Through the Growing Conversations process, we have engaged close to 1,000 residents and stakeholders in important conversations about how to improve public engagement in all of our planning processes. This feedback has informed the development of the Opportunities for Change and the Principles for Effective Engagement. It will also be used to inform the development of the final Engagement Action Plan.
We’ve heard from hundreds of Torontonians about how we can make engagement work better for you. The 8 Opportunities for Change were identified through those conversations. They are the opportunities and the constraints that will drive the rest of the Growing Conversations process, and inform the final Engagement Action Plan.
Each year, 15,000-20,000 Torontonians participate in in-person consultation events led by the City of Toronto Planning Division, the majority of which are related to development applications. However, the current structure of the development review process can leave residents feeling frustrated and as if their feedback is not contributing to shaping outcomes. Improvements to the Development Review process are needed in order to relieve resident frustrations, improve transparency, build greater trust with the community, and better inform final planning recommendations.
An inclusive planning process ensures that people feel welcome and are able to participate freely. Pilot projects to test new online and in-person engagement tools and better-designed educational materials are some of the ways that City Planning is working to increase the inclusivity of the planning process. Further improvements to the engagement process should help to make it more inclusive and accessible through more regular use of plain language, increasing the variety of mediums offered for engagement and scheduling meetings at times that suit differing schedules.
When people don’t understand how their feedback has been used to inform planning, transparency and accountability suffer. Making a stronger connection between inputs from the community and project outcomes by being clearer about how feedback is used can only increase the accessibility and transparency of the planning process.
The planning process in Ontario is complex and difficult to navigate, and this can be intimidating to many people, creating a barrier to participation. City Planning currently works to build planning literacy through initiatives such as Planning 101 meetings and World Town Planning Day outreach, as well through easy-to-understand informational pamphlets. Expanding our efforts to build Torontonians’ understanding of planning concepts, principles and processes will go a long way towards more inclusive engagement, and more relevant, accessible communication.
Recent initiatives such as the new Application Information Centre, expanded use of Twitter and an improved website have greatly increased residents’ access to planning-related information. In 2013, for example, over 103,000 people interacted with the new online zoning map, and there were more than 1 million page views on the City Planning website. Still, many Torontonians find it difficult to locate and access information related to development applications or planning processes happening in their communities. They want to see improved notification mechanisms that inform them of new planning applications, the time and locations of meetings and updates on the progress of development applications. Improving access to this information should promote greater participation. Open Data can play a key role in realizing this opportunity.
Online & Mobile Technology
People are looking for new ways to expand participation in planning processes beyond the traditional community meeting. Online and mobile applications are now making this easier than ever to accommodate. Canada has one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world, with between 85% and 90% of Canadians enjoying access to an Internet connection; and close to 60% have a smartphone. Canadians also spend more time online than any other nation on the planet, with an average of 45 hours per month spent surfing the web. City Planning has already begun to make better use of these technologies through the use of online surveys, improvements to our website, the launch of a Twitter account and the piloting of text messaging for engagement. There is an opportunity to leverage online and mobile technologies even further in order to make participation easier and more convenient, improve awareness and disseminate information more effectively.
Across Toronto, there are organizations doing incredible work engaging and building communities. These organizations, which are both internal and external to the City of Toronto, possess valuable knowledge about the communities that they serve, and can help City Planning to unlock new relationships with residents. City Planning already works closely with such partners as the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, the TTC, the Pembina Institute, Civic Action, Evergreen Brickworks, the Toronto Public Library and a long list of community organizations. By expanding and building new partnerships with these and other organizations, City Planning can grow its reach significantly, improve engagement broadly, and enhance its contribution to city building and city life.
Throughout our consultations, we consistently heard how effective engagement helps to foster feelings of belonging and well-being that are important for community-building. Decades ago, City Planning’s role in building community was supported by a neighbourhood presence in communities across the old city. Residents today, however, feel disconnected from the planners working in their neighbourhoods. Planners in Public Spaces, launched in 2013, is an important step towards giving planners a more visible community role. Expanding on this initiative to connect planners even further to their communities will help build stronger relationships with residents while also acknowledging the important role that engagement plays in building community.
We’ve heard from hundreds of Torontonians about how we can make engagement work for you. The 9 Principles for Effective Engagement were identified through those conversations. They are the meant to help guide staff in the planning and execution of engagement processes and events.
Engagement processes should be transparent by providing clarity on the level of engagement residents can expect, making records of consultation processes available to the public in a timely manner, and clearly indicating how feedback has affected project outcomes.