I want to share my thoughts on the day long consultation on the Delbrook lands that took place on Saturday June 18th. Before I do that, however, I would like to invite you to share your thoughts as well by commenting on this post. Overall, my reaction was negative. Perhaps you have a different point of view.
In short, I was startled by some of the introductory comments, went through the discussion and then was offended by the final questionnaire people were asked to complete on their way out the door.
In the introduction to the process one of the Centre for Dialogue presenters told the group someone had attempted to obtain the phone numbers of all 100 participants and call them to persuade them about our point of view.
At that point I asked for the microphone to correct the comment telling participants that in fact one member of the Delbrook Community Association had simply called four of her neighbours to talk about the process and to share her thoughts. One of them was offended and apparently complained.
The presenter acknowledged the correction and explained to me later his remarks were not intended to criticize but simply to demonstrate the level of commitment to discussion of the Delbrook property. However, earlier in a call from the Centre for Dialogue to the president of the Delbrook Community Association we were told the Centre was concerned about Council feeling the process was being compromised and asked for any calling to stop. We were instructed to stop speaking to our neighbours.
I am sure the Centre would not have wanted to present incorrect information to the group but for me it was not a good start to the day.
We then did a short walking tour and spent the rest of the day discussing the pros and cons of the six options presented for the Delbrook site: minimal change; parks and outdoor recreation; community services, recreation and culture; non-market housing; market housing and commercial use.
The ideas generated by the 12 tables were then summarized in two minute presentations to the mayor and five of the six council members.
All well and good. But sometimes the questions that don’t get asked are as important as the questions that do get asked and some of the questions in the Dialogue Document somehow never made it to the discussion. Page 38 of the Dialogue Guide listed four questions that participants should take into account. These were:
- What principles should guide decision making for the Delbrook Lands?
- What are the greatest needs of the community?
- How will different community members be impacted by participant recommendations to District Council on future use of the Delbrook Lands?
- Are there any circumstances where the sale and private ownership of the Delbrook Lands is desirable, or is continued public ownership preferred?
These were foundational questions the group never had a chance to discuss. Would it have made a difference to the discussion? Perhaps.
Something else that wasn’t focused on? Perhaps the groups should have discussed the fact that that the DNV’s 2013 Public Assembly Lands Strategy has as part of its guiding principles:
Public Assembly lands were created to serve the social needs of the community, and Council supports retention of publicly used lands and buildings (where appropriate) for long-term community purposes to the greatest extent possible.
It would have been nice to have a focused discussion on the importance of pubic assembly lands in the future.
For me the last straw was the exit survey. As people were packing up their papers they were asked to fill out a seven-page questionnaire. On page three participants were asked to place a check mark beside up to three of ten possible uses for the property. Nine of the ten choices included housing as one of the uses. When people are asked to provide up to three choices they usually provide three choices. And in this question putting down more than one X meant you supported using housing for the site. How many people, at the end of the day, with a seven-page questionnaire, thought about this when they were asked to provide three choices.
And then there is simply the makeup of the people chosen for input on this process. More than half came from outside the Delbrook area. I can’t wait for the day I see a giant sign on a nearby street asking for my participation in some District project miles away in another neighbourhood. Call me cynical but I think I will be waiting a long time.
Did it make a difference that slightly more than half of the people at the consultation lived outside of the Delbrook area of the DNV? Perhaps.
At the earlier January consultation 70% of the people at the assembly lived in the Delbrook area of the DNV. Roughly 1,100 ideas were put forward. Of these seven, less than one per cent talked about market housing. A relatively small group talked about non market housing. A much larger group talked about community programming facilities and structures.
In contrast, the June consultation saw a third of the 12 tables reporting call for market housing (although one woman got up to say that at her table only four of the seven participants had supported market housing. Speakers from eight of the 12 tables supported some sort of “non-market” housing, though the concept of non-market housing was never defined.
I suspect this change in reaction came from two things – the large group of people from outside of the area and the fact that in the weeks before the consultation the District conducted two surveys with leading questions encouraging a “housing” response.
This is not to argue the District does not need both market and affordable housing. But slapping up a few homes on the Delbrook lands is a solution that is even less than cosmetic. It sells off the District’s family silverware to give the impression of action while making little of no real change. It reduces the amount of land owned by the District for the use of its citizens and we will never be able to afford to buy this back.
So what should we expect? The Centre for Dialogue will make its report in September. I wish I could be more optimistic about that report. Then Council will make its decisions. I wish I could be more optimistic about that too. Councilors are legally required to keep an open mind about these issues, but we know some of them are committed to getting cash for the Delbrook lands.
Who in 30 years will remember a Council in 2016 got a few dollars for a property that could have served us for generations.
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