Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Public Engagement in Land-use Plans

Yesterday, I was having a conversation about Langley politics and the topic of density came up. We noted that, it seems, in the Township of Langley whenever any structure four storeys or higher is proposed, there seems to be controversy. However, in the City of Langley, buildings four storeys or higher are proposed and constructed with little controversy. Even the proposed 15-storey Charleston Place in Downtown Langley only had one email submitted during the public hearing, and the email was about how the writer didn’t like the architectural style of the building. Why is this the case?

During the conversation yesterday, we came to the conclusion that the level of engagement with the public when developing a land-use plan will determine the level of controversy when a project is proposed. Far too often, local governments implement great neighbourhood land-use plans with mixed-uses, higher-densities, accessible design, but fail to fully engage with citizens throughout the process. (Hosting an open house does not equal public engagement in my books.) When a higher-density projected is proposed, even based on a sustainable land-use plan, people tend to feel blindsided, become defensive, and oppose the project, even if there is no logical reason to do so. I think that Willoughby is a good example of how good urban design can get derailed because of poor public engagement.

A good example of public engagement in land-use planning is the Downtown Langley plan. The plan took two years to develop, starting in 2007, and the City of Langley engaged the public at every step in the process.

The City of Langley started the process by outlining some of the challenges facing the Downtown core, like aging infrastructure, lack of transportation options, a shrinking customer base, and businesses leaving. The City then hosted design workshops and stakeholder workgroups to develop solutions to the problem. Throughout the whole process the citizens of Langley where informed about progress of the plan and given opportunities to participate in the process. You can read more about the process and the plan on the City’s website.

The City still continues to engage the public today with information about the plan and how it is being implemented. So when a 15-storey building is proposed, no one feels blindsided, and more importantly, will understand that increasing density in Downtown Langley is good for the whole community.

While it might take longer to develop a land-use plan with full citizen engagement, I believe in the long run you will get a better plan that citizens support, and will actually save time when all is said and done.

1 comment:

Leslie Dyson said...

Well stated. No one likes surprises. And without good consultation, the council and staff deprive themselves of the often-valuable expertise and advice of the residents.