“Here we are. We made it.” Rachel Magnusson, Chair of the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, opened the 11th and final meeting with those words. “It’s such an accomplishment.”
Yet not without the prospect of extra work. When the Assembly members arrived, two area residents handed out flyers asked them to meet once more with the community, after the Assembly’s report is completed but before it goes to council.
While some were willing to consider it, most felt the Assembly’s work needed to draw to a close. For many Assembly members, there had been other meetings as well. Three public roundtables, seven sub-area workshops, 11 walking tours, working group meetings — and at least a semester’s worth of reading.
“I’d love to keep going, but it’s not feasible,” Magnusson said. “I can’t ask you all to come to another meeting.”
Magnusson encouraged people as individuals and groups to take their Assembly work forward in various ways. “This is not the final word,” Magnusson said. “This is your report.”
The Assembly’s report was shaping up to reflect both a remarkable degree of consensus, and some key disagreements. “What happens if we can’t come to a conclusion on Venables and Commercial,” said one member, referring to differences on the Kettle Friendship Society/Boffo Properties project.
“Reflect the division in your report,” said Magnusson. “If you came here and agreed on everything I would seriously wonder if you were robot aliens.”
“We need to talk a little bit about the boundaries between sub-areas,” said another member.”
“I’m so glad you asked,” said Magnusson. “Come on over and look at these maps.” And so a busy day began in earnest — of finalizing neighbourhood-wide recommendations, updating sub-area maps, completing preambles, and resolving as much as possible the outstanding sub-area disagreements. Other key issues included community concern about the Assembly’s proposal to allow six storeys on Broadway and require mixed-use along Nanaimo.
Population projections discussed
The Assembly was told that city staff projected that the changes proposed by the Assembly might increase population by 7,000 over 30 years, an average of 230 per year. (Land use proposed the Assembly at its last public roundtable was used for the calculations.) Planner Andrew Pask said the number is relatively low — that most mid-town neighbourhoods have seen increases of 10,000 or 11,000.
Assembly members discussed whether the numbers were precisely comparable, as other neighbourhoods had vacant land, and whether Grandview-Woodland has adequate amenities. What impact will the new hospital on the False Creek Flats have, wondered one.
“Nobody is going to be happy with everything we come up with,” said another.
“Welcome to the planning department,” said Andrew Pask. “I actually don’t know what the effect of St. Paul’s will be,” he added. “It’s early days.” And therein lies another challenge — predicting the future. When the last 30-year plan was completed, there were no rapid transit lines through Grandview-Woodland.
Members also talked about feeling squished, the risks of not allowing growth, and the limited community amenity contributions that will arise from the new density the Assembly has allowed. RM3 versus RM4 in Britannia-Woodland was discussed. One member talked about trying to emulate the benefits strategy model from the Marpole and Downtown Eastside community plans.
Then the group work began. The Hastings table refined preamble language regarding First Nations. Broadway and Commercial discussed height issues on Broadway. Britannia-Woodland went through community input from the last public meeting point by point. The Cedar Cove group went through every email on the area that was received by the Assembly. The Commercial Drive group, in the absence of agreement on Kettle/Boffo, discussed the process that might be employed to address the issue.
The reporting out featured mostly small changes: tightened language, grey water strategies. Broadway height fell. Nanaimo declared itself stuck on a housing issue.
Tentative Council date announced
After lunch, Magnusson announced a tentative date for submitting the report to Vancouver City Council: Wednesday, June 24, during the day. A schedule and procedure for reviewing report details electronically, with the final version completed in the last week of May, was outlined. The procedure for including a minority report was delineated.
Group discussion of some sticky neighbourhood-wide issue, such as spot rezoning and implementation, then followed. The cost of housing was abhorred. One member said we are at risk of becoming a city where there is a class of people who own a home and a class of people who come here to work for someone who owns a home.
Restricting foreign ownership was discussed, starting with the suggestion that the city should maintain some basic data and report annually on its impact. Methods to manage that impact were explored.
