Are planners doing enough to engage ethnoracial minorities in consultation activities and when decisions need to be made? I recently came across a 2001 study by two Toronto university professors, which surveyed planners across 25 municipalities within the Greater Toronto Area. The study found that consultation with ethnoracial minorities was not undertaken as much as it should be.
The study found that although information about ethnoracial diversity is available to all municipal planning offices, the information was used mainly as part of a background and did not contribute towards decision-making. The study also found that although planners acknowledge more should be undertaken to elicit the views of ethnoracial minorities, they experienced three principal problems. First, planners feared that by specifically seeking the views of an ethnoracial minority, others are not treated equally. Second, planners rarely had the mandate to do this from their municipality’s official plans and policies. Third, they were short of time and money to engage in any but the mandatory consultation. In addition, acknowledgement of the ethno-racial diversity of the GTA is all but absent from official plans.
The study’s findings illustrate the efforts that planners face amid growing diversity. Though the findings are not unexpected, it suggests that new approaches need to be considered to help planners learn, adapt, and respond appropriately to the current social and demographic environment. In our multicultural society, it is important and necessary to acknowledge diversity in official plans and other planning documents and to reach out to the various groups that enrich our society and culture. Why not adopt approaches to help planners learn about diversity in their communities? This can include ethno-racial sensitivity training and presentations to planning departments by settlement service organizations. Why not seek the views of ethnoracial minorities? Many immigrant groups experience barriers to participation in the public decision-making process and are therefore underrepresented.
As planners, we play a significant role in society. Reaching out to hard to reach population groups enables us to discover fresh perspectives; have first-hand information about community-specific issues; flag potential controversies; and provide solutions to problems that best meet their needs.
Let’s try a new approach and see what happens.
This blog post was first published by Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited in 2005.