A Next Level of Urban Achievement in Vancouver?

Brent Toderian's picture

Long before I arrived here, I've been a fan and student of Vancouver city-building.  

It would take many posts to fully explain the generations of decisions, attitudes, approaches and tools that have led to the global attention now given to our planning and design successes. Vancouver isn't perfect, but I do believe that this city's story has much to teach. Given that, we do our best to accommodate a portion of the many international requests for tours, delegations, speakers, articles etc. routinely received to discuss Vancouver's planning approach.  

There are, for those of you with an interest, some great books out there on the subject, from John Punter's The Vancouver Achievement, to Lance Berelowitz's Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, to the new, easy to read City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver  by former Mayor and Provincial Premier Mike Harcourt and former Chief Regional Planner Ken Cameron. 

But because we're not perfect, we also have much to learn from other world cities that are doing some things much better, or at least differently, than we are. We should continue to be both teachers and learners, and must view our successes and challenges with constructive candour. 

Luckily we are also a "destination" of sorts for great urban thinkers that we can learn from, and have many wonderful facilitators of public urban dialogue here in the city (the best, arguably, being Simon Fraser University's downtown City Program, run by fellow planetizen blogger Gordon Price). 

We passionately jump on every opportunity to learn from the best urban thinkers who come to town, and the conversations tend to be public, not just "professional". Just in the past few weeks, we've had idea-shaking visits from Jan Gehl from Copenhagen, Douglas Farr from Chicago, the ubiquitous Andres Duany from Miami, Jim Kunstler from New York State, etc. etc., all with exceptional turnouts from the public, associated newspaper or radio stories, etc. This level of strong public understanding and discourse on city-building issues is absolutely critical as we move forward, as an engaged city, to find what is starting to be called locally a "next level of urban achievement." 

Can Vancouver do this?  Can we reach another level of urban achievement? With growing challenges around sustainability and climate change, general affordability, homelessness, urban competitiveness, etc, we will have to. It will involve learning from the best global thinking, while continuing to foster a robust local dialogue and education around city-building.

Brent Toderian is an international consultant on advanced urbanism with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, Vancouver’s former Director of City Planning, and the President of the Council for Canadian Urbanism. Follow him on Twitter @BrentToderian



Education and interdisciplinary actions

Perhaps one of the things that can be done to spur toward another level of urban development is to foster interdisciplinary design and planning activities by means of conferences and research groups. We often get conferences or research groups that cater to just one of the design professions but rarely ones that pull the professions together. The CIP's Urban Design Group is a starter... more involvement is needed though.

Another thing I find curious about Canada's architecture and planning schools... they are often in separate faculties! I always thought they should belong to the same faculty and share resources. The Universities of Melbourne, Sydney and New South Wales are organised as such. Cross-disciplinary studios and theory classes as well as crits may be beneficial...

Cheers, Pat

Patrick Foong Chan, PhD
Mobile: 778-320 0536
Email: patrickfoong.chan@gmail.com

"For a free multitude is guided more by hope than fear." - Baruch Spinoza

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