Who speaks for a community?

Our elected officials have the ethical and legal obligation to serve the public interest above all, but how are they to make the wisest decisions in the face of different and sometimes conflicting interests? Even the city’s official organizational chart has “Community” at the top, higher than the Mayor and Council. But who speaks for a community? And on the flip side, who does (or should) Council listen to and with what priority?Many stakeholders and players are involved in and affected by land-use decisions, which seem to consume the greatest amount of time of our City Council and have cumulative impacts of billions of dollars and generations of time. It is clear that developers, property owners, investors, consultants, architects and so on have a financial and professional interest in the outcomes of decisions. Just by their purpose for existing, their motives may be relatively clear. Community groups have good intentions, but they also don’t work in a completely neutral environment. To survive and be effective, many depend on good relations with the City and even on funding from City budgets. Our city is a complex “ecosystem” of different interests and players.

So who speaks for a community? Some Vancouver neighbourhoods have long-established neighbourhood associations with elected boards, some have more than association, and some have none. There are also many specially-focused service groups in communities.

Council is now talking about community planning processes, as a continuation of a motion passed in City Council in November 2010, so this is a very timely topic.

CityHallWatch would like to get input on these questions:

  1. “Who speaks for a community?”
  2. “How should council balance the many views expressed?”
  3. “By what criteria can the public judge that that the public interest has been served by Council decisions?”

Please send input or relevant links or articles, either by the comment function below or by e-mail to citizenYVR@gmail.com. When we have a chance, we’ll compile the findings.

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