City Planning Process has “Fallen Out of Sync with Residents:” New City Manager

“There is much work to do” to repair development consultations with community, Sadhu Johnson tells Urban Land Institute luncheon

May 11, 2016

Sadhu Johnston Vancouver City Manager
Sadhu Johnston, Vancouver City Manager: There is much work to do to fix disconnect between City and residents over planning and development — Dan Toulgoet


The City of Vancouver is investing more than ever in affordable housing and is known for innovative urban planning, but there is a huge disconnect between the City and its people over residential development, the new city manager Sadhu Johnston told a sold-out audience at the Urban Land Institute luncheon May 10.

“Governments can’t do it alone. We’re not going to address these challenges by ourselves,” said Johnston in his first industry address since taking on the City Manager role.

“We need help from every sector… To help find solutions, we’ve launched a refresh of our housing strategy. Over the next six months we will be revisiting our goals and targets.

“One of the City’s greatest strengths is that we never rest on our laurels, and can be our own toughest critics – which, when done constructively, can ensure that we are always improving.

“And we have much work to do. Despite our planning strategy, it seems we have fallen out of sync with our residents. Recently it seems there are concerns about the pace of development and the types of housing that are being built. We need a reset on our planning process.”

When asked by ULI BC advisory board chair Jennifer Podmore about how to fix the disconnect over planning and development, Johnston replied, “That’s the question I’m asking myself as I settle into the role… Because I’ve seen many good projects come before council, and the level and depth of consultation doesn’t seem to assuage residents’ concerns. As we enter the next era of our work, and the evolution of the city, I don’t think it’s the amount of consultation that we need to revisit, we need to look at how we bring the community alongside what we need to do.

He added, “I don’t think we’ve done as much as we could to help the community understand the value of the work that we’re doing, collectively, in creating dynamic programming for communities.”

Read one developer's issues with the City over view cones and zoning here

Johnston also acknowledged the deep need for leadership in the City's planning department, and said that his office was working hard to recruit both a new director of city planning to oversee vision, following Brian Jackson's retirement, and the new role of general planning manager, which will spearhead processes.

Johnston’s concerns over representative consultation were echoed later the same day by Beau Jarvis, senior vice-president of Wesgroup, who was introducing the speakers for the annual RED Talks at the Playhouse Theatre.

In his sponsor’s address, Jarvis said, “We need to talk about how we tap into a wider audience [for development consultations and debate], rather than just the people who have the most time on their hands.”

The RED Talks event, which attracted a varied audience of developers, students, teachers, journalists and politicians, brought in various speakers to discuss positive ways in which Vancouver can evolve and become a more affordable and livable city.

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