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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public participation in urban mega-project planning: a case study of Pacific Place Vancouver, B.C. Beazley, Mike


The 1980s witnessed a trend toward a new model of urban development, the urban mega—projects (UMPS). These projects have significant impacts on cities, on the way we practice planning and on the way we involve the community in decision— making processes. A critical question from a community standpoint is the degree to which ordinary citizens have the opportunity to influence the nature and shape of such development. In short, how participatory are UMP planning processes? This leads to the question of how we can evaluate the effectiveness of public participation? This leads in turn to the important question of why public participation in UMP planning processes can be effective or not? To address these questions it is necessary to develop a theoretical categorization of public participation. Three models are identified that each inform a different perspective on the practice of public participation. These range from the current dominant tradition of the rational comprehensive model, through the advocacy model, to the radical planning model. The theory is also used to identify characteristics of effective public participation. It is argued that effective public participation must be equitable, efficient and efficacious. Public participation can only be effective when community organizations have sufficient power in the process to ensure that their priorities are recognised and acted upon. The research data consists of a case study of one of the largest UMPS currently being developed in North America: the Pacific Place development in Vancouver. This is supplemented by reference to other contemporary UMPS, including Harbourfront and the Railway Lands in Toronto; Battery Park City in New York; the London Docklands and Canary Wharf; and the Mission Bay project in San Francisco. The research methods adopted within the case studies included a literature review, semi—structured interviews with the actors involved, participant observation, and the use of various published sources. The conclusion that emerges is that public participation in UMP planning is not particularly effective. The necessary components of equity, efficiency and efficacy are missing. A number of principle reasons are outlined: the characteristics of the UMPS themselves, the nature of the public participation process and the theoretical foundations on which it is based. On the contrary the development of more effective public participation must rely on a bottom-up process that should start with citizens groups. It is argued that city governments need to forge stronger links with the community and emphasize the role of locality in determining the nature of UMPS. There is a need to revitalize local democracy and reaffirm the importance of effective public participation as part of this process.

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