A contemporary governance question of growing importance is, who should have a voice in decision-making? In business, this finds expression in emerging interest in shareholder rights. In the public sector at the municipal level, there's growing evidence of citizens' desire to be engaged in meaningful ways, particularly on questions of urban development and zoning.
Some cities have shown inspiring leadership in this area, but not the City of Ottawa. As Canada's national capital, one might expect Ottawa to be a torch-bearer, showing other municipalities how democracy should be practised in a contemporary urban setting. But Ottawa's approach to citizen engagement tends to be bush league. Its closed-door approach with respect to a crucial development site known as Lansdowne Park in the heart of the city caused a coalition of citizens to come together as "Friends of Lansdowne". This group opposed the lack of a design competition for the site, and was appalled by the city's plan to award a sole-source contract to a consortium of developers, contrary to its own policies. In the absence of any authentic consultation with citizens, the Friends launched a legal bid to stall the proposed development and put the planning process back on track.
Ottawa's old-style approach to citizen engagement stands in vivid contrast to how the City of New York gathered citizens from across the USA to discuss what was to be done with the World Trade Centre site. To learn more about what constitutes effective citizen engagement, and how Ottawa is missing the mark, click here to read a speech by Tim Plumptre to 400 citizens who gathered to support the Friends of Lansdowne's legal appeal.