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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards common ground : sustainable development in Southeast False Creek Irwin, John Jacob Michael


This thesis focuses on communicative participation processes and the mutual understanding that can occur amongst participants. This mutual understanding can often lead to better sustainability planning outcomes. It analyzes both the process and the outcomes of the process through a case study. The principle research question addressed is: does communicative participation in development processes, by a broad range of interests, contribute to social, environmental, and economic sustainability? The research instruments include: action research conducted by the author in the Southeast False Creek Model Sustainable Community Planning Process case study, which took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; twenty qualitative interviews with the members of a policy Advisory Group, staff of the local civic government, and political representatives; and analysis of the key planning documents generated by the process and other contextual documentation. The findings from the action research are presented, followed by the qualitative interview findings. These two types of results (which were conducted independently of each other) were then compared, analyzed, and contrasted with the literature in an iterative manner. The literature consulted includes: communicative action, communicative action in planning, public participation, sustainable development and sustainable urban development (ecological, social, and economic). Two sets of criteria, one for the process and the other for the outcome, were derived from the literature review. The research findings indicate that this case study is an example of a reasonably good communicative participation process that was deep and long-term, but did not involve the broader community as well as it could have. The analysis concludes, however, that power played a significant role in this case study. This highlights the need for communicative action theory in planning to be supplemented, extended, and revised. Communicative action theory could be strengthened by being supplemented by political economic theory, progressive planning theory, mobilization theory, and postmodern trans-cultural planning theory. The process outcome, the policy for Southeast False Creek, was found to make marked progress towards ecological sustainability, and marginal movement towards economic sustainability. The policy was found to be quite lacking in terms of social sustainability, although it was given more consideration than in previous development policy in Vancouver. A lack of focus on social sustainability was found in the process, and this was reflected in the policy. Although the sustainability policy was found to be quite weak overall, it did lead towards greater sustainable urban development in Vancouver, and increased awareness about sustainability in the development policy community. This thesis makes a significant contribution to communicative action theory by analyzing a case study that put this theory into practice. It may also improve planning practice by recommending ways to improve communicative participation processes.

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