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Vancouver's Greenest City Planner tells all

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The same thing has happened with all the community partnerships that we’ve built. We’ve got community organizations who come and say ‘yep, we’ve integrated helping the City of Vancouver become the Greenest City in the World by 2020 into our own non-profit strategic plan, and we’ve figured out really practical and tangible ways we can support and contribute to that.’

Evergreen, ClimateSmart and the Strathcona Business Improvement Association are some examples that come to mind. And there are so many stories like that, that are out there that are really inspiring and I think that’s what’s going to make this work – all of the leadership coming from all kinds of different places. Some of them are really surprising places throughout the organization and throughout the city.

Financial planning cornerstone of implementation

ND: What would you say the biggest thing you’ve learned about integrating a major vision like this into a large organization like the City of Vancouver? Are there a few top things?

LC: One is that you can’t do this kind of planning work without integrating it into the financial planning of the city. That sounds obvious, but it’s key. We have been working with the people in the financial services groups to make sure that what we are committing to is what we can deliver. So it’s not a bunch of empty promises. The result is that the plan is real and it’s tangible and filled with things we can do.

I think the other interesting thing has been trying to find the balance between keeping aspirational targets that will be quite challenging to meet, and holding that because that is where we need to go in order to create the cities of the future that are going to last, and thrive and survive and be healthy and resilient for people. And at the same time creating  plan that we can actually implement and those things don’t go together easily – it’s been quite challenging to find the balance between those. That will be the hard work of the next nine years – is to continue to hold that inspiration and not lose sight of that, while continuing to make those significant moves toward the targets.

Another thing that is interesting about what Vancouver is doing is that we’re creating targets. A lot of community plans like this don’t have clear benchmarks with targets and timelines and baseline levels of performance that they are measuring themselves against, and this has been really critical for us. We’re in the middle of a process to figure out how to regularly report out on progress so that we’re being accountable to what we set out to do.

I think the last thing that has been really transformational here has been the public engagement work. We’ve shown that it’s possible to do public engagement in new ways. We’ve used new methods that hadn’t been used at the City before. Councilor Reimer set up the first Facebook account for the City of Vancouver when GCAT was assembled.

We’ve been able to do all kinds of interesting public engagement work through this process and that’s now shaping how other public engagement processes at the City are being run because we’ve been able to share some of those stories and lessons learned with other departments running consultations on neighbourhood plans, housing and homelessness strategy, the transportation plan – they are all building off of what we’ve done which is really great to see too.

Made in Vancouver

ND: That was going to be my next question … How did the public engagement plan come together, and did you look for inspiration from other cities or was it a made in Vancouver approach?

LC: It came together with a lot of hard work [laughs]. We did look to other cities and the tactics that they used, but there was a lot of “made in Vancouver” that happened too. I think the things that really characterized what we did were going to where people are at, not just holding open houses and inviting people to come, but partnering with community organizations that have networks that we wanted to hear from and inviting them to co-design workshops where we could hear what they had to say. Really married the in person with the on-line space and tried to connect them quite closely so that we were building real community in real space and time and also making the content and discussion more accessible by having it on-line through on-line forums and using other social media.

I think the other thing that we paid a lot of attention to was making sure that we were having a two-way dialogue, that it wasn’t a one way “city hearing what people had to say” but we were being really clear what we were doing with that information and really valuing and honouring people’s time that they put in and being respectful and accountable to that. It didn’t mean that we accepted everything that people suggested, but it did mean that we explained to them why we didn’t accept something if it didn’t end up in the plan.

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