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Vancouver city planner sees term ended by Vision council

January 31st, 2012 · 45 Comments

My news of the day, which started circulating among developers and architects last week: city planning director Brent Toderian being told his contract is being terminated.

Council is supposed to vote on it in camera today, but it’s widely known among those close to city hall.

Here’s the profile I did of Brent a few years ago, when he was already dealing with local hostilities in the first three years of his job.

As you can see from it, there are things to like about Brent and, if you were a developer with a project in front of him, potentially things not to like.

He has boundless, unsquelchable enthusiasm for his job and talking about urban design and planning. He held a steady line on resisting any efforts to remove industrial land, on promoting good urban design and more “exuberant” architecture in this somewhat bland city, and on the need for affordable housing and rental stock.

But he also, as Bob Ransford pointed out in that profile three years ago, had a hard time with the necessary political skills needed to keep developers on your side even while getting them to improve their projects or to connect with neighbourhood groups. He was happiest when he was with other urban-planner wonks and architects (or reporters), talking about urban-design ideas.

There has been some mixed reaction among the people I called. A lot have been cracking open the champagne all weekend, as one architect told me. And, unlike what some people might think, it wasn’t because Toderian didn’t approve their projects (though that’s certainly the motivation for a few).

But, said my Architect Friend, Toderian was a concern because he focused so much on policy and left the job of actually steering big projects — those physical objects that are the embodiment of policy — through the system. He, and others, worried about his ability to set out and stick to a big vision for the city.

And like many, he contrasted him with former planner Larry Beasley, who is not without his own flaws, but who set out clear rules for developers. He demanded that they give a lot back to the city, but he also would make it very clear-cut how they could get their projects approved.

On the other hand, another person in the development community said he’s saddened by Toderian’s termination and in the way others are cheering it. He says some of them were people who just resented being asked to make changes to bad projects and he didn’t like the way they piled on in criticizing Toderian. He saw Toderian growing into his job and keeping a clear focus on the city’s essential priorities.

One of the interesting facets of this story for me is that I don’t have a very clear picture of how Toderian was viewed by neighbourhood groups. All of the debate around him has come from the tight circle that works at city hall. I’d be interested to hear your experiences of him out in the real world, far far from mine.

One note before comments and anecdotes begin: Criticisms are fine, but please keep this respectful when you phrase them. This is a real person’s life.



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