The Citizens’ Assembly set out values and principles shared by Grandview-Woodland residents, defined their vision for the future of the Vancouver neighbourhood and published a set of recommendations in the form of a 30-year development plan to guide city planners' future actions.
Problems and Purpose
The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly emerged after a public backlash, following the release of Emerging Directions. This document outlined the Vancouver City Council's plans for land usage in the Grandview-Woodland (GW) area (Lee 2013). Between 2012 and 2013 the city of Vancouver engaged in a consultation process with the Grandview-Woodland community to create this new plan for the neighbourhood. The purpose of the document was to create a renewed 30-year development plan that reflected the demands of a growing city. After the traditional consultation process residents felt they had been sufficiently involved and were expecting the new plan to reflect their ideas for their neighborhood. The actual plan diverged from the ideas of most of the residents in a few key areas. The most problematic divergence was on the issue of density and tower height. The plan proposed the development of 36 story and 24 story developments along Broadway near Commercial (Emerging Directions, City of Vancouver, 2013).
The character of the neighbourhood was at stake. In a neighbourhood characterized by low-rise developments, residents resented the proposal for mid to high-rise buildings. Residents felt as if they had been cut out of the planning process for the future of their own community and were now suspicious of any interaction with the city. The relationship between the city and the community had been changed for the worse; there was now an absence of trust (Fleming 2013). In response the city halted development plans and began preliminary work on creating a Citizens' Assembly. The problems facing the city could be summarized as a poor implementation of the ideas provided by consultation, poor communication from the city to neighbourhood residents, and consequently a loss of trust. With these problems in mind the Citizens' Assembly, in concert with the city, developed for itself a number of purposes. First, the Citizens’ Assembly would set out the values and principles shared by Grandview-Woodland residents. The general needs and concerns of residents would also be identified. Second, the assembly members would define their vision for the future of their neighbourhood. Finally, the assembly would publish a set of recommendations in the form of a 30 year development plan for Grandview-Woodland that would influence the direction that city planners would take in the future (FAQ,MASS LBP, 2014). The City hoped that in the end a Citizens’ Assembly would re-establish the lost trust between the City and Grandview-Woodland residents as well as help to create a new community plan that residents could support.
Background History and Context
Grandview is one of the 21 areas that make up the City of Vancouver. The Burrard Inlet, Broadway, Clark Drive and Nanaimo Street bound the area (Grandview Woodland Community Profile, City of Vancouver, 2014). Some 27,000 people reside there and of these residents only 83% speak English at home (Community Profile, City of Vancouver, 2014).
Grandview acquired its name from a sign “that was nailed up at the intersection of Commercial and 1st Avenue” in 1892. In 1904, the onset of a “local streetcar service by the BC electric railway”, as well as “the arrival of the water system” set the path for development in the area (History of Grandview-Woodland Neighborhood in Vancouver, City of Vancouver, 2012). Since World War One, it has been a significant commercial and cultural hub. The area relevant to the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly and the City’s 30 year development plan stretches three blocks south to East 12th Avenue and one block east to Kamloops (Community Profile, 2012).
The area is a major linkage point for transit and passenger vehicles. It has important road connections that run both north south and east west. The city’s major east-west roads, Broadway and Hasting, cut across Grandview-Woodland and other streets like Victoria Drive and Commercial provide a north-south connection towards the city proper and greater areas. The Broadway Skytrain Station helps to strengthen the connections to downtown Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Area. The strong linkages the area has have helped to shape its reputation for both, commercial, and cultural activity.
Commercial Drive or the Drive is the street that the area's reputation is based upon. Merchants cleverly gave it its name in 1912, believing that the name was well suited to attracting business.
While Culture and Commerce are celebrated pillars of the area, there are persistent challenges. As a historic neighbourhood it may not be surprising that only 9% of the buildings are from 1991 or younger (City of Vancouver, 2014). These buildings are not well positioned to respond to the dynamics of a growing city like Vancouver. The city’s population has grown by 36% since 1977(Census, Statistics Canada, 2011). This is one of the reasons why the city had proposed densification projects along the major streets.
The population density of the area is larger than the average for the city. This makes Grandview-Woodland one of the most densely populated areas in the city with 61 people per hectare, while the average for Vancouver is 54 people per hectare. This is peculiar because only 4.5% of dwellings in Grandview-Woodland are 5 stories or higher (Census, Statistics Canada, 2011). It shows that land usage in the area could be more efficient.
