Can neighbourhoods be heard?

Can neighbourhoods be heard? When I was in graduate school studying regional and urban planning, one of my professors alerted us to a process used by developers to co-opt planners and planning departments. Developers bring a proposal to planners seeking

When I was in graduate school studying regional and urban planning, one of my professors alerted us to a process used by developers to co-opt planners and planning departments.

Developers bring a proposal to planners seeking their input. The developers would incorporate some of the planners’ comments and then return to the planners for additional input. This process is repeated with the developer making the affordable adjustments recommended by the planners. Repeating this process eventually garners the support of the planners who then become advocates of the proposal.

The professor argued that planners need to be aware of this process and hold true to their commitment to serve the public good; the neighbourhood interest. In the process of co-opted planners, neighbourhoods are placed in the position of reacting to proposals supported by planners. This process serves the interests, often financial, of the developer possibly at the cost of the public good and local community.

Where is the spirit of the neighbourhood to be considered? Here are two Yukon examples that demonstrate this co-opting process.

In Whitehorse, council supports a development in Hillcrest that runs contrary to neighbourhood interests. In Mount Lorne, the territory’s lands branch refuses to review the Mount Lorne regional plan in favour of reducing the minimum size of lot subdivisions. Both examples demonstrate flawed planning processes in which the planners have become advocates for the planners.

There are effective alternatives to this co-opting planning process. Requiring neighbourhood input and comment as a precondition of any development proposal strives to find a balance between individual interest and neighbourhood interest. In today’s political climate, the value placed on free enterprise favours the individual initiatives, the developer, but diminishes neighbourhood values.

The public good needs to be more effectively heard and represented by politicians. Politicians need to rely on the support and advice of the planning departments. Planners play an important role in this context but they need to be even handed and aware of the co-opting development process by seeking out a diverse range of neighbourhood perspectives.

By involving neighbourhoods before developments are proposed, planners are able to more effectively incorporate perspectives of the public good. I would encourage Whitehorse voters to consider whether candidates for council put neighbourhood interest before those of developers.

Bob Sharp

Whitehorse