Collaborative planning with citizens produces plan hailed as “astounding”

Posted November 9, 2013 11:22 pm by Bob Ransford

Delta Council, on Friday November 8th, approved third reading of bylaws that will enable the Southlands plan in Tsawwassen to be implemented. The plan is a pioneering model of agricultural urbanism– a way of re-integrating productive farming back into the life of our communities at the urban-rural interface. The principles of the plan can be replicated in metropolitan areas throughout North America as a way to ensure that urban growth is contained and farmland is productively activated and valued by the people who live next to it for the farming that occurs on it

Mayor Lois Jackson, who has served on Delta Council over the decades during which the future of this controversial 537-acre property–landlocked in the heart of Tsawwassen– has been debated, called the Southlands plan “the most astounding plan she has ever seen” during her long time on Council. She said it was evident that much thought and time was behind the vision for this plan.

That acknowledgement stands as a real tribute to Sean Hodgins, who has risked the resources, energy and reputation of his family company– Century Group– a 55 year old Tsawwassen development company– to reach out to the community and sustain more than seven years of active engagement with local citizens.

I feel extremely privileged to have worked hand-in-hand with Sean for about a decade as, together, we planned and executed pioneering new methodologies and tried new concepts to engage citizens and involve them collaboratively in community planning. It has been a huge learning experience for me and a great case study in how collaborative community planning can produce meaningful outcomes– including an innovative detailed land use plan– that represent a win-win for everyone.

This “astounding plan” is the product of  considerable study, discovery, feedback and much compromise by many players, among them dedicated and visionary citizens who care about their community and were willing to invest their time to ensure that whatever plan was crafted would make Tsawwassen a better place for all. I remember nearly seven years ago when the Southlands Community Planning Team– made up of two dozen citizen volunteers– decided that their goal was to “increase the sum of human happiness in Tsawwassen” by crafting a plan for the Southlands.

Delta’s community leaders– the municipal councillors– had the courage to ignore the protests of the few who wished to put their own interests and their narrow concerns for their backyards ahead of the interests of their community. I believe the Councillors see, as I do and as many others do, that this plan represents a breakthrough in how we regard farmland and our urban communities in which we are attempting to preserve farming as an economic activity, a necessity for local food security, a social activator and a way of life. This plan can be Metro Vancouver’s agricultural urbanism planning model that attracts North American attention and global interest.

I also believe the process that has led to this plan advancing to the decision table is a model in itself. It has proved that a private developer can be responsible and innovative and engage citizens in crafting a plan that respects the natural balance of ecosystems and produces multiple mutual benefits.

I can see the day when the people of Tsawwassen will stand together in the Southlands Market Square and celebrate the founding of this new pioneering neighbourhood, welcoming the world to come and see how suburban neighbourhoods can be re-engineered to make them better, more sustainable, more livable places.

The Mayors and Councillors who sit on Metro Vancouver’s Board now must decide whether this plan– which the people of Delta have approved– will actually be implemented. The opportunity for the region is enormous. I hope the Metro Directors will realize that this plan offers much in terms of real action where many words have been spoken about making local agriculture a part of the region’s economy, food security and urban landscape. The plan also promises to vastly improve the suburban lifestyle in Tsawwassen, offering much broader housing diversity that will stabilize the community over the long term and contribute to a more compact and sustainable community.

Contact Bob at ransford@counterpoint.ca.