The Governance of Public Space by Legally Unique Bodies: A Case Study of Vancouver’s Granville Island

Alexandra Flynn, Claire Stevenson-Blythe

Research output: Working paper


This paper focuses on the governance of Granville Island, a former industrial stretch of land that operates as an arts destination abutting the city’s waterfront. While Granville Island might look like any other neighbourhood in Vancouver, it is in fact owned and managed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a federal agency, on behalf of the Government of Canada. This paper examines what it means, democratically speaking, for the federal government to operate public space in a city. Public entities are each legally unique, raising questions as to how public entities and their relationships with other entities can be understood, evaluated, and adjudicated. This paper animates how public entities are understood under Canadian law by demonstrating the difficulty in crafting inclusive, participatory governance models that respond to the many interests involved in public space, especially spaces that are explicitly identified as ‘innovative’. Drawing on qualitative data and document review, the paper highlights the manner in which Granville Island has been structured and operated by the federal government, its singular focus on commerce and tourism, and its weak commitments to accountability, transparency and engagement. Granville Island is rendered ‘invisible’ in its governance: it blends into the urban form as though part of the City of Vancouver, while at the same time lacking in accountability, transparency and engagement. We conclude that while Granville Island governs public space, making it seem like a neighbourhood in a municipality, it cannot be conceptualized as a ‘democratic body’.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2024

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