Jak King: In place of engagement in Grandview-Woodland
As any of you who have followed this blog for a while, or the Our Community, Our Plan! blog, or some of the local media, will know, the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process has essentially been on hold for almost nine months. For the last five months or so, we the community have been active in trying to keep the planners’ attention on moving the process forward; and each time we seem to be rebuffed, delayed, or given another excuse why things cannot move ahead faster or at all.
Documentary films have already been made about failure of process in Grandview-Woodland, and the failure to engage with certain important groups. This disengagement, this inattention to the community needs of the plan, led directly to the formation of Our Community, Our Plan! (formerly the Ad-Hoc Committee) and the challenge it now poses of a community-led parallel process leading to the developlment of a community-led community plan separate and apart from whatever plan the planners push forward.
The latest salvo began this week when, after weeks of silence, planners scheduled a private briefing on Monday for councillors on the Grandview-Woodland situation. It was a private briefing and no word was released about what was said. The meeting of the Our Community, Our Plan! group had previously been scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Just before that meeting started, local planner Andrew Pask issued a mass email stating:
“We’re delighted to share that there is a strong community support for holding a Citizen’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Plan, and the City is working hard to make this happen …. our planning team is meeting with smaller focus groups to supplement the community-wide consultation we did earlier this year. These meetings have involved groups that were not well represented in the January and February consultation ….This additional outreach is important, as it ensures that we are able to design an Assembly process that is balanced, representative and inclusive.”
Pask’s email goes on to describe a schedule of events through May, June, July, and August during which an assembly is “recruited”, trained, and prepared for what appears to be a very busy September. The “job” of the assembly at that point is very clearly defined:
“Once the Assembly is launched, it will proceed through three key phases: Learning, Consultation, and Deliberation.
- Learning: Assembly members will build their knowledge of community planning issues through presentations from a variety of speakers, a review of existing planning documents, and various learning exercises.
- Consultation: Assembly members will engage the broader Grandview-Woodland community on key issues, and ask for feedback to help with their decision-making.
- Deliberation: Assembly members will work together to make recommendations and prepare a final report.”
Which is odd to me. Surely the job of the assembly and how it proceeds will be determined precisely by the terms of reference for the assembly, and that is key to the entire transparency and integrity of the assembly. The definition of the job of the assembly and the way it proceeds needs to flow from the terms of reference, not to precede those yerms, which is what we seem to have here.
What is also odd is that this exact description of what the assembly will do and how it will do it was disseminated by planners last year. In other words, none of our meetings and media coverage and letters and arguments for six months have changed their minds by a single comma. Staunchly defending an impeccable plan, or blinkered to other realities?
Perhaps the planners have already decided what the terms will be. If that is the case, then, what is the point of continuing a travesty of engagement? Trust me, the people can live without the cabaret this charade produces. Why not just come out and say, this is the way it is going to be. We can all save time. No doubt the taxpayers can save some money. And we are all saved the mountains of BS that will go into the debate otherwise.
As for the continuing meetings with “focus groups”, Our Community, Our Plan! was obliged to note that planners had not scheduled a single meeting with the community group. Three reps from the group did meet planners at City Hall for one meeting, but that was way back in December, and we have been asking for a meeting for the entire group since then without success.
All joking aside, many of us are concerned that terms of reference which restrict or restrain the assembly, its size, and the scope of its mandate, and which reduce its independence from planning will produce a product that cannot and will not fairly represent the views of the residents of our neighbourhood. However, we are confident that a meeting in the very near future between Our Community, Our Plan! and the planners could go a long way to resolving most of the hard issues and allow our neighbourhood to move on from this nervous hiatus.