Urban Fold

Is Your Planning Department Passionate?

Brent Toderian's picture

As we move into a 2009 full of staggering urban challenges - economic, environmental, social, and leadership challenges - do our planning departments have the passion, creativity and leadership to be what our cities need them to be? 

Those who've read my blog from the beginning, may remember my first post, on the state of North American planning departments and planning schools. Earlier this month, when I had the honour of speaking to the year's largest "captive audience" in Canadian planning as the feature speaker at the Annual Toronto Planning Dinner, I chose a similar topic, a respectful but candid "call for change" in Canadian planning departments. 

Would you say your local planning department exhibits passion and creativity in its work? As Jaime Lerner, city-planner/architect and now-legendary former Mayor of Curitiba Brazil, puts it, does your civil service exhibit energy, or excuse? Is it a persuasive champion for progressive and sustainable city-building? Or do you think these words should be associated only with political leaders, not civil servants? I hope some good dialogue results from this - we need it. 

Perhaps in the New Year I'll find some time to turn my speech into a longer post. In the meantime though, here's a resulting article from Novae Res Urbis, a great Toronto-based planning "e-magazine":

NovæResUrbis - GTA edition
Passionate planning needed 

Borrowing rhetoric from American president-elect Barack Obama, City of Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian said the planning profession needs change. "We need to be much more persuasive, much more creative, more dogged and passionate than frankly our profession has been," Toderian told the crowd of 830-planning professionals gathered at the Royal York Hotel for the 18th annual University of Waterloo planning alumni of Toronto dinner, Monday night. "I believe planning departments across the country need to be thought-leaders, partners of politicians we tend to be too passive as a profession and not nearly passionate enough about what real progressive city building is and needs to be."  

A graduate of the Waterloo planning program, Toderian was the first person in the annual event's history to attend the dinner as a student, as an alumnus and then return as a speaker. He has been called an "urban firecracker" by the Globe and Mail and is a passionate advocate for creative city building, working in Ontario, Calgary and now Vancouver.  

Toderian admitted that he could have talked about specific projects from his planning department or planning for the 2010 Olympic Games, but instead he decided to bend the ear of his target audience and inspire change.  

He said there is a new generation of planners-a creative wave-knocking on the door. "Planning departments are not regulators, we're not rule defenders, we're not merely passive followers of politicians or community and we're not poll-takers," he said. "We are professional and persuasive voices in progressive, sustainable city building, creative and engaged listeners and leaders. We need different planning departments across the country with a much stronger sense of urbanist leadership, more of a design background and much better at strategic thinking."  

In a challenging tone, Toderian asked: are planning departments prepared for the next generation of leadership?


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


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