December 5, 2019

Equity Perspectives no. 1: Vancouver Granville Bridge Connector & Mobility Equity Workshop

Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

Not unrelated, there are certain factors that can impact people’s decisions even before their journey begins, such as fear of racism, profiling, and harassment.

Lastly, to what extent do our streets provide for mobility and improve upon accessibility (e.g. accessibility to food stores, parks, banks, culturally appropriate spaces etc.)?

In essence, are our streets, and wider transport networks and systems, enhancing or diminishing the freedom of all people?

Armed with these considerations, workshop participants were asked to consider two questions that could (ideally) assist planners and decision-makers in putting forward a project that effectively addresses equity concerns affiliated with the existing and future Granville connection.

The questions were as follows:

  1. Can we define accessibility and belonging as it relates to the Granville Bridge?
  2. What is one difficult, equity-based question that designers, engineers, and planners (among others) should consider in the final design?

Some of the feedback from workshop participants included the following…

  • How can the Granville Connector be purposefully designed to acknowledge and dignify historically marginalized and forgotten groups?
  • What does a safe and secure space actually look like in this context, and what groups are helping to answer this question?
  • What are some bridge specific considerations we need to be aware of compared to other streets? For example, on a bridge, there are few places to enter/exit, and minimal, if any places (shops, services) one can seek refuge.
  • How might this project have an impact on existing and future development? For example, to what extent is the city pairing this project with policies that address (e.g. protect) existing local retail and work space, as well as and low-income and coop housing stock?
  • Specifically, what are the implications (potentially good or bad) for Granville Island?

While I’m happy to see the City focusing a lens of equity on what is sure to be an impactful and transformational project, I wanted to share what I think is an important consideration:

When attempting to answer the questions related to defining accessibility and belonging, and the difficult, equity-based question to be consider in the final Granville Bridge design, I couldn’t help but look around the room and ask: “who is here today answering these questions? Who should be?” In other words, from whose perspective is this project being evaluated, and whose perspective might be missing?

While the feedback generated from this workshop was certainly insightful (from what I assessed to be a fairly mixed group of people such as Indigenous, elderly, and minorities), I want to emphasize the importance of always being mindful of who is being “invited to the table”, plus who is “setting the table”  – not only at the beginning, but throughout the entirety of any planning and decision-making process.

For example, as a woman and a planner, I could answer these questions based on my own knowledge, offering some insight on what I think to could be key issues and considerations related to this project. However, I do not identify as Indigenous, a minority or immigrant. I am not disabled, elderly, or a local resident. It is not hard to imagine, then, how important and valuable insight can be missed when not all are gathered round’ the table.

In terms of “inviting people to the table” some considerations are as follows:

  • Where is the event or workshop being held, and at what time? What type of attendance might this draw? Who might be at risk of exclusion?
  • What languages and other audio/engagement support tools are being offered?
  • What outlets has the event or workshop been advertised on? The internet? many people, particularly those of a lower-income still do not have access to the internet. A coffee shop or restaurant? which one and where?

All that said, I commend the City for dedicating an entire workshop to the discussion of equity as it relates to one of their projects, and for involving one of the foremost on inclusive city building – Jay Pitter.

To keep watch on this project, its progress, and potential engagement and workshop opportunities, visit the City’s project page. As well, Simon Fraser University’s Public Square is a great resource for free events dedicated to building conversation around projects from across the city and region.

This post is part of a new series, “Equity Perspectives”, that looks to provide equity-related perspectives and insights on a variety of topics, contributing to a better understanding of what equity is, and how it can be more effectively incorporated into planning and policy-making.

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