How can Burnaby reach all corners of the city in its OCP engagement?
The city wants to start preliminary OCP engagement this month
How can the city ensure its official community plan engagement (OCP) reaches all intended audiences?
The question generated some discussion during a planning and development committee meeting last week, in which community planning director Carl Isaak laid out the plan for the OCP development process.
Residents can expect to start seeing talk from the city about an overhaul to the OCP in the coming weeks, with a final product potentially coming in late 2024.
Isaak laid out a four-phase plan for the OCP process, starting with “surfacing” in summer 2022.
By spring 2023, “visioning” is expected to start, followed by drafting in fall 2023, and confirming in fall 2024.
Isaak said last week that a dedicated website is expected to launch in the coming days, and the city is planning pop-up booths at community events.
That would start at Hats Off Day in the Heights neighbourhood on June 18, with other events to follow.
An OCP for all
And the efficacy of communication—and how engaging the engagement process is—will be key, councillors said.
Coun Alison Gu asked how the city can try to ensure marginalized communities, including immigrants and low-income households, are engaged in the process.
General manager of planning Ed Kozak said the city has considered a number of strategies for achieving this, and will continue to look for ways to improve engagement from communities whose voices often go unheard.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we think childcare is one of them. In many cases, you’ve got a single parent with a child that doesn’t have the supports to look after the child while they participate,” Kozak said.
He added that the city can look at offering food at events, as well as engaging language services and looking at less traditional venues.
“I’m sure there’s a myriad of other things we haven’t fully thought out,” Kozak said.
Isaak added that, with immigrant families, the children who attend public schools may be a route for engaging the family.
Lee-Ann Garnett, deputy general manager of planning, added that the city is engaged with SFU’s centre for dialogue to look at more ways to engage communities about various projects. And she said that could include using a citizen assembly—a group of residents who represent the population to look at draft materials and offer their comments.
Reaching immigrant communities
Coun Pietro Calendino, chair of the committee, speaking from his experience in an immigrant community, noted that those communities are often just striving to make a living. And that can mean some of them aren’t particularly interested in participating in something as obscure as an official community plan.
“It is incumbent on us to make changes and ensure there is information getting to these populations, and one of the ways to do that is to access their community organizations, or the central organizations like Burnaby Neighbourhood House, some of the churches that people go to,” he said.
“Sometimes people don’t even know that it was their neighbours who brought forward something that the city is doing, so they're upset about it, saying there was no consultation.”
Photo: Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon
He added that the city could reach out to cultural organizations, even if they aren’t based in Burnaby.
Another cohort that often goes unheard in these conversations are young people, Kozak noted, and the city wants to find ways to make the process fun and engaging for that demographic.
Calendino also pointed to the importance of how the plan is communicated, contrasting the need to accommodate growing populations with the input received in public hearings for individual rezonings.
“We need to start educating the public, and with the OCP, that has to be an essential component of that, that growth will require, obviously, changes all over the city in terms of density,” Calendino said.
And he noted the opinions of the broader community, which can benefit from more housing opportunities with greater density, also needs to be taken into consideration.
Coun Alison Gu agreed, saying there are benefits to a growing city.
“What many folks have seen thus far is a lot of highrises, and they haven’t seen, yet, the community centres that are in the process, the activation of green spaces and public spaces,” Gu said.
“They may not have experienced the community feel and neighbourhood feel that multi-family housing can bring about.”
She spoke specifically about the Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, where there is density, along with corner stores and parks that help to build a community feel.
“I think it’s really important to try to communicate that the change may be necessary, but there’s many, many co-benefits that people haven’t seen yet,” Gu said.
She added that the city should seek to ensure those community benefits come as part of developments, as opposed to exposing people first to the construction and the increased population without seeing those benefits until later on.
Show how engagement shaped OCP
Gu further noted that the city should look at ways to demonstrate to people how the community’s input was incorporated into the process.
“Sometimes people don’t even know that it was their neighbours who brought forward something that the city is doing, so they’re upset about it, saying there was no consultation,” Gu said.
“Wherever possible, I hope that we can try to point those out and to show people that the engagement process is meaningful and that we are genuinely integrating their ideas.”
The OCP was last updated in the late 1990s, though individual community plans—including most notably the Metrotown downtown plan—have been updated more recently.
This latest overhaul was first officially introduced to the planning and development committee in February this year.
According to Isaak’s presentation last week, the process hopes to incorporate a wide range of people, including local First Nations, and the city is aiming for a climate-focused approach that looks holistically at the urban system.
Isaak estimated the city will need a total of 11 staff working full-time on the project, though only two currently are working full-time, with another four working part-time on the project. A request for another five staff members is expected for the 2023 budget.
Staff estimate support from consultants for public engagement and technical work will cost about $500,000, Isaak said.