In a growing and maturing city, change is constant. Change, in the form of City-led public projects and private developments, is important to building a resilient city. The inclusion of local wisdom improves these projects to better address the hopes and needs of current and future Calgarians.
On significant projects, sufficient public consultation is considered an essential public right, as well as a key responsibility of government. Over the years, I have seen both good and bad examples of public engagement. I firmly believe that progress happens at the speed of trust.
In 2011, I introduced a motion to City Council requiring The City to improve the quality and consistency of public consultation. While some progress has been made, Council further discussed public engagement at a recent strategic planning session to learn how we can do better.
For public engagement to achieve its objectives, it is important for everyone involved to understand the rights and responsibilities associated with their roles. Organizers should start by providing notification to affected stakeholders to solicit as much feedback as possible. The terms of engagement should be established up-front. Whether the engagement is led by The City, community or developer, organizers must facilitate an open, objective and respectful dialogue where all participants feel safe to express their views. Two great examples are the Crowchild Trail Corridor Study and the Bow to Bluff project.
The organizer must outline the decision-making process, including the current status, the scope of the project, and answers to commonly asked questions: What is on the table? What decisions have already been made? What is the background of previous decisions? How will future decisions be made? Feedback should be documented, carefully considered, and included in a report back to the public. Offering this level of transparency produces credibility for the project and builds trust.
Organizers should also structure engagement to fit the scope of the project. More opportunities and multiple ways to provide feedback are needed on large city-shaping projects like a new CTrain line, as compared to smaller projects like local traffic calming.
Public participants share in some important responsibilities. The first is to understand and respect the terms of engagement, as well as the subject matter. Participants also have a responsibility to listen and contribute respectfully. Intimidation at public meetings may discourage earnest participation, with disenchanted participants leaving the process. We need to ensure the quiet voices are heard too.
At Council’s recent strategy session, we talked about the number of large projects on the go and the risk of consultation fatigue. City staff agreed to work on a more co-ordinated approach, combining engagement on several related projects.
It is clear to me that City Council and staff still have more work to do on improving the public engagement process, but I am confident that we can learn from our best examples to ensure all voices are heard in a respectful manner.
This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Ward Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.