Vancouver – Transparency Urged

cityhallThe various open houses, community consultation periods and public hearing processes Vancouverites have come to rely on as the way residents can influence city hall affairs simply don’t work that well, according to former city planner Ray Spaxman.

The information that comes out always seems filtered in some way, either because there’s an agenda involved, perhaps a decision has already been made, those being consulted don’t fully understand the context behind the plans, or for confidentiality reasons.

Either way, the man who was at the helm of planning for the city for 15 years believes the current process is flawed.

“One of the things we have to do in order to communicate to communities is to provide the information in ‘Walt Disney’ form,” Spaxman said.

“You want to go to a place where … they’re devoted to telling you what they’ve discovered about the pros and cons – that you’d feel integrity to the place and you’d trust it.”

That place should be city hall. Unfortunately, a resident who wishes to learn about rezoning at city hall might be treated to a map “pockmarked with purple blobs” – and the explanation of the map, if any, would be filled with jargon only those familiar would understand.

“We need a centre of information for the city,” Spaxman said. “Its purpose is to bring as unbiased information as we can to the public … telling people how the city works, draw them in to discuss and debate on how the city works in a way we would trust.”

Such an initiative would need to be independent, with employees trained to communicate with the public without any agenda except for the desire to educate. This organization would require guaranteed long-term funding, Spaxman said, similar to how the public library has a separate board overseeing decisions.

Only then can voters see for themselves whether decisions made at city hall truly benefit them, rather than being sold ideas that “they think we need to know,” Spaxman added.

Michael Mui
from Vancouver – Transparency Urged
24 Hours Vancouver, 2014.11.10
Photo by Carmine Marinelli