Unemployment and crime go hand in hand. With an unemployment rate of 7.8% the neighborhood trumps the city that has an average of 6%. High-levels of unemployment can be dangerous. It can have disruptive knock-on effects that serve to undermine the well being of a community. The crimes rates in Grandview-Woodland are greater than the citywide number. The area experiences 74 crimes per 1,000 residents, with the majority of crimes being thefts. While this neighborhood has a lot to celebrate it also has many challenges to tackle.
The development plan for the Grandview-Woodland was outdated. The original 30-year development plan was agreed on before the turn of the millennia. “In April 2012, the City of Vancouver began the process of creating a new community plan for Grandview-Woodland.” The process was based on public consultation. The city “organized conversations, workshops, open houses, questionnaires and social media activities to generate community input.” After a year and a half approximately 7,500 citizens had participated and contributed (City of Vancouver, Grandview-Woodland Area Profile). The publication that galvanized the public's contributions was Emerging Directions.
Emerging Directions was released in June 2013 just one year before the City’s municipal election in which Mayor Gregor Robertson was running for re-election. Grandview-Woodland is a strong hold for Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver. Robertson successfully defeated Kirk Lapointe in the 2014 Municipal election with 83,529 votes to 73,443 votes. Thus, he secured his third term in office and the continued representation of Vision Vancouver on the City Council.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The City of Vancouver was the originating entity and sole source of funds for the Grandview-Woodland Citizens' Assembly (Terms of Reference, City of Vancouver 2014). However, the events that lead to its formation demanded a neutral party. Hence, a third party organization, Mass LBP was contracted to run the assembly. The city provided $275,000 (CAD) in funding. Mass LBP received $150,000 (CAD) to manage the entire process of the Citizens' Assembly. The remaining $125,000 (CAD) was used for sub-area workshops that were run by the city (Grandview-woodland.ca/faq, MASS LBP 2014).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
There were two ways to participate in the process. On one hand residents in the neighbourhood could apply to be part of the assembly itself, the assembly met 12 times, one saturday each month for a full day of work. On the other hand anybody could attend one of the many public meeting that lasted around 2-3 hours and were designed to create a dialogue between the public and the members of the closed assembly. The assembly was open only to its members, apart during a window each Saturday for Q&A with the public.
In order to participate in the closed Citizens’ Assembly the participant had to be aged 16 or over and had to be either a resident of, or own a business or property within the Grandview-Woodland area. Although all residents, business owners, and property owners were allowed to register as volunteers only one volunteer per household or business address was eligible for membership on the Citizens’ Assembly. Canadian citizenship was not required for eligibility (Terms of Reference, City of Vancouver 2014).
The selection process began with letters being mailed to 19,000 area residents, property owners, and business owners in late June 2014. In concert, hundreds of invitations were handed out at street corners, community centers, and other key locations in Grandview-Woodland (Final Report, GW Citizens’ Assembly, 2015). Subsequently, the pool of candidates was narrowed to only volunteers who responded to the invitation.
The 48 members of the Citizens’ Assembly were selected through a blind draw from the pool of five hundred volunteers. The blind selection process ensured an equal number of men and women as well as representative members from each age cohort. It also assured representative numbers of members from the six neighbourhood zones and representative numbers of members who rent their home, own their home, or reside in a co-op. Volunteers were asked to indicate if they identified as Aboriginal to make certain that First Nation residents were represented. In addition, two seats were reserved for business owners in Grandview-Woodland and one seat was reserved for a property owner who did not reside in the neighbourhood area (Terms of Reference, City of Vancouver, 2014).
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative used a Citizens Assembly methodology which typically involves three stages: learning, consultation, and deliberation. Organizers and facilitators may use various tools of engagement or deliberation to achieve each stage's purpose. During the Grandview-Woodland Citizens Assembly, tools used included: expert testimony, stakeholder meetings, question and answer periods, small group deliberation (such as thematic dialogue tables or future workshops) and plenary discussion. The final list of recommendations were compiled through a process of peer-critique to achieve relative consensus on each point.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Eight facilitators guided the deliberation process. They received a modest 2-day training that prepared them to face the responsibilities extended to them by the Citizens’ Assembly. The training was used to emphasize the neutral role that the assembly and its staff were assuming. The facilitators were selected from a pool of Political Science graduate students based in Vancouver.
The process included 3 phases: the learning phase, the consultation phase, and the deliberation phase. In the learning phase, several dozen experts and relevant stakeholders made presentations that were intended to be informative, factual, and neutral (Final Report, GW Citizens’ Assembly, 2015). As a result, all members of the assembly were provided with an equal foundation of information to help them make informed, effective decisions, and understand the effects and trade-offs associated with each option. Moreover, some participants aside from the information they received from the assembly, conducted separate individual research and contributed this new knowledge to the group conversations and in doing so raised the general level of knowledge of all the members (Grandview-woodland.ca/stages-of-the-assembly, MASS LBP, 2014).
