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Calgary researcher hoping to provide community-focused public engagement toolkit

Upcoming work by a University of Calgary researcher could help give city communities better tools to navigate the public engagement process when development hits their area.

In recent public hearings on large planning matters, public engagement – or lack thereof – came up as a common theme.

The discussion around the Guidebook for Great Communities and the North Hill Local Area Plan were catalysts for the work being done by Becky Poschmann. Poschmann is a master’s student in the University of Calgary School of Architecture Planning and Landscape, and she’s also the president of the Southwood Community Association.

Poschmann was the CA’s director of development when she joined Southwood CA in 2016.

She said public engagement today is driven by the decision-makers, whether it’s the City of Calgary or the developer.

“There aren’t really any tools available for community associations on how best to enter these conversations and how best to engage their community members to ensure that they’re up to date and knowing what’s taking place when it comes to urban planning and development,” said Poschmann.

The City of Calgary does open public engagement through their engage.ca portal. Public hearings are also a part of that process.  During the Guidebook discussions, Lisa Kahn with the city’s Guidebook team said their work has been going on for at least five years.

“We’ve been learning, sharing listening and growing as a team together input for the Guidebook, and despite some of the quotes in the media recently, we have done engagement, lots of it, just in a different way than we’ve done in the past, to make sure that we’re reaching more Calgarians from all walks of life,” Kahn said in a March 22 meeting.

Not always the same rules of engagement

As Poschmann points out, the city is legally required to engage with communities on the larger statutory documents like the Guidebook or the Local Area Plans.

Land Use redesignations, however, aren’t subject to the same rules.

“Most of the time in those scenarios, it’s the Community Association that is having to deal with the brunt of community members being upset towards this significant change that could be taking place in their community,” Poschmann said.

That’s why she’s hoping for feedback from community associations on what they need to help them through the engagement process.

With that information, Poschmann wants to create a toolkit available to the CAs so they can more successfully navigate the conversations.

She’s hoping to work with at least 12 community associations around Calgary – preferably at least one in each quadrant. Poschmann is also looking for communities representing different eras of development.

Applicants can go to the survey page for more information. Later this summer, deeper interviews will be conducted with selected applicants. After that, focus groups and workshops before coming up with a final toolkit.

“I’m a firm believer that community associations, we are experts of our community. We know how people move about, how traffic flows, where there’s challenges, where the hot spots are and the negative parts of our communities,” Poschmann said.

“I think that if the CAs understand how they can have these conversations and provide really good information to the developer, then we can have some good conversations at the table.”