these commitments.

g. We will foster a creative civic environment for learning through well-considered risk and experimentation that might challenge traditional practices, in order to achieve these commitments. We will monitor, adapt to learning and make adjustments in a more timely, dynamic manner. We will study and learn from the best and most creative ideas from around the globe to achieve these commitments.

h. We will evaluate how considerations relate to the WHOLE of this Charter and its many balancing and tempering aspects, rather than focusing singly on individual passages to base support or opposition to an idea.

i. We will think beyond our city limits, to regional, national and global needs, and champion change in other communities, at other levels of government and with other decision-makers to make these commitments a reality. We will partner creatively, do that which we can and should, and urge others to do what they can and should as well.

Comments? Please share them below, or email ecodensity@vancouver.ca.

 

 

 

Brent Toderian is an international consultant on advanced urbanism with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, Vancouver’s former Director of City Planning, and the President of the Council for Canadian Urbanism. Follow him on Twitter @BrentToderian

Comments

Comments

Want real input? Use a wiki

Want real input? Get rid of the blog and make that text a Wiki!

Robert Goodspeed's picture
Blogger

a few thoughts

Although online speech can be "generally anonymous," it need not be, especially if the government is operating the forum. The e-Democracy.org folks both require a real name and also limit posts to two per day. You can obtain real names by requiring registration. New York City solicited a bunch of input online through their PlaNYC 2030 website, and the comments were moderated. While it has limitations, a number of cities have signed up for Limehouse Software's online consultation tools, which manage a consultation and document production process online.

In my mind, the key difference between online comments and the formal letters received by planning boards and commissions is that online comments are generally available to the other commenters. Although the 250 letters in your example are a matter of public record, they're probably not easily and immediately available like blog posts and comments are. I think this transparency is generally positive, because it helps restrain extreme voices who are happy to write a screed to a 7-member commission but not to their entire community, and it also reduces the incentive for multiple duplicative comments. Of course, there may be room for both type depending on the type and character of input desired.

As for wikis, while they can be very interesting way to communicate online, we should be aware of the hierarchy of technical skills. While roughly 92% use email, 91% look for information using a search engine, only 22% have posted a comment to a blog and only 13% write for one. The most popular wiki platforms (such as mediawiki) are still too difficult to use for the majority of people. I'm also not convinced they're the right tool for a policy discussion where differences in value and opinion should be clarified. (On Wikipedia a number of entries have "split" between viewpoints) For those types of discussion, a more conventional back-and-forth using real names helps forward the conversation. Wikis may be more appropriate for aggregating information, brainstorming, and other work with small groups of very technology literate people.

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Red necktie with map of Boston

Tie one on to celebrate your city

Choose from over 20 styles of neckties imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.
$44.95
Women's t-shirt with map of Los Angeles

City T-Shirts for the ladies!

Women's Supersoft CityFabric© Fashion Fit Tees. Now available in six different cities.
$24.00