One member argued against a moratorium on spot rezoning of more than five years, saying a longer one “assumes that we can read the future.” She said the impact of Airbnb is an example of an unexpected event.
Another said it’s time to give Grandview-Woodland an aboriginal name. It was a big and potentially contentious idea that arose too late to get any real traction. But names are fluid, and Andrew Pask noted that the planning process has helped to resurrect the name Cedar Cove, once a key historic location near the north foot of Victoria Drive.
The groups worked to eliminate redundancies and conflicts, of which there were a few. When it came time to report out, one table suggested supporting the “decolonization” of the Britannia Community Services Centre by working with the community to give it an aboriginal name. The Housing table weighed in favour of relaxing parking requirements. Nanaimo helped break its jam by focusing on redevelopment at four key nodes.
Transition zones in several areas were discussed and decisions made. One group felt it was time to acknowledge through zoning the mixed use on three blocks of Venables west of the Drive.
Then the members were invited to divide and delegate any small remaining details. The work was done. Many could have gone on another day, or month, or year, and some will. However, the time had come for the Assembly to hand its work to the City of Vancouver and the community of Grandview-Woodland.
A circle is completed
Everyone then sat in a circle, joined by Musqueam elder Shane Point and Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, who had both been present on the first day. “You’ve demonstrated leadership at a very, very wonderful level,” Point said. “Your community.” He added that the work has broader implications. “It’s the stone that hits the water of the pool and radiates out.”
Point said he’d followed the Assembly’s work from afar. “You guys are way cool,” he said. “There are very few times where people have asked me to sit down with other bright lights and said ‘Change this.’ You got to do this. Not politicians. Not community planners. Not somebody in another part of the world who looks at a picture and says ‘Let’s do this.’ You did it.
“I want to honour your industry with a song,” he said, and he delivered one from his community, in his language. He thanked everyone again, as they held hands.
Then members read the report and sub-area preambles, and the same words the Assembly heard from each other the first day were still resonant: unique, affordable, diverse, accepting.
Andrea Reimer said Point had covered almost everything she wanted to say, and added that when she walked in to the meeting her first reactions was “This is a street in my neighbourhood.” Planning questions are not technical questions, she observed. “The choice to plan is the choice to figure out how we will own the future.”
Reimer expressed frustration with the pace of bureaucratic process — “The needs are so high and things move so slowly through the political system” — but she said the assembly has already built knowledge, capacity and trust.
Andrew Pask talked about the challenge of finding the right balance between different ways of looking at the future, and thanked the Assembly for its thoughtful work.
Then everyone had a few seconds to share a last word.
“Surround yourself with good people and be more optimistic,” said one, who admitted to doubting the process at the beginning. Another said they began the process motivated by anger and distrust, and now feel the Assembly’s work is powerful and can’t be ignored.
Yet another lauded the civility of the group. And another: “Good things happen if you allow the space for them to happen.” Yet another said they were humbled by the intelligence in the room. A facilitator said this: “The differences were about alternative views on how to make this community awesome.”
Another facilitator said everyone became a facilitator. “Boy did you guys rise to the occasion.” One member said, “I had to learn better ways to communicate, better ways to listen.”
Mark Warren, a UBC professor who specializes in democratic process and is a member of the Assembly’s advisory committee, said, “Voting is a really crude way of asking people what they want. Are there smarter ways to ask people what they want?”
The members thanked each other. “This has connected me to my community in a way that I didn’t know was going to happen.” “I have loved this process.” “Thank you for all of the blessings that you have shared. Hopefully, we have the patience to watch what we have planted grow into something incredible.”
Magnusson concluded by thanking members for their perseverance and trust, especially given the huge scope and many unknowns involved. “Being a part of this project has been awesome.”
Of course, there is still a lot of practical work to be done. No plan is ever truly finished. Yet for members of the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, the May afternoon sun was shining, and their project that felt like it had both a good ending and potential as a good beginning.