When I just looked through my notes, I realized that I apparently haven’t blogged about a great event from September 2012 where I had the unique opportunity to listen to former Vancouver city planners Ray Spaxman and Brent Toderian who shared their experiences at the Museum of Vancouver. Instead of giving a recap of their discussion, I’d like to focus on some great quotes and take-aways.
Brent Toderian first said that he is particularly interested in systems and fell in love with the complexity of cities as these are the most complex systems that humanity had created. In his view, city planners are inherently optimistic and forward looking because they want to contribute to the future.
According to Rax Spaxman, as a city planner you have the responsibility to the public and you have to share all the information that you have with everyone. Actually, you even have to share it with those who oppose you as you should also listen to them.
Considering a triangle diagram consisting of public servants, politicians and the public, in a bad system one tells everyone what to do. In contrast, the broader you can make the involved community, the better and stronger it will become.
In this regard, Brent Toderian added that Vancouver did consultation processes better than any other city in North America. In particular, public engagement processes in Vancouver influenced and educated planners and decision makers who then had to make it transparent in their decisions that they have listened.
So, it is important that city council does not make up its mind before a public hearing. That’s why he always told his staff that they’re not an advocate to defend a project as the integrity and independence of the planning department is so important.
Finally, on the issue of good design, Toderian shared one reason for his successful time as Vancouver’s Chief Planner: “We do design first, design that works, then revenue.” And according to Spaxman, “the essence of good design is commodity, firmness and delight”.