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Tapping the Vancouver Planning Brain Trust

Many of the planners who helped transform Vancouver into one of the world's most liveable cities have been lured to cities all over the planet to try to tap in to the brain power that made Vancouver a success. But it's not that easy.
November 18, 2008, 6am PST | Nate Berg
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"White, a senior planner in Abu Dhabi, talks about community-input meetings and transit-oriented neighbourhoods and a central business district surrounded by dense residential districts. The map on the screen behind the podium is colour-coded to show parks and schools and mixed-use main streets. The language, the graphics, the choice of colours, and even the title-Abu Dhabi 2030-make me feel like I've been transported back to Committee Room 1 at Vancouver City Hall. Substitute Southeast False Creek or East Fraserlands for Abu Dhabi and I could be listening to yet another meticulous presentation in front of Vancouver's urban-design panel, albeit one on a vastly more ambitious scale. The déjà vu is not surprising. Until 18 months ago, White was Vancouver's second in command for EcoDensity; now, he finds himself one of the displaced 'Vancouver planning mafia.'"

"The capo, Larry Beasley, watches approvingly from the audience. Vancouver's former co-director of planning, Beasley has become emblematic of Vancouver's new image as the 21st century's utopian city, an image that is now one of our prime exports."

"Smart people get that it's more than just buildings that has made this city. It's even more than just good urban design. Vancouver got dealt the perfect hand: a group of bright, idealistic planners led by an innovative import from Toronto, Beasley's predecessor, Ray Spaxman; a council in the 1970s that encouraged a new kind of city planning; an influx of cash from Asian investors, which created a hothouse for development; acceptance from developers that they had to chip in for schools, day cares, and parks; and approving consensus from the public."

"Few cities have all those cards. Beasley says that for every question he gets about how to design cities, he gets another about how to convince parties to buy in."

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Published on Monday, November 17, 2008 in Vancouver Magazine
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