Burnaby views needed in Urban Futures Survey

An opinion survey of Metro Vancouver residents that has helped shape growth in the region is back for a third time and participation from Burnaby is sorely needed.

The Urban Futures Survey was started in 1973 by the late Walter Hardwick, an urban geographer based at the University of British Columbia.

The survey and its followup in 1990 helped inform the original Liveable Region Plan and its successor, the Livable Region Strategic Plan which was designed to prevent urban sprawl out into the Fraser Valley.

Now Hardwick's daughter Colleen is carrying on his work using an online public consultation system, PlaceSpeak, which she developed.

The software platform allows researchers to confirm the municipality participants are located in when completing the survey, while also ensuring their confidentiality is maintained.

It's also a long way from the methods used by Colleen's dad.

In 1973, the booklet-sized surveys were completed in person over an hour. "You could never do that today," said Colleen, now a UBC graduate student specializing in geography and planning.

Her job as a girl back then was to take the 1,500 surveys, code them and take them to be keypunched onto computer cards, for analysis by a large mainframe computer that took up a whole floor of an office.

In 1990, as a young adult, she coordinated surveyors who were sent out into the field. When she went to get the 1973 data to run comparisons, it was on 5 1/4-inch floppy disks.

This time around, her challenge was how to do the survey when people often don't answer their doors or even their phones, assuming they even have landlines anymore?

So she developed PlaceSpeak, which people will be able to complete in about 20 minutes online. The survey is being sponsored by the non-profit Lambda Alpha International, also known as the Honorary Society for the Advancement of Land Economics.

Colleen said her father intended for the survey to be done every 15 to 20 years but with his death in 2005 it fell by the wayside, which is why updated data could not be used in developing Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy which was adopted in 2011.

Already she's getting calls from TransLink and local municipalities for the survey results for use in their planning work. Anybody in the fields of geography, planning, transportation, waste management and environmental studies among other areas will make use of the results, she noted.

But the key is to make the results representative of residents in the region, and right now Burnaby has the second-lowest level of participation behind only Surrey.

To be statistically relevant and consistent with the previous surveys for comparison purposes, it needs 0.2 per cent of Burnaby households to participate.

And it will help prioritize the region's transportation, density and growth initiatives, which is why the views of Burnaby residents need to be included.

"It has the potential, really, to inform the next generation of planners."

To participate, visit Deadline is Dec. 31.

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