Community Led Consultations
Often, communities look to municipal governments or developers to lead consultations. Frequently, neighbours are disappointed by the results. Such ‘official consultations’ are often held too late in the process or are based on a limited number of preset options. Other times, whatever community input is collected never seems to see the light of day. The result is often less of a consultation and more of a confrontation with the supporters and opponents of what ever issues squaring off against one another, rather than working towards an agreeable solution.
One community member in Vancouver is aiming to change this. Jo-Anne Pringle is a Vancouver native, with experience working in real estate development. She has been living in Marpole for several years when she learned of several proposed developments at the intersection of SW Marine Drive and Cambie St. that were spurred by the Canada Line SkyTrain expansion. Instead of simply opposing the developments outright, Jo-Anne decided to get involved in her neighbourhood and create a new type of dialogue between her community, the city, and the developers.
Jo-Anne isn’t your typical community activist, however. In fact, she eschews the word activist, preferring ‘engaged community member.’ She believes that not only is she a part of her Marpole community, but that the community is a part of her.
Like Jo-Anne, the Marpole Area Residents Alliance (MARA) isn’t your typical neighbourhood association. MARA was founded in June 2010 in reaction to the developments proposed at the intersection of SW Marine Drive and Cambie St. that were spurred by the construction of most recent addition to the Marpole’s infrastructural family, the Canada Line SkyTrain line. As she recalls, Jo-Anne met two other concerned residents at an open house for a rezoning application and recognizing that Marpole residents needed a voice in the process, they formed MARA on the spot.
Unlike many neighbourhood associations who take an ‘us vs. them’ attitude towards development, MARA is supportive of development and density in the community. Where other neighbourhoods would see storm clouds when developers arrive in their area, the alliance sees a silver lining. They recognize that the city is changing. So, rather than looking at the coming developments as another tear in their community fabric, MARA looks at them as way to mend the planning mistakes of the past and begin revitalizing their community. But to realize this silver lining requires a community approach.
Above all others neighbourhoods, Marpole residents perhaps have the most reason to worry about development in their community; especially those related to transportation infrastructure. The last time a major transportation infrastructure investment came to Marpole—the opening of the Oak Street Bridge in 1957—the neighbourhood was cut in half and the business districts in the community were devastated.
While the Canada Line is a very different type of infrastructure, its impact on traffic and retail patterns will be just as dramatic. The change is especially worrisome in Marpole because it comes without a current plan. While community plans in other neighbourhoods have helped guide recent developments, proposals in Marpole remain piece-meal and fragmented. The existing community plan was last updated in 1979, making it the oldest in the city—and older than many of its residents! Even without the developments predicted for the neighbourhood, the plan is in desperate need of an update.
MARA recognizes that there will only be one chance to get the developments at Marine and Cambie right. The final outcome will impact generations to come—just as the Oak Street Bridge continues to shape the community over 50 years after it’s completion. So when the city wouldn’t host a focus group on the proposed developments, MARA did something extremely unusual – it stepped up and mounted a community consultation on their own.
This consultation included a focus group held on April 4, 2011 to explore options and alternatives. Participants included community members, three former city planners and a local architect and ultimately resulted in a brochure outlining viable alternatives to the proposed development. There are a number of noteworthy aspects pertaining to alternatives proposed. However, the most significant and unprecedented is that densification was an integral part of the alternatives. This contributed to making the proposals viable and convincing. So much so that there were murmurs of support within the City’s planning department touting its superiority over the proposal put forth by the developer.
To ensure being as inclusive as possible, MARA also developed a detailed community survey that was sent to 1,150 residents in both English and Chinese. To help explain their alternatives and the survey, a community open house was held in early May.
Jo-Anne admits that they won’t win every battle. But by being invited to the table, MARA will be able to influence and press for improvements, not only during the current rezoning process, but in later stages of the development. She also hopes to build a strong foundation for community involvement in future development proposals.
You can read the full article on the Spacing Vancouver website.