Today, I met with a potential client for the urban design company I work for, here in Montreal. A very interesting person, and might I add, who was quite different from most of the clients and prospects we usually meet. This led us to an interesting conversation about project approval.
Now I have previously worked on the other side of the fence with a local non-profit organization advocating a process for designing an eco-friendly, community-minded building. We had encountered similar problems in terms of project approval: from contacting the city planner to getting a clear understanding of what is tolerated or wanted on a site, most of the time cities rarely show much initiative and transparency, and feedback on reasons for refusal is even trickier to get.
While my eco-building process was a little bit more of a crusade than a business venture, levels of difficulties are pretty similar due to what seems to be mutual mistrust about the processes. Municipal planning services tend to process things too slowly for developers, who in turn lose money waiting on an answer. Money which, directed by creative regulation, could be used for setting up integrated design workshops or anything more productive than messy or empty public consultations.
This post is also about Integrated Design Process, neatly explained by Metro Vancouver in a series of PDFs. In a nutshell, IDP addresses the fact that professionals and stakeholders should be collaborating together throughout every step of the design.
IDP is mainly used when designing a building, specifically green buildings, and while its premise is based on the social acceptability of a project, IDP supposes that political acceptability will come from social acceptability. Politicians are usually keen on supporting projects with community back up, yet sometimes they also have to push a good idea even if it looks bad at first. But your idea doesn’t have to look bad if you have the time and money to invest in effective workshops, especially if these municipal bodies would inform you before you apply for a zoning change or a building permit. This might be a questionable method, especially when it comes to corruption risks, but I do believe IDP can help bridge this gap instead of bending the rules.