Community Consultation: You're doing it wrong

On Sunday May 4th while the Vancouver Greens were endorsing their candidates (myself included) to run for City Council on November 15 of this year, ruling party Vision Vancouver were holding their AGM. As the Vancouver Courier's Mike Howell reports in a decidedly frank mea culpa, Mayor Gregor Robertson's speech acknowledged they had made mistakes with their proposed local area plan for Grandview Woodland.

[He pointed to the proposed community plan for Grandview-Woodland to have towers built at Commercial and Broadway and how that set off residents.]
“That was a mistake that was made that immediately got turned around,” he said, noting a so-called citizens’ assembly will now help plan the future look of the neighbourhood. "That's one example of where we learned from our mistake and we accept that we're not always right or perfect."

It's no secret Vision are struggling to recover from their proposed plan for the Drive that would have seen towers of up to 36 stories at Broadway and Commerical and fifteen stories at Venables. The significant ensuing backlash has seriously jeopardized Vision's approval ratings in their traditional stronghold of Grandview Woodland, and recent polling shows Vision support slipping.

Cynics and politics watchers alike ascribe different motivations to Vision politicians decision to send the Plan back to the drawing board until after the election, but what of this citizen's assembly being proposed?

Random Representatives to form Citizen's Assembly

Earlier this year the Vancouver Sun's Kelly Sinoski reported on Vision's proposed "grassroots" citizen's assembly, which is described as: "a random representative sample of Grandview-Woodland residents to determine what they want in terms of long-term growth and development."

In fairness, the City haven't yet determined exactly how this assembly might work, and the city’s assistant director of community planning, Matt Shillito [who has since and suddenly resigned from his position] said the city is looking at various assemblies and is consulting experts to determine an appropriate model for Grandview-Woodland. It is fairly reasonable to assume there won't be any movement on this citizen's assembly until after November's election though, because as we've seen in other examples of citizen's assemblies across the country the membership tends to be randomly selected using voter's lists which would inherently exclude some voices. As I opined on the City's Engaged City Task Force Report, however, there is a disturbing trend in the Vision Vancouver script that seeks to disempower community associations

"Community Reference Panels are noncompulsory, randomly selected public juries who participate in consultation processes to provide policy advice to the public and elected officials. The City should explore the use of Community Reference Panels in future decision making, which would empower a broader spectrum of local residents in decision-making processes."
Page 32, The Mayor's Engaged City Task Force Report

More on randomized Community Reference Panels versus models like Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement (Whose mandate is: "Enhancing the quality of Portland's neighborhoods through community participation") in a future post.