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?
Many cities are going to be left behind as planning takes on more of an active approach to our built environments. In the US you can see that some cities are moving forward and being creative, while others seem to be stagnate and are stuck in another era. The next ten years will be exciting as smaller cities (that have the room, budgets, and know how) will make themselves into desirable places to live on many accounts. They will have short commutes, plenty of green space, and vibrant neighborhoods. They will provide the options that many city dwellers seek at a fraction of the cost (when compared to New York city, Chicago, and LA). I believe this to be true and recently relocated from NYC to the Twin Cities, and I think our future is bright.