Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is proposing the city use a neutral third party at the start of the development process in the hope of reducing neighbourhood conflicts over contentious developments. “We can’t keep having these kind of adversarial processes,” Helps said. She said having the developer, community members and city staff meet with a third-party facilitator before any plans are drawn might help “things get off on a better foot.” 1
Changes in the Neighbourhood
Developers face the wrath of fearful and angry citizens when presenting proposals. Citizens in turn feel resentful, cynical and disenfranchised by the process. Both parties invest time, thought and resources into their respective agenda. Neighbourhood protest can end a project, frustrating the developer to conclude the proposal was not properly heard or considered. Contrariwise, neighbours protest proposals only to see them inexplicably approved by City councils. All this represents a great waste of energy and resources.
There must be a better way, a gateway, if you will, that leads to collective benefits – a way that unites opposing forces and creates outcomes that inspire city diversity, vitality and inclusion.
This better way is called, ‘The Gateway.’ Not the failed northern one – the oil export pipeline – but a gateway that reimagines local civic engagement and circumvents the toxic discourse of local development processes.
The Gateway is a highly localized and relevant process that overcomes the conflicts that arise in response to change. Change and conflict are inevitable, yet our shared perspectives can inform outcomes and foster better results. The Gateway reclaims the public forum through a commitment of respect and compassionate listening. Rethink Urban does this through the Gateway, its leadership engagement methods and processes.
The Gateway establishes shared values at the outset, seeking agreement on fundamental principles and making use of qualities that connect us: compassion, trust, authenticity, empathy and gratitude. The Gateway recognizes the process for city development needs repair. The way we communicate impacts the quality of our social connections. Change must be put in context of shared values. The discursive environment and methods of communication have lasting effects on decisions and outcomes.
The Gateway takes the form of a process and a series of modules guided by the transdisciplinary outcomes of the Rethink Urban team. The modules are based on the work of Rethink Urban founder, Lorne Daniel.
An underlying assumption we hold in development scenarios is that there are ‘sides.’ One side promoting (‘pro’) and another side that, because we force people to ‘take sides,’ sees themselves as opposing (‘con’). Typically the ‘pro’ side is heavily weighted with formal organizations (municipalities, corporations, agencies) while the ‘con’ side is heavily weighted with informal action groups (‘the friends of…’), individuals, and what we call ‘the public.’ What if we could replace this bipolar model with a holistic one? What if, from the start of an initiative, we could engage people in collaborating on creating a plan that “we” – all of us – own?
Who is the Gateway for?
Rethink Urban has six modules for community leaders, urban visionaries, developers, government and not-for-profit to inform and reset the public engagement process.
The first Gateway module – ‘Reconnecting Neighbourhoods and Development’ lays a foundation for a path forward. This module describes the changing nature of community and neighbourhood, how civic participation has changed, the need for trust and exploration of possibilities to better marshall our collective resources when engaging in public discourse.