Vancouver, whose council has been accused of not listening to the public and whose residents say they are lonely and alienated, launched the first steps on Wednesday of a plan to make people who live there more connected. "Vancouver is a dynamic city undergoing a great deal of change," Mayor Gregor Robertson said. "The connection between city hall and citizens is tenuous at the best of times. I felt a real need to invest more in engagement." Some of the ideas from his Engaged City Task Force:
ONE-DAY BLOCK PARTY
THE PLAN: Vancouver will declare a city-wide neighbourhood block party day each year – date for 2013 still to be decided – so residents can block off the street to hold an outdoor get-together. The proposal specifies that it is not just for single-family neighbourhoods, where residents already frequently organize impromptu street parties, but also its many districts dominated by condo towers and small apartment buildings. The hoped-for results, according to the official plan? "To empower neighbourhoods."
REACTION: "We think it's a great initiative. When you bring people together, they get to know each others' names and you have a more engaged, involved and safer city." – Martin Livingston, vice-president of the Vancouver Foundation, which last year released the results of a survey showing that a significant number of Vancouverites feel alienated and lonely.
ADVANCE VOTER REGISTRATION ONLINE
THE PLAN: Turnout in civic elections is abysmal, with typically fewer than a third of registered voters bothering to show up. "People who register to vote in advance are much more likely to cast a vote than those who don't," says the city report on the task-force initiatives. The idea is to ensure that residents can register to vote any day of the year at any time before the election, using a form on the city website.
REACTION: "This might help. I'm not sure it's the best. I'm a fan of people going out and knocking on the door to enumerate. But anything that can improve turnout helps." – Max Cameron, director of the Centre for Democratic Institutions, University of B.C.
MORE INFORMATION ON DEVELOPMENT
THE PLAN: A requirement for developers to hold public open houses before submitting a design proposal to the city. Improved signs on lots where developments are proposed, with plans explained in plain language. More notice to the public about development decisions coming before council. "Vancouver has always had reactions to development," Mr. Robertson said. "There's no doubt the pressure has increased and it's shifted right into neighbourhoods."
REACTION: "They already tell us what they're going to do and that works fine. It's how they deal with the feedback that's more important. And there's nothing about that yet." – Mike Andruff, organizer of Dunbar Re-Vision, a community group formed in opposition to several projects in the west-side neighbourhood.
THE PLAN: Rather than force every person needing to buy a dog licence, pick up a recycling bag or pay their taxes to travel to city hall, the municipality will create a mobile kiosk that provides services in city buildings in every neighbourhood. The proposal says that areas poorly served by transit should get priority.
REACTION: "I've been wanting that for a long time. I'm delighted. A lot of people just don't know how to access city hall, and 311" – the simplified phone system introduced five years ago to make it easy for people to access city services – "didn't have the push I thought it would." – Eileen Mosca, long-time community volunteer in the Commercial Drive area.
THE PLAN: The city will set aside some money in its capital budgets and neighbourhood committees will propose ways to spend it. "Winning projects could be used for … park enhancements, new playground equipment, amenities for seniors, street upgrades or new green space."
REACTION: "People are always talking here about community gardens, but there's a limited amount of space. If there was a certain amount of money put aside for things like that, it would be a worthwhile conversation to have." – Brent Granby, long-time community volunteer in the city's West End.