There’s no name for the project yet and they haven’t even submitted a development application to the city, but I can tell you that there was a lot of excitement in the room last night. Over 500 people showed up at the Park Hyatt. And I think it only partially had to do with the fact that they were offering up free grilled cheese sandwiches.
If you’d like to get a feel for last night’s open house, check out #BloorAndBathurst on Twitter. And if you’d like to learn more about the project, check out Alex Bozikovic’s piece in the Globe and Mail. It’s pretty exciting stuff. I’m not going to repeat all of the project details here because Alex has already eloquently done that. All of the developer’s information boards can also be found online, here.
What I instead want to talk about is Westbank’s community engagement process. In Toronto, it’s quite rare to see this level of public consultation pre-application. And that’s because the city only requires it once a development application has been formally made.
But I’m of the opinion that the status quo isn’t actually the optimal strategy for city building. In fact, I’ve argued before that public consultation is broken.
And the reason I think that is because the typical process doesn’t allow for a critical mass of community feedback, both early on and throughout the process (think lean startup methodologies). In-person public meetings are too much friction for a lot people and getting feedback only once an application has been submitted means that a lot of work has already been done, which is the opposite of lean.
In the case of #BloorAndBathurst, last night was part of an engagement process that began last year.
Now, part of the reason that many developers don’t adopt this model is because of fear. There’s a belief that many communities just don’t like change, period. But is that really the public opinion? Or do we simply not have enough data and enough feedback loops built into the city building process?
Time will tell how this approach works out for Westbank, but I have a pretty good feeling that they’ll do just fine.
Image (Sketchup model + watercolor): Westbank via Globe and Mail