In the consultation phase, assembly members engaged the public, and sought input and feedback so as to gather information that would helped their decision making process. The format of the consultations ranged from small meetings to coordinating a large public event with guided round-table discussions, facilitated by assembly members. The consultations allowed the assembly members to evaluate their selected values, concerns, and emerging recommendations/priorities in order to see if they coincided with those of the larger public (Grandview-woodland.ca/stages-of-the-assembly, MASS LBP, 2014). These large consultations were open to all and organized in different part of the neighborhood to allow the widest public participation.
Finally, in the deliberation phase the members set out to make their final decisions. The deliberation included several rounds of discussion and was done both in small groups and as a collective whole (Grandview-woodland.ca/stages-of-the-assembly, MASS LBP, 2014). A facilitator led each small group deliberation and ensured that the opinions of all participants were heard and considered. During the deliberation process every member of the assembly had a chance to express their own views, critique, and analyze the views of others so that any consensus that was reached at the end of each small group discussion meeting was value-laden. During the collective assembly meeting only one representative per group spoke so as to efficiently present the group’s views.
As a result of the Citizens’ Assembly’s work, the members came up with a recommendations plan for future community development as well as a list of values intended to guide it which was released to the public and the City (Final Report,GW Citizens’ Assembly, 2015).
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The process lasted one year, to the day. Although the process started on June 23rd, 2014 it was not until September 20th that the first Meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly was held. The final meeting was May 9th, 2015 and on June 24th, 2015 the Final Report was presented to the City Council. Some, 270 recommendations were included in the Final Report and City Council unanimously accepted the recommendations produced by Assembly members.
The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly had both intended and unintended outcomes. The intended outcomes are in line with the assembly’s mandate. After some 32 different meetings a general consensus formed and a set of recommendations for a 30-year development plan were produced.
While the Final Report represents an intended and tangible outcome, the assembly also had effects on trust and community building. The development of trust was both intended and unintended. When we consider the trust that was built between the community and the city then this can be identified as intentional. Particularly because the mandate states that, “these recommendations will help to resolve disagreements concerning the City’s June 2013 Emerging Directions draft proposal.” On the other hand, there was a unique trust built between the members of the assembly and the community that was unintentional.
The assembly facilitated trust because its members were also residents of the community. When the assembly members released a set of proposals for development they received opposition from the community. Approximately 80 letters were received in response; urging the members to reconsider the high-rise developments. This interaction had an interesting effect. The Terms of Reference state “for recommendations to be incorporated into the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan they must be broadly consistent with the City of Vancouver’s planning principles as well as sound professional planning practices” (T.O.R, City of Vancouver, 2014). The members of the Assembly were faced with a dilemma. Do they listen to their neighbours and divert from the planning principles or do they follow the Terms of Reference? They chose to listen to their neighbours. This is significant because it shows that the members questioned their power to influence. They recognized their privilege of having been selected as representatives. All in all this built trust between neighbours because privileges and influences were curtailed to support the interests of the community.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The Citizens’ Assembly (CA) focused its work on areas of disagreement between members of the Grandview-Woodland community and the Vancouver municipality in reference to the municipal plan for the community’s future development. The original Emerging Directions document which had catalyzed the entire process through its failure, also proved useful for the Citizens’ Assembly. It provided a solid foundation from which assembly members could create their new plan. Facilitators have acknowledged that having an original document helped to focus deliberation on what problems were most important while also allowing citizens to build on the more acceptable parts. While the document provided a useful framework for the Citizens’ Assembly, its release had also compromised trust between city and neighborhood. This was the raison d’être for the Citizens’ Assembly and trust would be a major theme throughout the entire process. As facilitators have stated much of the deliberation process was spent proving that the assembly was a meaningful avenue for opinion deliberation and expression.
