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Vancouver’s long-time planning voice silenced

December 29th, 2008 · 4 Comments

Several people have sent messages last night and this morning about the death on Saturday of Peter Oberlander, who founded the planning school at the University of B.C., became Canada’s first deputy minister for a new ministry of state for urban affairs in the 1970s, and was involved in planning both of the major housing conferences that came to Vancouver: Habitat in 1976, and the World Urban Forum in 2006.

For someone like me, he was simply an encyclopedia of knowledge about the history of planning. I remember interviewing him for a CBC Idea’s series I did on homelessness (a decade ago now!) and marvelling at his ability to deliver a perfectly crafted mini-lecture, in his beautifully accented English, on whatever obscure point of housing or planning policy that I might ask him about. The house that he and his wife, Cornelia, the famous landscape architect, lived in was a reflection of everything they believed in — a multi-level modernist house that seemed to mesh, through the glass walls, with the forest around it.

Vancouver planning department head Brent Toderian sent out this small remembrance of him to city staff:

This is very sad news – Peter and Cornelia were just honoured as the last act of the previous Council, with the City’s highest civic award, surrounded by friends and family in Council Chambers.

Peter was a wonderful and generous man, and a tremendous leader and educator in planning. His accomplishments included founding SCARP at UBC, and famously resigning as chair of the Vancouver planning commission in open council in protest over the then-council’s support of the freeways, a move often credited for sparking the freeway debates leading to us being the only city without freeways.

A more significant planning couple in Vancouver, there has never been.

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