Sadly for me, even though I had an invite, I didn’t get to participate in the special forum on sustainable urbanism that was held Saturday at SFU, where the highlight was an appearance by Prince Charles. (Pre-arranged birthday celebrations in other cities intervened — tragic, really.)
But I heard it was inspirational, with the Prince clearly showing familiarity with interesting Vancouver projects (UniverCity at SFU and East Fraserlands were two featured topics of the day).For an idea of what was discussed, you can read Michael Geller’s blog entry here or the Vancouver Sun’s coverage here. I understand SFU is also going to post, at some point, video of the day’s events.
The forum ended with a formal memorandum of understanding signed between SFU’s Urban Studies Department and the Prince’s Foundation to work on developing some kind of joint education programs in sustainable urbanism. It’s one more sign — in spite of the Greek chorus of people who like to diss Vancouver’s development — of the way the world is beating a path to our city to look at the way we’ve handled new development and growth.
An enterprising person could start a small business doing nothing but show visiting planners, politicians, architects, geography students and others the various interesting new parts of Vancouver because this city gets so many of those kinds of visitors every year. I expect that during the Olympics, you’ll barely be able to walk down a sidewalk in downtown Vancouver without running into those kinds of tours.
The fact is, whether we like it or not, Vancouver has had a chance to experiment more than other cities, thanks to the influx of Asian capital, the popularity of this city as a second-home resort, its continued attraction for immigrants from other places in Canada and the world, and a culture of trying out new forms of development. Does that mean we don’t have our own special forms of awful sprawl? No. Or that we haven’t had some hideous failures in dense urban development? No.
But it’s a region where people talk about development and density, sustainable urbanism and the importance of transit to a high degree. As many people noted recently when I had a profile of the city’s planning director, Brent Toderian, in Vancouver magazine — in what other city would the director of planning be someone anyone would know or care about? But in Vancouver, planning matters.
Which is why the Prince, thanks to some assiduous negotiations between SFU’s Urban Studies director, Anthony Perl, and the head of the Prince’s Foundation, Hank Dittmar, came to Vancouver knowing a lot about it and prepared to admire some of the things we’ve done here. Which doesn’t mean people here — especially you critics here on my blog — shouldn’t push for more and better sustainable urbanism.
But this agreement between SFU and the Prince is one more way to create the conditions necessary to keep setting the bar higher.