1992 CityPlan’s innovative public engagement process enables public-backed urban development

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Urban planning | Built form | Land use | Development | Politics & governance | Transportation | Infrastructure | Institutions | Demographics | People |


CityPlan was an innovative strategic planning process created for the City of Vancouver (launched in 1992). CityPlan was characterized as a platform for discussion and negotiation between the public and elected council focused on all city responsibilities. A distinct feature of CityPlan was its innovative comprehensive public engagement process. These innovations characterized a new kind of strategic planning model, the Public Choicing Process. Ann Mcfee, then a co-director of planning for the City of Vancouver, directed CityPlan.The CityPlan ideology is summarized succinctly by phrase “council wanted to hear about all issues, hear from new people and hear through new ways” (McAfee & Legacy).

CityPlan was based on the presumption that meaningful public participation recognizes the public’s stake in planning outcomes by incorporating the public at every stage of the decision making process. This idea was famously promoted by the public’s invitation to ‘Walk in Council’s Shoes’.


City plan director Ann McAfee regards CityPlan as a successful experiment in community deliberation- a term describing “a mode of participation that relies on face-to-face encounters to create new knowledge around contemporary challenges and innovative solutions” (McAfee & Legacy 1). Community deliberation was indeed practiced at every stage of a four-step process called “Public Choosing” (1992-1995). Specifically, “the process … invited the public to 1. Generate ideas for the plan; 2. Review the ideas and recommend those for further consideration; 3. Consider issues, choices, and consequences of possible directions; and 4. Review the draft plan” (McAfee 442, McAfee & Legacy 3). The council was responsible for facilitating public engagement and making the final decisions. The public was re-defined as a ‘partner’ and tasked with advising the elected Council. In doing so, CityPlan’s public engagement model redefined the roles of the public and the decision-makers in the planning process.

CityPlan’s use of direct participation tools (e.g. surveys, exhibitions) reached a total of 100 000 participants, or roughly 40% of the City’s households. City Circles, or discussion groups of 10-15 people were utilized as a new participation tool. The responses of over 80% of participants were compiled to form a set of City Directions. The CityPlan process produced the following general goals backed by mass public support: Strengthen neighbourhood centres, Improve safety and ensure appropriate community services, Reduce reliance on the car, Improving environmental sustainability, Increase the variety and affordability of housing, Define neighbourhood character, Diversify parks and public places, Involve people in decisions affecting their neighbourhood.

CityPlan was founded on mutual trust between the City and the Public. This enabled both parties to cooperate in developing long-term plans. For the large part, CityPlan was very successful in strengthening this trust, enabling public supported urban development.

CityPlan was also criticized for being a slow process that was stifling much needed growth. On this rational, Vancouver’s mayor launched a new EcoDensity Initiative by executive action at the World urban Forum (2006). The Ecodensity Initiative was antithetical to CityPlan in several ways, principally due to its top-down approach.


Primary sources worth digitizing:

City of Vancouver. CityPlan: Directions for Vancouver. 1995. Print.

Primary sources worth digitizing?

Ideas Book (1993) The Ideas Forum: Proceedings (1993) Vancouver CityPlan Toolkit (1993) CityPlan Ideas Illustrated (1993)


City of Vancouver. CityPlan: Directions for Vancouver. 1995. Print.

McAfee, Ann, and Crystal Legacy. Community Deliberation as a Tool: Examination of Vancouver and Melbourne. 1-13. PDF.

McAfee, Ann. Tools for Change: CityPlan Vancouver’s Strategic Planning Process’ Built Environment, vol 39, no.4 pp. 438-453. PDF.

Punter, John. The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design. Vancouver & Toronto: UBC Press, 2003. Print.