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A Picture of Vancouver today

Our first phase of planning and engagement from November 2019 to August 2020 was designed to create partnerships, expand and support public participation, and to listen carefully for people’s hopes, fears, joys and struggles with a focus on those voices historically left out of municipal conversations.

The results give a clear picture of where Vancouver is today, pre- and post- COVID-19. In addition to identifying key areas of immediate priority, the input also helps inform goals and aspirations for the longer term – goals for the city we want to become.

Our Approach

The overall engagement strategy in phase 1 encompassed a range of methods: digital surveys, community meetings, dialogue sessions, and in-person interviews and outreach. This mixed-method approach was designed to solicit input and feedback, and also to begin the work of building partnerships. We were particularly looking to traditionally underrepresented populations to ensure their early involvement in the process and to seek their advice so that future engagement efforts could be more responsive, inclusive and welcoming.

What We’ve Heard

The responses gathered in this phase of engagement present a picture of life and work in Vancouver including the core challenges we need to address, the things we need to celebrate and promote, and some tensions and tradeoffs between the priorities of the community and existing policy commitments. We also heard clearly from a range of partners and stakeholder communities about how to shape the process and future phases of engagement.

Read the full report below or scroll down for a summary of key findings.


If you’re interested, the following report shows the full scope of work behind the analysis and findings, including the source inputs and methodologies.

Who We Talked To

November 2019 to August 2020


Survey responses


Community Visits


open-ended comments




Workshop participants


Youth workshop participants


Youth survey responses


Shape Your City Ideas


Shape Your City votes

Six Core Challenges

One of the sobering results from this phase was the fact that prior to the public health crisis the majority of respondents who participated in our survey felt that life in Vancouver is getting worse for them. Connecting the range of comprehensive public and community inputs, we were able to identify and synthesize six core challenges. Effectively, these six complex challenges form the problem statement that Vancouver Plan must address, according to public and community input.

Rising Unaffordability

Whether it was low-income seniors in Chinatown telling us they could no longer afford to buy groceries in the neighbourhood or parents at a Vancouver School Board advisory session sharing their struggles to afford transit to and from school for their kids, this core challenge – also expressed as cost of living – is one of the cross-cutting themes that emerged across all of our engagement efforts.

Housing Insecurity

As “Vancouver’s defining issue” – it’s little surprise that housing – access to, affordability and security of – is an overarching concern. Whether hearing from renters uncertain if and when eviction notices were coming or owners who shared their concerns for friends, neighbours and family members in a state of uncertainty about their housing situation, the issues remain central across all conversations.

Visible Public Struggle – homelessness, addiction and mental health impacts

A strong theme emerged regarding people visibly struggling on the streets of Vancouver with apparent homelessness, addiction, and/or mental and physical health challenges. They are grouped here because respondents spoke to them together, reacting to the visibility of these interlocked struggles in Vancouver.

The Need for Accessible and Efficient Transportation Options

A highly-ranked theme across the survey was the challenge of traffic congestion and difficulty moving around the city efficiently. People shared various complaints and frustrations with traffic, perceptions it is getting worse, and comments on how road infrastructure may be contributing.

Widening and Deepening Inequality

While this theme was as a closely related thread within some of the commentary on affordability and housing challenges, it offered observations of how pre-existing socioeconomic disparities in quality of life and life chances for Vancouverites are being exacerbated by these challenges and we noted concerns that the wealth or opportunity gap is increasing.

Eroding Trust and Confidence in Local Government

Low and diminishing levels of trust in government is a growing trend in jurisdictions across North America. We heard through the online survey, interviews and dialogue sessions that residents, committee members and stakeholders are concerned with the quality of democracy in Vancouver with a particular focus on City of Vancouver’s processes.

What Gives Us Joy and What Do We Need More of In Future

Throughout our conversations, whether online or in person, we listened not only for challenges, but also for what gave respondents joy, and their ideas for what to promote, preserve or to build to address pressing challenges or build a stronger future. This assets-based approach helps us understand what we must work to promote and preserve as a City – what differentiates us in the minds and experiences of respondents.

