Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Here we go again: the search for another Director of Planning Vancouver Courier July 29, 2015


While the city’s outgoing Director of Planning Brian Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, according to columnist Michael Geller his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.  Photograph By Dan Toulgoet

On Sunday afternoon I received some interesting news from the City of Vancouver’s Communication Office: “The General Manager of Planning and Development Announces Retirement.”

When I posted on Twitter that I found this resignation and the timing of its announcement disturbing, a fellow civic affairs columnist asked how I could be disturbed by someone else’s career decision.

While I will leave it to fellow columnist Allen Garr to comment on the unusual timing of this announcement, here is some background.

Brian Jackson was appointed GM of Planning and Development (a.k.a. the Director of Planning) less than three years ago. I remember the day since I spoke on CBC radio in his defense after he was unfairly criticized by former city councillor Ellen Woodsworth for his work in Richmond, where he was acting GM of Development Services.

Jackson’s appointment followed a major international search necessitated by the firing of the previous planner Brent Toderian. I also remember Toderian’s appointment since it too followed a major international search and extensive public discussion that included a May 2006 panel discussion at SFU.

I participated in that event titled “What To Look for in a New Director of Planning,” along with May Brown, Ray Spaxman and Bing Thom. Many noted at the time that only in Vancouver could the selection of a Director of Planning be regarded as major news.
But then again, it always has been.

Gerald Sutton Brown, the city’s first planning director, was fired in 1973 after 20 years, when TEAM, a new political party led by Art Phillips, swept into power. He was replaced by Ray Spaxman who arrived from Toronto.

Spaxman, who now lives in West Vancouver and continues to take an active interest in planning issues, transformed Vancouver’s approach to city planning with a focus on community consultation and a concern for “neighbourliness.”

I served for many years on the city’s Development Permit Board Advisory Panel during his tenure and developed a great respect for his desire to make Vancouver a more beautiful and walkable city, with continuous weather protection and “pedestrian interest at grade.”

Spaxman resigned in 1988 following ongoing disagreements with then mayor Gordon Campbell.
Most people have forgotten about his successor, a fellow named Tom Fletcher who lasted five years.

According to Sunday’s press release, Jackson spent the last three years “leading the most ambitious planning agenda the City has ever experienced.”

Many old-timers, me included, would strongly disagree with this, noting that during Spaxman’s term of office, the character of the city transformed dramatically. He oversaw the planning and development of new communities along False Creek and Coal Harbour, Champlain Heights and the Fraser River, and incorporated housing in many areas of the downtown.

While Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.

The Downtown Eastside is particularly disappointing. Rather than encourage a broader mix of households and housing types, I fear his plan reinforces the core of this neighbourhood as a low income ghetto for years to come.

When Jackson started his position, one of his promises was to greatly improve the city’s approval process. However, as noted in the recent Fraser Institute report on municipal red tape, Vancouver remains near the bottom of the list when it comes to approval times and uncertainty.

What Sunday’s press release did not say is why Jackson is leaving after only three years.
During a CBC radio interview on Monday, he said he decided to leave during a recent holiday in Paris. At the age of 60, he wanted more personal time for himself.

He also acknowledged his decision to leave was partly influenced by ongoing criticism, including a letter signed by former city planners, planning professors, consultants and associated professionals, myself included.

We were concerned about a number of inappropriate development approvals and what we saw as a diminishing respect for the importance of urban design and planning within city hall.
While I wish Brian a happy retirement, hopefully the next Director of Planning can more effectively address these concerns.

Postscript. I am now advised that the Sunday afternoon press release was precipitated by the fact that Frances Bula had learned of the resignation and was doing a Globe and Mail story Monday morning.

Fellow columnist Allen Garr also shares some valuable insight into the story behind this story here: 

While the city’s outgoing Director of Planning Brian Jackson successfully oversaw approval of new plans for the West End Plan and Marpole, according to columnist Michael Geller his plans for Grandview-Woodland Plan and the Downtown Eastside can hardly be considered successes.   Photograph By Dan Toulgoet - See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/here-we-go-again-the-search-for-another-director-of-planning-1.2013290#sthash.GjGFoCqM.dpuf

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