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Public participation and the preparation of official community plans in British Columbia Gauld, Don


Public participation in the planning process is a well established concept and an important one to municipal planners as they deal with the question of how to most effectively involve citizens in planning. The purpose of this study is to assess the effectiveness of techniques and processes used to involve the public in a specific planning process: the preparation of official community plans in British Columbia. Two principal methods are used to achieve this purpose: a literature review and a comparative analysis of the experiences of four municipalities located in the greater Vancouver region which have recently completed of official community plans. Data for this analysis came from municipal documents, interviews with planners and field observation. Six process-oriented objectives based on democratic principles are established as criteria of effective public participation. The six criteria are: (1) Accessibility - All citizens have the opportunity and are encouraged to participate; (2) Timing - The public is provided with information and opportunities to participate at crucial decision making points in the planning process. (3) Impartiality - No individual or group is permitted to dominate the participation process at the expense of others; (4) Comprehensibility - Important information is provided and is presented in such a way that it is understood by those whom it affects; (5) Alternatives - The public is presented with a range of alternatives; (6) Efficacy - Participators' views are considered in products of the planning process. The suitability of each participation technique and combination of techniques used in the four municipalities is assessed by these six objectives. Nine summary observations derived from the analysis are presented as suggestions to help planners effectively involve the public in future official community plan processes. It is found that effort to involve citizens in the preparation of an official community plan must go beyond the techniques required or suggested by legislation. A public hearing and an advisory planning commission are not sufficient to provide effective participation. It is not possible to state an ideal public participation program with a set of specific techniques that would be useful in all communities preparing an official community plan. However, by designing and implementing a participation program that strives to satisfy the process-oriented objectives, planners can obtain meaningful response from the public. Achieving these objectives depends foremost on administrative commitment.

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