Monday, February 26, 2018

Pop-Up Planning: Abbotsford’s leadership in public engagement

Several years ago, the City of Abbotsford decided to update their Official Community Plan (OCP). An OCP is the main policy document that drives how communities grow and develop in our province. There were two things that stood out to me about Abbotsford’s OCP called Abbotsforward.

The first thing was that the OCP was bound to population growth, not time. The second was the degree of public engagement throughout the process of developing the OCP. I wrote about Abbotsforward in more detail back in 2015.

Building off Abbotsforward, the City of Abbotsford is applying the same process to update their neighbourhood plans.

Before a long-term plan goes to council for approval in Abbotsford, it goes through a comprehensive process of creation and community engagement:

  1. Background Research: Review existing conditions, plans and strategies, and provided early community engagement activities.
  2. Explore New Concepts: Extensive community engagement, including online surveys, road show events, citizen circles, and neighbourhood walks on new concepts and ideas.
  3. Create the Plan: Based on information gather in steps 1 and 2, propose several options for the community. Engage with the community once again to determine their preferences. The results from the research and engagement guide the creation of a draft plan. Draft plan presented to Council.
  4. Complete the Plan: Receive final feedback from residents, council, and other stakeholders to finalize a plan. The plan then goes through the legally required public hearing process, and is ultimately adopted.

The City of Abbotsford is currently developing a new City Centre plan. They are currently in Step 3 of their process.

Sevenoaks Mall Entrance. Select image to enlarge.

Engagement with the community means meeting people where they are at. In Abbotsford, this means setting up a pop-up shop at Sevenoaks Mall. On Saturday, I decided to take a trip out to Abbotsford to see how this was working out.

City Centre Neighbourhood Plan Pop-Up Shop. Select image to enlarge.

Inside pop-up shop. Select image to enlarge.

Patrick Oystryk, a planner with the City of Abbotsford, is leading the engagement process for developing his community's new City Centre plan. He was at the pop-up shop on Saturday chatting with residents. Talking with Patrick, he noted that they have received over 700 completed survey from people who have dropped into the pop-up shop.

People inside the pop-up shop. Select image to enlarge.

I spent some time listening-in on the conversations that folks were having with each other about the City Centre plan. Given the amount of engagement involved with the plan up to this point, it was no surprise that people appeared to be supportive of the ideas presented.

A concept plan for South Fraser Way. Select image to enlarge.

Local governments traditionally hold open houses, usually at a City Hall, to get people’s feedback on a topic. Unfortunately, this often results in only hearing from people who have the strongest opinion on the given topic.

When it comes to meaningful public engagement, Abbotsford is certainly a leader.

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