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When Land Use Planning Meets the Multicultural Society: Some Collision Advice


The CIP Statement of Values and Code of Professional Conduct includes an explicit commitment to the protection of diversity. What it doesn't address is "How?" This paper uses a specific instance of re-zoning to look at some of the ways planners can address diversity in the everyday world of land use planning.

It is often observed that land development, building permits, and related matters are a significant source of friction between diverse cultural and ethnic groups and municipalities (e.g., Baldwin Wong in these Proceedings). However, there is a great gulf between planners who work in such fields as immigration and multiculturalism and planners who work in "nits and grits" land use planning. It is rare that the two groups of planners are ever found in the same discussion together. In addition, land use planners tend to see multicultural or multiethnic considerations as "people zoning", and therefore as something they can do nothing about. It is no surprise that both groups of planners experience considerable frustration when their paths cross.

The 2001 CIP conference provided a forum to build a link across the gulf between the two groups of planners and two areas of practice. This presentation addressed non-land use planners. It used the example of an application for rezoning to permit a funeral home adjacent to a culturally and ethnically diverse residential community to illustrate the issues and to suggest solutions.

This "mini case study" provided an opportunity to illustrate some of the "wrong turns" that can be taken by land use planners. It seems that, faced with the complex and perhaps unfamiliar area of multicultural concerns, normally methodical and calm planners may have been seized by a sense of panic. Of course, these are wrong turns largely in retrospect. Hindsight is always perfect, and the issues that may seem clear two years later were certainly not always obvious at the time.

By way of background, the applicant applied to permit a funeral home in a general commercial zone (CG). The CG zone is found in areas designated Residential under the City of Ottawa Official Plan, and is intended to provide for neighbourhood-serving commercial uses.

The surrounding residential community was estimated to have five to six times as many Asian families as in the Ottawa-Carleton region as a whole. Many were highly skilled workers (at the Ph.D. level), relatively recent immigrants, and chose the community for its perceived diversity. A number of these residents found the idea of a funeral home visible and close to them to be very offensive. As one neighbour said, "This goes far beyond superstition." "A resident from mainland China said, "We would never have thought to ask about such a thing - it is just unthinkable." Non-immigrant and non-Asian residents saw respect for diversity as a fundamental Canadian value.1 Many found echoes of the dismay about the funeral home in their own varied backgrounds.

What is the first underlying issue? Often, residents are unclear as to the distinct roles of both the municipal land use planner and the City as a corporate entity. Land use planners, on the other hand, may take these roles for granted, and find it difficult to articulate them clearly, especially in lay terms.

What is the role of the municipal land use planner?

  • To investigate issues raised by an application.
  • To report objectively and fairly to Council on the application and on any objections raised.
  • To advise Council whether objections are valid; whether objections are founded; and whether a resolution is possible.

What is the role of the City?

  • To provide a full and fair hearing.
  • To provide a timely decision on an application.
  • To decide on the basis of full and well-founded information

How can planners connect the vision of a diverse community to land use planning?

Several suggestions, illustrated in part with the Official Plan of the [former] Region of Ottawa-Carleton, include the following:

  • Recognize that planing is a value-based practice.
  • Recognize that community values evolve and change.
  • Recognize that the current changes in immigration patters are changing the community values.
  • Use the vehicle of a vision statement and an Official Plan type process to canvass those values, subject them to public scrutiny, and allow for appeal.
  • Develop expertise in the area of multiculturalism, as has occurred with other evolving areas of planning such as environmental planning.
  • Establish a screen for multicultural impacts or issues for applications and reports. This is regularly done for issues ranging from financial impact to environment to public consultation.
  • Land use planning is constantly on the hop, trying to keep up with - or ahead of, if we are lucky - the emergence of totally new uses, and the evolution of existing uses in unforeseen ways.

Some examples from the past 20 years:

Gasoline service stations have gone from full service, with gasoline plus repairs; to gasoline only; to self-service gasoline; to self service gasoline plus a convenience store; and now to include a Tim Horton's coffee service. Fast food restaurants have gone from take-out counters and dairy bars; to sit-down restaurants; to sit-downs plus counters; to sit-downs plus take-outs plus drive-throughs. Drive through banking machines are a use we might have anticipated, but didn't - at least not initially. Each of these evolutions requires a re-evaluation of parking, space, site layout, adjacencies, and compatibilities.

Is this a human rights issue? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The case wound itself through an Ontario Municipal Board hearing and two levels of court hearings. In the end, the courts never dealt with the substance of the matter, and so we are none the wiser for the moment.

However, maybe the appropriate approach is simple and familiar. Why not just recognize that with the changing nature of many parts of Canadian society, a funeral home is a use that is not compatible with residential use?

- Nancy Smith, B.A., M.A.

1. This is not intended to suggest that the community was unanimous - there were strong views both for and against the funeral home.


5. To protect diversity. CIP members respect and protect diversity in values, cultures, economies, ecosystems, built environments, and distinct places.

- from Statement of Values and Code of Professional Conduct, Canadian Institute of Planners



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