Strengthening the Vancouver Plan’s 10 “Provisional Goals”… and some ideas for public space
Earlier this week, City Council discussed a report on the Vancouver Plan – an ongoing planning initiative that is intended to create a framework for city-wide growth and change.
After a year of engagement with the community, the process has now resulted in 10 “provisional” goals:
- Advance a City of Reconciliation through Decolonization
- Create an Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive City
- Become a Sustainable, Carbon Neutral City
- Be a Prepared, Safe and Resilient City
- Develop an Affordable City with Diverse and Secure Housing
- Support a Diverse and Healthy Economy
- Achieve Complete, Connected and Culturally Vibrant Neighbourhoods
- Re-Establish Thriving Urban Natural Systems
- Intentionally Manage our Growth and Align our Efforts Regionally
- Demonstrate Transparency in Decision-Making and Collaborate with Partners
These probably won’t come as much of a surprise. Indeed, the provisional goals are largely consistent with the various principles and values generated through other city-wide programs over the past decade or longer. That being said, it is an important shift to see reconciliation and equity foregrounded in this work. It will be important to see how these two goals – indeed, all the goals – translate into the next stages of work, which involve further engagement around actual policy creation, and the development of a map that shows where growth and change will take place.
We note that discussion of public space – parks, plazas, streets, libraries and community centres – appears to be woven throughout. Our take: while it’s good to see public space implied in the provisional list, it would be more helpful to see it actually embedded in the language of the goals. A strong network of city-serving and neighbourhood-scale public spaces and places is critical to the wellbeing of a growing and diversifying city. Naming this need is important.
Tellingly, while public space is ‘background’ in the goals, community engagement undertaken during the past year clearly demonstrates the central role that it plays with the community itself. Among the references in the report itself:
- Community members want to see the City “expand public spaces and make them safer and easier to get to for everyone, regardless of ability, so residents may gather, get healthy and connect with others, where possible. We heard everything from expanding outside areas like parks and plazas to keeping libraries and safe digital spaces open for youth. “(p11)
- Public space is seen as a forum for social connection, cultural expression, and wellbeing – “In terms of where “connection happens”, we saw themes about preserving and promoting walkability, community centres, libraries, safe and welcoming public spaces and vibrant, thoughtfully designed public spaces and neighbourhoods, as places of connection in Vancouver.” (p12)
- COVID 19 has clarified the significance of public space. “The pandemic has highlighted the need for more and safer public spaces with improved accessibility – places where people can spend time outside, meet and connect with friends, family and neighbours, as well as to support physical and mental health, address social isolation and promote well-being.”(p12)
- Quality public space should be part of every neighbourhood: ““Public spaces and places like plazas, streets, parklets are vital for communities to connect and express the heart and soul of Vancouver… [Creating ] complete neighbourhoods will provide …public spaces that support social cohesion, cultural vitality and community well-being for all” (p.21)
In light of these findings, we will continue to push hard to ensure that public space and public life has a prominent role in the policy creation process. There are a lot of potential opportunities to see our city-wide and neighbourhood networks strengthened. Among the many possibilities:
- Exploring ways in which public space can support goals around reconciliation, decolonization, anti-racism and historical redress – and, further, the means through which public space can meaningfully showcase the city’s rich diversity;
- Inviting residents to participate fully in the design, programming, placemaking, and stewardship of public spaces – with a particular focus on foregrounding the needs of Indigenous residents, racialized communities, women and girls, and other equity-seeking communities that have often been left out of these processes;
- Ensuring that all residents feel safe, comfortable, and welcome in our city’s public spaces;
- Creating a network of neighbourhood-scale squares, plazas and gathering areas – to support year-round programming, arts, culture and social initiatives, markets, and more;
- Improving to parks, beaches and greenspaces to support healthy recreation, cultural activities, enriched habitat and waterways, and other objectives;
- Bringing a comprehensive focus to the full waterfront – including the Fraser River, False Creek, industrial areas, our beaches, and more;
- Investigating opportunities to deliver smaller-scale community spaces within neighbourhoods – and seeking alternatives to the “big box” approach to community centres
- Delivering more all-season spaces – including rain-friendly spaces, as well as those that account for other types of inclement weather (including smoke, haze, extreme heat and cold);
- Focusing attention to our high streets and commercial areas – including improvements to sidewalks and pathways, and support for our many local businesses;
- Renewing and revitalizing the network of greenways, bikeways, and bus-priority routes that connect the city;
- Making the best of the 11% of roadway that City Council voted to reallocate to “people friendly public spaces” earlier this year.
This is just a short list of possibilities that come to mind – but each of them reflects a facet of the possibility inherent in a planning process that aims to be “transformative” in nature. Maybe some of these ideas resonate with you? Or perhaps you have your own list. Either way, we hope you’ll also encourage the City to make the best of the public space opportunity provided by the Vancouver Plan.
Photo and Image Credit: City of Vancouver.