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?
What is the role of the City?
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:
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.