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Planners as Heroes of the Future: "We are where we live."

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  • Katharine Minott
    Thursday » August 21 » 2008 City planners have a creative responsibility Michael GellerSpecial to Westcoast Homes Saturday, August 16, 2008 As you enter
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      Thursday » August 21 » 2008







      City planners have a creative responsibility Michael GellerSpecial to Westcoast Homes
      Saturday, August 16, 2008
      As
      you enter Winnipeg, you cannot miss the signs proclaiming it is "One
      Great City". However, Mayor Sam Katz and a local newspaper recently
      invited city residents to come up with a new slogan for the city. Some
      popular suggestions include: "City of Opportunity," "Heart of the
      Continent" and "Muddy Waters, Clear Skies."Vancouver planner Jay
      Wallenberg supports none of the above. He thinks it is a mistake for a
      city to have a competition for a new tagline. "If a city has to create
      a slogan for itself, something is very wrong," says Wallenberg. "After
      all, does Paris need a slogan? Does Vancouver need a slogan? Of course
      not."Wallenberg and I were recently in Winnipeg, along with
      Vancouver's director of planning, Brent Toderian, and 700 delegates
      attending the Canadian Institute of Planners' annual conference. The
      theme was Planning by Design in Community: Making Great Places, and the
      gathering included Canada's best known planners, as well as two
      thought-provoking keynote speakers from the U.S. and Great Britain,
      Jeff Speck and Charles Landry. Speck is one of the leaders in the New
      Urbanist movement and author of Suburban Nation. He told the audience
      that planners once had much greater status in the community than they
      do today. The original purpose of zoning was to improve health and
      increase longevity by separating noxious and residential uses. As a
      result of their zoning bylaws, planners were hailed as heroes; sadly,
      however, the resulting bylaws and separation of uses have had negative
      impacts in subsequent years. In some cases, for instance, residential
      neighbourhoods have been left without shops and commercial services.His
      thesis is that planners now have a new opportunity to become heroes
      once again by helping to avert two pending disasters: global warming
      and declining health standards. He warned that for the first time in
      history, North American health professionals fear that the life
      expectancy of children may be less than that of their parents.Just
      as we have come to recognize that "we are what we eat", there is a
      growing belief that "we are where we live." People living in
      car-oriented, low-density suburban environments are more likely to be
      obese, with lower life expectancies than those in higher-density, more
      compact, walkable communities, Speck said. Furthermore, less
      car-dependent neighbourhoods can help reduce greenhouse gases and
      related climate changes.Speck is particularly critical of school
      boards that replace smaller neighbourhood schools with larger schools
      in outlying areas that can only be reached by car or bus. He is also
      critical of politicians who allow traffic engineers to dictate the
      design of roads that too often are poorly suited for pedestrians and
      cyclists.Praising the work of Vancouver planners Patrick Condon
      and Larry Frank, Speck urged his audience to design communities with a
      focus on VKTs -- or vehicle kilometres travelled. While acknowledging
      it is helpful to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact
      fluorescents, the benefits are minimal compared to replacing private
      automobiles.Speck was followed by British urbanist and writer
      Charles Landry, who asked the audience why buildings and cities are not
      planned the way they are supposed to be. He pointed out that we all
      know how to design good places, yet we rarely do. The author of The
      Creative City and The Art of City Making, Landry is generally
      acknowledged as the founder of the worldwide Creative Cities movement,
      which has been popularized by Richard Florida.Landry believes
      that good planning is an art, not a science, and that great cities
      result from imagination and creativity, not engineering and planning
      formulas.Today, he travels the world armed with thousands of
      photographs, urging civic leaders and planners to be less rational and
      more creative.Michael Geller is a Vancouver-based architect, planner and real estate consultant who is running for city council.
      © The Vancouver Sun 2008





















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