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New citizenís panel brings fresh perspectives to the planning process

Members of Toronto's inaugural Planning Review Panel

Reviewing the city’s Townhouse and Low-Rise Apartment Design Guidelines, Jason Wong offered some suggestions about locating gas and electricity meters where they could be readily inspected, but not so visible as to be eyesores. Though it remains to be seen if Wong’s ideas explicitly become part of the guidelines, the issues raised by the engineer from Scarborough will become part of the broader discussion about and evolution of the planning document.

“The writer of that guideline was sitting in the room with us, so there was active feedback,” says Wong, one of 28 members of the inaugural Toronto Planning Review Panel, a new body designed to bring a wide range of perspectives to the city’s planning process. Last year 12,000 households received an invitation to serve on the panel for a two-year term. The city chose members from more than 500 people who accepted the offer, using a civic lottery system that considered factors like age, geographic location, gender, household tenure (owner or not) and ethnicity to achieve diversity and bring in voices beyond the people who usually show up for planning meetings.

“We have a process that’s about improving our engagement process across our division and it has identified three population groups we’re not reaching as well as we could be, including youth, newcomers and renters,” says Daniel Fusca, chair of the Toronto Planning Review Panel and lead of stakeholder engagement in the Office of the City of Toronto’s Chief Planner.

Though other cities have various kinds of citizen-engagement planning processes, the panel is an especially made-in-Toronto solution meant to be cost-effective and relatively red-tape free. Members agree to attend six meetings a year and attend a series of orientation sessions to help them understand the broad strokes of the planning process. Fusca has been impressed so far. “They are eager, curious, progressive and sophisticated in their approach. They even insisted that meetings be longer than we had originally planned, so that they could have a greater opportunity to sink their teeth into the projects we brought to them. It is both inspiring and humbling to work with them.” Their feedback will be made available in a summary report so people can see how the feedback has been used.

Irv Raymon, an architect who lives in North York, is something of an insider on the panel, but sees the process as very worthwhile. “It’s an amazing effort on the part of the city to educate a group of randomly chosen people and then to get knowledge back from them on how things might be done in a better way for the city,” says Raymon.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Sources: Daniel Fusca, Jason Wong & Irv Raymon
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