Part 3: Presentation by Peter Ladner
Former City of Vancouver Councillor, 2002-2008
Edited for clarity. For complete remarks, please refer to the video.
Marguerite Ford mentioned Art Phillips in 1973.If you really want to see a really outstanding mayor, read his inaugural speech. It’s unbelievable. He laid out everything he was going to do in his term, who would do it, all the details. [“And then he did it. And he was there for only four years.” Marguerite Ford]
It’s quite remarkable how he transformed the city, starting with that plan all thought out before he sat down for his first meeting.
I’m going to throw out a few anecdotes, starting with my personal experience as a member of Council during the hiring of Brent Toderian, who was the director of planning before Brian Jackson.
Just to give an idea of the real politics of it, I remember being called into the City manager’s office one day. We knew that Larry Beasley was leaving and we needed a new planner. And we were told, “We’ve got this great guy, you’re going to love him, and we don’t really have anyone else.”
So it was basically a take-it-or-leave-it kind of thing, and to this day I don’t know who made that choice, and whether the Mayor was consulted — probably in another meeting earlier than with Council. But we really didn’t have much say. I think Larry Beasley had a lot to do with it. I think the City manager had a lot to do with it. And who knows who else?
And then, right after we approved the choice, I started getting these phone calls: “Do you know who this guy is? Do you know how hated he was in Calgary by the development community?” I didn’t know that, so I was calling Calgary. Finally, I came to the conclusion that he was probably hated to the extent that he was because he stuck up for principles of city planning ahead of the interests of developers who weren’t used to that. And I took that as an OK sign. But there were almost emergency meetings at UDI about how to get rid of this guy.
I’m going to go through a few things that the City planner has to deal with.
One is pressure from developers who provide financial pressure. They finance City politicians pretty much entirely, and there is political pressure that they apply. They lobby heavily. They have people who may be in this room who are expert at lobbying Council behind the scenes. And they also have a compelling presence because they have expertise. They know what it costs to build these things. They know the reality of trying to do different things that the City might want done. But they know if it can or can’t be done.
City planning also has to deal with all of the past plans, and there are so many. CityPlan was the grandmother of them all in 1995. I think it was Gordon Campbell who originally said, let’s get this thing going – let’s get the citizens to come up with these ideas. It was only supposed to work for 20 years, so it’s out of date, but it’s still hovering in the background.
And then there are all of these neighbourhood plans. There is the bird accommodation plan, the green roof plan, the laneway housing plan. It’s a miracle that someone could come to some sense with all of these sometimes overlapping and conflicting plans.
The city planner also has to think about the City’s revenues as cities become increasingly dependent on community amenity contributions and on development costs and charges to finance infrastructure and all kinds of things. And unfortunately, that is a factor in decision making and planning.
The planner has to protect the public interest, but which public? The ones who show up at Council meetings or at neighbourhood participation meetings? Or the ones who sign up to participate in online polling like PlaceSpeak? Or the ones who say, “Sorry we aren’t going to listen, I don’t want that social housing in my neighbourhood, I don’t care what you say?” And they can show up being 90 percent at a public meeting, and we go ahead and say, “we are having it anyway because it’s a Council policy.”
The planner has to be good at listening and reaching out, be a great communicator, be able to go to the neighbourhoods and listen, explain, and show how the ideas are going to fit into their neighbourhood.
The planner to deal with the regional perspective because we are part of a larger region, and this forces us to take in many people as part of the growth of the region, and there is no stopping those people coming here. So the planner has to find a way to fit them into existing neighbourhoods, as we can no longer fit them into industrial areas because they are being used. The planner also has to be looking at the jobs base of the region and saying, we have to protect those industrial areas, which do not have constituencies except for few businesses and lobbyists. But they are vital to the health of the city and we are constantly eroding them. Every time I see new housing in an industrial area, I know that the residential folks have had their way and we have had one more car repair place, parking lot or bus depot pushed out of town, to the detriment of the city.
The planner has to be a bit of a dreamer and designer. Planners were credited with the dream of the seawall that goes all around the waterfront of the city, which is one of the great triumphs of planning in the city.
And planners have to be constant negotiators. Because I see so many people here who know so much more about this than I do, I’m going to close with this and a comment that somebody made about Larry Beasley, who was the consummate negotiator. No matter whether he was negotiating with Council to accept his ideas or with the neighbourhood or with developers, it’s been said that when Larry was negotiating with you, you felt like he was making love with you. And when he finished you realized you’ve been screwed. [laughter] That’s the mark of a great planner.