As discussed above, the community had resoundingly rejected the typical top down planning of the city, embodied by the unilateral changing of the Emerging Directions document. The citizens' assembly was both a break from politics as usual and also an extension and strengthening of community consultation processes that had existed before. The fact that the City was using a relatively new democratic innovation, in a uniquely complex area like urban planning, could have indicated to residents their earnest desire to fix their mistakes. For some it likely did, however for others it was not enough and the assembly received a significant amount of early opposition. Perhaps the most vocal opposition came from the group Our Community Our Plan (OCOP), which actually held a contest for the most creative way to destroy or dispose of assembly invitations. These community members were entirely cynical towards the community planning process with the city government and were “suspicious of the entire process” as merely a way for the city to legitimize its plans, which they believed had been “heavily influenced by the interests of big developers”, without actually listening to the community (OCOP 2014). Many of the early meetings of the assembly were then concerned with building trust as the assembly was forced to prove its sincerity to the community. This came to a head in the 5th meeting of the assembly in which members demanded certain documents and maps from the city that they felt were vital, the city acquiesced and provided the documents. This was particularly important for the assembly as it showed the City was willing to commit to transparency as well as listening to citizens, and so beginning to create trust where it had been lost. Around this time the blog and social media presence of OCOP the group most critical of the process stopped posting, possibly indicating that they had been somewhat persuaded of the sincerity of the Citizens’ Assembly itself (OCOP 2014). One could possibly draw a circumstantial relationship between the end of online criticism from a vocal opposition group and the turning point in the relationship between the City and the assembly described above. Anecdotally it is noted that a few assembly members were actually part of OCOP and one in particular championed their cause. OCOP even gave a presentation to the assembly, which it likely would not have done if it maintained its earlier belief that the assembly was useless. The assembly was effective at reaching a consensus on and identifying what the community needed from the City in order to start re-establishing trust. The process was even able to convince the most cynical of its opponents to participate, whether they wholeheartedly believed in the assembly or not. This sort of effective consensus building and dialogue is one of the most beneficial parts of the assembly process. In this way we see that this citizens' assembly was able to first, identify a solution to the issue of trust between the city government and the community and then second, incorporate important voices in the community that had previously rejected the entire process. The trust building described above was one of the most interesting parts of the Grandview-Woodland assembly and it shows the effectiveness of the citizen assembly model in general.
Another interesting part of the Citizens' Assembly process is the fact that after being selected as members to the assembly many of the volunteers were worried that they had no real right to make decisions for their fellow residents. Only after a detailed explanation of the random selection process and the representative nature of their group did they accept the role that they were assigned to. They were then more confident in their deliberation as they understood both the reasoning behind their position as assembly members and the importance of the decisions that they would make.
While the assembly successfully produced a comprehensive plan and managed to build up trust in many ways no democratic process can please every citizen. Suspicion towards the city continues from some vocal citizens and likely will not end until it is determined how much influence the final document has on City planners. If the plan is ignored then much of the trust rebuilt by the Citizens’ Assembly will likely be lost. Due to the non-binding nature of any recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly this is a distinct possibility. This then is one of the largest flaws in this process. The Citizens’ Assembly cannot be sure that all or even any of its plans will actually be accepted by the city. There is no way for members to ensure implementation on anything they decided during the process. The possibility that the City could render the whole process pointless weakens the democratic value of the Citizens’ Assembly.
Besides the major critique mentioned above there have been a few other criticisms leveled at the process and methodology of the Citizens’ Assembly itself. These critiques essentially encompass what did not work with the assembly. One of the main concerns raised was the English only nature of the assembly. Despite the fact that a significant minority of the Grandview-Woodland population speaks Cantonese and Tagalog the assembly did not provide translations (Terms of Reference 2014). It was argued that this marginalized important minorities from the assembly process making it less representative than it could have been. This is a particularly powerful critique as much of the value of the Citizens’ Assembly process rests in its representative nature.
Another critique put forward about the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly is on the randomization process used for the civic lottery. This requires sampling for a set of characteristics that can be randomized. What is troublesome is that one must survey the population to determine how they identify with these characteristics. This issue arises when you are dealing with characteristics like ethnicity, race, or sexuality. People are generally less willing to answer survey questions about intimate aspects of their identity. The implication for this is that the survey design has to take this into account. By doing so they limit the quality of their sample. It is a difficult dilemma to reconcile. This is a societal issue and is not an issue of the methodology. Rather this criticism shows how the environment can influence the quality of a sample and therefore the quality of the Citizens’ Assembly as a whole.
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A history of Grandview-Wooland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZBh2bGEHqo
Grandview-Woodland Citizens' Assembly Main Website: http://www.grandview-woodland.ca/
Grandview-Woodland Community Plan Homepage: http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/grandview-woodland-communi...
Our Community Our Plan Blog: https://ourcommunityourplan.wordpress.com/
Emerging Directions PDF: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/gw-emerging-directions-booklet.pdf
Case Study originally developed as a requirement for POLI 420A University of British Columbia, June 2015. Original authors: Rekayi Mohamed-Katerere, Augustin Zapuhlih, Jordan Barrett.
Lead Image: Grandview-Woodland Citizens' Assembly https://goo.gl/1Uk2mT