Young on strategic plans: Thinks we need one - not certain on who gets to write the document.

opinionred 100x100By Jim Young

February 18th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

In recent Gazette articles and comments, Burlington’s 25 Year Strategic Plan, “Grow Bold”, has garnered much criticism of its name and the plausibility of a vague plan that looks 25 years ahead.

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Grow Bold got the boot – the Mayor had to almost push it out the door.

The name really doesn’t matter. Call it Grow Bold, Grow Smart or just The 25 Year Plan; having a plan is important. To achieve anything of consequence we need a longer term view of how our city might look in 25 years. That view is necessarily vague and aspirational; who really knows where we will be by then?

Aerial downtown - before pier

This aerial of the city is going to look a lot different in five years – in a decade you won’t recognize the place,

A personal analogy might be a 40 year old planning to retire at 65. How will that retirement look in 25 years? Do I want to travel? Spend time with grandkids? How will I pay my rent? Will I have to keep working? Of course these possibilities may change over the 25 years, but we still need to plan for them. You cannot drive to Florida if your GPS is only programmed to the end of the street. Unless we are extremely lucky, little in life is achieved without a plan. Call this our “Retirement Strategic Plan.”

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The creation of the 2010 -2014 Strategic Plan was a city staff – city council effort that then went to the public. They filled pages of flip chart work but found at the end of the sessions that city staff and council were on different sides of a fence. It was that way for the term and the one that followed.

Then we need more specific details: How much should we save and where will that money come from. Will it be RRSPs? Tax Free Savings? Is there a Company Pension? Can I live in my kid’s basement if my Retirement Strategic Plan doesn’t work? This is the meat & potatoes of our planning. Call it our Retirement Official Plan.

Then come the bumps on the road to retirement. When we run into car repairs or the basement floods, when we face short time work or job loss: Changes we must make to our plans. “Amendments to The Retirement Official Plan.” Doubtless we will have contentious domestic debate about these.

Municipalities need plans too. City planners work on at least three levels, with many sub levels in between. The Strategic Plan, The Official Plan and Zoning / Bylaw Amendments to those plans.

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It started out as a four year plan – the term of a city council ….

The Strategic Plan: A long term, aspirational view of where we might like to be in 25 years. Obviously no-one really knows where we will be by then; but we must have an idea of how we want our city to evolve over that period. This is the one plan that Burlington consulted citizens on and actually did a reasonable job on.

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… and just sort of grew when a consuklting firm with the compliance of the then city manager took council in a much different direction.

The Official Plan; a detailed and much more pertinent document, sets out the steps needed to realize the strategic vision. Mandated by the province for regular review, it re-evaluates the plan to adjust for economic, social, demographic and political shifts that may not be foreseeable but will inevitably take place over 25 years.

This is the plan that should have defined the transit, parking, congestion, intensification plans and area/zone specific heights as they evolved over the next 5 years of that 25 year strategy. Sadly our last City Council failed to provide an Official Plan that met regional requirements and utterly misjudged local sentiment on every level.

Outraged citizens vented their anger in wholesale changes at the last election.

Lastly there are Amendments to the Official Plan and the Zoning Bylaws of that plan. These are often the most contentious and time consuming aspects of city planning. Amendments address those changes to residential, commercial and retail building in our neighbourhoods, which have greatest impact on life and work in our communities.

No matter what the Strategic or Official Plans say about height and density on your street or the plaza at the end of the block, developers can apply to amend the plan or zoning bylaw. These are the matters that are currently the most contentious in our city.

Subject to a 210 day deadline for response by municipalities, there are so many zoning / bylaw amendments active in Burlington that city planners are failing to respond to them in time, opening the door to so many appeals by developers.

These are not failures of the strategic plan. They are failures of process, of consultation and, of course, they must be addressed. In its early actions Council has demonstrated a willingness to address these issues and already there is a feeling that city staff are adapting to this new council paradigm.

We can and should oppose bad planning, we deserve greater say in the plans and the processes, but instead of abandoning the discipline of Strategic Planning, let us work with our new council and city planners to make these plans better. Let us align city plans with citizen visions rather than developer bottom lines in the knowledge that the only thing worse than a Vague Long Term Plan is No Long Term Plan At All.

Jim Young answering RG

Jim Young delegating at city hall.

Jim Young is an Aldershot resident who delegates at city Council frequently and has, in a number of cases, given some very wise advice.  It was seldom received with much in the way of grace by the 2010 to 2018 city council

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2 comments to Young on strategic plans: Thinks we need one – not certain on who gets to write the document.

  • Jim Young

    Good analogy Don. You are absolutely right. There is much to be done on current situation before we need to look at the 25 Year Strategy.

  • Don Fletcher

    I think we can all agree that there is a benefit to long-range planning.

    For me, however, this should not be a priority for the City and its’ residents right now. We must deal effectively with an ever-increasing number of aggressive development applications that if approved could set a dangerous precedent for more in the future and ruin our city. Our political, planning, regulatory and legal resources are already stretched thin, and apparently weak in comparison to those employed by the developers. To use an analogy, there is no value in providing a drowning man with advice on how to improve his swimming stoke, and Burlington is currently in danger of drowning.

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