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City approaches planning the community way

City planners hanging out at Bean to Cup, Thursday.
March 01, 2013 - 10:59 AM

By Charlotte Helston

City of Vernon planning staff hung out at Bean to Cup Thursday, chatting with the public and listening to their thoughts over coffee. Save for a few poster boards leaned up in the corner, it was nothing like a conventional input session—and that was the whole idea.

It's all part of revising the Official Community Plan (OCP), a process which happens every five years. Brooke Marshall, the city's environmental planner, says the public has a lot of influence on what goes into the plan.

"Pretty much all of it is community ideas," Marshall says. What the public wants in terms of housing, transportation, green space—you name it—goes into the plan.

Surveys have been mailed out and are also available online, but Marshall and her team want to meet with the community face to face as much as possible.

"We are doing some input sessions in gyms, but really, we're trying to go where the public is going to be anyway," Marshall says. Those places include places like coffee shops and the mall.

"Village Green Mall is great," Marshall says. "We get all the husbands who are waiting for their wives."

Marshall understands it can be hard for people to make it out to the more formal sessions. She says giving input should be easy and accessible, not cumbersome. Planning staff will even set up input sessions upon demand for community groups—you just have to ask and they'll come right to your door.

"We need the community to tell us what they want, without hearing from the community, it's not a community plan," she says.

Marshall believes a laid-back, fun and interactive input session is more effective at getting people talking. She points out that many people might not feel comfortable expressing their ideas at events like the city budget meetings.

"And it can sometimes be hard to see how an idea is related to something broad  like the budget," Marshall says. She says her role in these informal sessions is to hear peoples thoughts, and help to integrate them into the plan. It's about bridging the gap between what the public wants and what city hall can accomplish.

Rob Miles, planning assistant, says the public had a huge influence on the 2008 plan.

"They wanted better public transit, more sidewalks, less development on green spaces and more in the downtown core," Miles says.

He also notes that what people want may have changed since 2008, owing to fluxing economic times. The plan was finalized before the  recession hit. "At that time, we were anticipating big growth, but that never happened," Miles says. Amendments to housing and land use plans will likely occur to make the initiatives more current.

While planning staff don't predict a major overhaul of the plan, a significant change will be the addition of specific greenhouse gas reduction targets. How to achieve those targets is something the community will arrive at together.

"Every municipality is dealing with it in their own way," Marshall says.  " When the 2008 plan was done, the GHG reduction goal was set in a general way. Now we have to name percentage reductions and move more aggressively towards them."

It may seem difficult to relate the community plan with large issues like the economy, but the planners are there to connect the dots.Miles says making Vernon a desirable place to live—which will affect the city's economy—is affected by, for example, how pedestrian friendly the streets are, how good transit is, and how many green spaces there are—things that are found in the plan. Miles identifies a shortage of skilled workers in Vernon, noting many have left the area for more lucrative work elsewhere. He says attracting people back to the area is intimately connected to the community plan and its goals. 

Add your vision to the plan by filling out an online or paper survey, or join city staff for a casual conversation over the next three months. Find more information and dates here.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infotelnews.ca or call (250)309-5230

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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