Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Alexandra Flynn]

Published In

Urban Studies

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



urban studies, special purpose bodies, governance, land use, local government, neighbourhood, community, law and society


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 study 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’.


Accepted Version of the article - reuse is restricted to non-commercial and no derivative uses.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.