Missing Middle Housing—Manufactured Consent Part 2—The Open House
City Conversation #103: How does an Open House work when nobody’s taking any notes?
The city’s meme for the Missing Middle Housing initiatives
The city’s Missing Middle initiative has three public consultation options during February:
Online Survey—I’ve taken it, wrote about it but admittedly in many more words than the Twitter-lite limits on public survey responses. It’s open until March 5 and I urge you to take it.
Open Houses—Seven of these have been planned in the month of February, I guess more than enough for the city’s 23 neighbourhoods. I’ve attended two (enough!) so feel qualified to comment in this post.
An Online Session—Scheduled for February 27th. Again, I recommend you sign up for that. Coming at the end of the seven open houses, perhaps it will be a moment for city staff to share what they’ve heard.
The Open Houses I attended were held where you might expect—community centres and halls. Each event was staffed by about a dozen city staffers spread amongst 18 information boards. The two events I attended averaged about 30-40 citizens at any time, so there was ample opportunity to converse.
In my earlier days as Managing Architect (working for the applicants) for the False Creek North neighbourhood plan (a.k.a. Expo Lands or Concord Pacific) and the first two phases of the Coal Harbour development, I organized and attended many information meetings. In those heady Vancouverism days every engagement with the public had these characteristics missing from the city’s current open houses:
The most senior planners and designers on the team were present—including the lead architects, landscape architects and engineers, and their city staff equivalents, albeit supported by more junior staff. There were always folks at hand who could address the thorniest questions and record the public’s ideas and concerns. The two Missing Middle open houses I attended had at most one senior city staff member.
We took copious notes and amended ideas on the fly—Every team member was expected to bring a note book and capture each suggestion, each unanswered question, each unclear element of the plans. Our team debrief was immediate. Each team member spoke from their notebooks and illustrations frequently changed between meetings to be clearer and allow us to truthfully demonstrate “we are listening.” At the Missing Middle open houses, I and some other members of the public had notebooks and used them. There was not a single staffer with a notebook. When I noted this to staffers, they responded that they had a debrief meeting after each open house—clearly their memories are better than mine was at their age. Nor were there any post-it notes or similar means to allow attendees to make comments on the information boards—still a standard means of gathering audience feedback, here absent.
We did not deflect—Several times when staff could not answer a simple question, I was told that I should take the online survey (I have already) and/or attend the online briefing at the end of the month. They had no response when I noted that the online survey only provided 255 character comment options—less than a tweet on Twitter.
I will be the first to identify that the Missing Middle initiative is different than what we worked on decades ago. But basic communications, basic courtesy has not changed. Listen carefully, record what’s unclear and refine it. Have your most senior involved staff members present and participating. Don’t send citizens to a mindless survey so as to avoid actually thinking about and answering their valid concerns.
For those who know me as a bit of a data geek, I will be trying to distil what Missing Middle means for those most affected by it—the residents who are not missing but apparently ignored.
I encourage readers and their friends to take the online survey, attend an open house and sign up for the online session. The survey closes March 5th.
Today’s question: Have you taken the survey and attended an open house? If not, why not? If yes, what was your experience?
I read and respond to all comments, also capturing them to relevant neighbourhood files for more detailed future conversations.
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Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching, writing and consulting a bit, but not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 45+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” and working on a book about how we can accommodate a growing population in the Vancouver we love.
Love your list of differences in meeting styles. Also, the definition of 'missing middle' has apparently gone from laneway, infill, basements, duplexes etc a number of years ago to large apartment buildings today.
The survey is pretty poor, as most of them are.
Odd they suggest larger infill houses when a small existing main house is present. This is already the current policy. I was allowed so many square feet for infill based of the size of the main house. Are they unaware that this is the current policy?
I am so disheartened already with this council. It’s obvious that they are reading Vision’s handbook i.e ‘our way or the highway.’