Preserve Places of Natural Beauty – green spaces, urban forest, beaches and waterfront access.

There was an unmistakable, cross-cutting theme when it comes to what brings people happiness in Vancouver: its natural beauty and hopes that Vancouver’s natural environment will be preserved and protected. We heard that respondents overwhelmingly find joy outside, whether at Vancouver’s parks, and beaches or simply from its close proximity to the mountains and ocean.

Promote Spaces and Policies that Support Social Connection, Safety and Community Well-being

Social connections – to friends, family and community – also ranked highly as a source of joy with support across all demographic categories. In terms of where “connection happens”, we saw themes about preserving and promoting walkability, “community centres”, “libraries”, safe and welcoming public spaces and vibrant, thoughtfully designed public spaces and neighbourhoods, as places of connection in Vancouver. Participants also name Vancouver’s cultural scene broadly, as important to them: its restaurants, food, small businesses, bars and music venues, art and cultural events.

Design a More Compact City

There was a strong desire for an urban design that improves access (walk or roll) to daily needs like food, recreation, school, work, all without the need for private automobiles and during periods of reduced access to public transportation. Participants in community design charrettes, Council advisory committees, and via the COVID-19 onward surveys, highlighted an interest in more compact design with access to groceries, neighbourhood serving business and recreation.

Increased Opportunity, Inclusion and Fairness for All

Across all inputs, we heard both a celebration of social connection as well as a desire to see Vancouver become more welcoming and inclusive across the socio-economic spectrum in order to maintain its character, vibrancy and diversity. This mirrors a corresponding fear of rising inequality – economic and social – now and in future.

How to Move Forward – Feedback and Advice on The Process

The Vancouver Plan team recognizes that it needs the help, talent, and inspiration of all the diverse voices and lived experiences of residents to create meaningful and actionable plans that will address the city’s current and future needs. These critical partners, among many other possible partners, flagged a need to align and connect into regional planning initiatives, to support local leadership with resources and culturally appropriate models for outreach, and better coordinated engagement by the City to sidestep long-standing “consultation fatigue”.

Think and Act in Partnership

A key piece of advice we received from current and potential partners was the strategic need to work regionally, and to work in partnership with other levels of government, community partners and advocates. It was clear that we are interdependent regionally and locally, and simply structurally could not address all the challenges on our own. The plan calls for collaboration and knowledge from community and from other levels of the public and private sector.

Improving and Evolving Our Outreach

To improve our outreach to be more inclusive and more reflective of Vancouver’s diverse population, the Vancouver Plan team will continue to respond and adjust our practice according to feedback we have received and best practices as they continue to evolve. The COVID 19 pandemic has exasperated inequalities and revealed more complex and systemic inequities around language barriers, access, resourcing, and capacity.

Address Specific Gaps in Audiences and Approach

Moving forward, we will prioritize and increase our efforts to reach and involve the following audiences:

  • Youth (under 20s)
  • Ethno-cultural/non-English speaking communities, including racialized communities within these demographic segments
  • People with disabilities
  • Gender non-conforming folks

Address The Trust Gap

Trust and confidence in local government was an emergent theme throughout the listening phase, particularly when we asked for explicit advice from respondents. However, we heard conclusively from our partners, stakeholders and residents-at-large that there are immediate improvements we can make to improve public trust, transparency and the quality and reach of the Vancouver Plan process.

Understanding Tensions and Trade-offs in the Findings

A number of key themes, while deemed priorities by City of Vancouver, did not always appear explicitly as priority themes throughout the public listening phase. Future work and analysis will help tease out these trade-offs between what we have heard and policy, governance and databased priorities, challenges and solutions.

What’s Next?

By the end of Phase 1 in Spring 2020, after a year of listening your hopes, concerns and aspirations, we developed 10 Provisional Goals for the city we want to become. These goals reflect where Vancouver is today and where your priorities are for the next 30 years.