Genuine listening

Thank you to Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and two Vancouver councillors who—unaware that they were being recorded—were caught making derogatory and dismissive comments after “listening” to West End speakers with a different vision from their own. We can learn from it.

The initial headlines were for the use of a frowned-upon word that rhymes with mucking. However, the public soon realized that the core problem was not the use of an impolite word. Instead, the problem was the council members’ disrespecful attitude toward the citizens who had waited for hours to speak, no doubt under the mistaken impression that council was gathering their input to help make decisions on the issue at hand. The problem goes beyond the City of Vancouver, and perhaps there now will be more alertness to it elsewhere in Metro—Richmond, for instance.

After reading a Vancouver Sun op-ed column by Ned Jacobs of Neighborhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, I finally feel clear about what happened. It’s titled “Councillors, mayor must prove their sincerity through action.” It reminds me of an equally insightful letter by Mary Phillips, “Don’t let Garden City slip away,” which appeared in the Richmond News. The letter responded to comments by a couple of Richmond councillors (earlier this year), who implicitly dismissed the 18 hours of citizen input in the Garden City Lands public hearing of March 2008.

Unlike that pair of councillors, most of the citizens who spoke at the public hearing did not support the “vision” for a huge urban-sprawl development on a 136-acre green space in the City Centre. However, that difference of opinion does not justify any council members acting as though the public have never been consulted about the best use of that open space, the Garden City Lands. Like the Vancouver council members, they are giving the impression public consultation is only good if the prevalent public opinion agrees with their opinion.

At least the offending Vancouver council members offered apologies of sorts, even though Ned Jacobs suggests that those “hasty apologies appear to be no more than a crude attempt at damage control—putting the best face on disgrace.” He wants the council members to start genuinely using citizens’ input to help them decide how to act.  Maybe that authentic approach to citizen input will even spread beyond Vancouver’s borders, perhaps across the north arm of the Fraser.

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