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Mr. Big: Vancouver's Top City Planner

Brent Toderian has the respect of the world. If only local developers felt the same way
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City Planner Brent Toderian Image
"Good planning is not a popularity contest. Being liked is not my priority" -Brent Toderian Wendy D (original photo)

Brent Toderian has the respect of the world. If only local developers felt the same way

To understand how this city used to work, consider our tallest tower, that triangular shaft of light with the shimmering opalescent dots: the Shangri-La. When developer Ian Gillespie decided six years ago to add 646 feet of condos and luxury hotel atop that prominent Georgia Street site, he knew he’d need to go to the city’s central-area planning director with some rich plums. Bribes, you might call them, though “gifts” is a nicer word. They weren’t personal bribes for the planner in control, Larry Beasley. They were bribes for us, the residents and taxpayers. Gillespie offered to restore the heritage church next door, plant 57,000 trees to offset the building’s environmental impact, give $2.3 million to the city’s social-housing fund, provide space for a Vancouver Art Gallery sculpture garden, and come up with a distinctive design for the building, something Beasley would consider a worthy addition to the skyline.

There are people in this town who think Beasley was a genius for working out deals like that, which he did dozens of times in the decade before he stepped down, in 2006. He traded what developers most want—more space, especially high up, where it sells for bigger dollars—to get what he thought a good city should have but couldn’t pay for itself. But there are others who feel he bent the rules too far, cut special deals with developers, allowed too many condos in places that should have been preserved for businesses, ignored everything outside the downtown, and ran the whole show from his office.

The latter group was hopeful when Beasley left City Hall to become a private consultant. Then they worried that his successor, a 40-year-old planner from Calgary, would be just another Beasley. After all, Beasley had practically anointed Brent Toderian—an ambitious young man with a mania for talking about “good urbanism”—as his successor. As it turns out, they didn’t have to worry about that at all.

To understand how this city works now, consider the chunk of land just east of the new Marine Way station on the Canada Line. One of the city’s most experienced builders, the no-nonsense Andrew Grant of PCI, wanted to try something different on that patch of Southwest Marine. Two-and-a-half years ago, shortly after Toderian ascended to the throne of planning director, Grant pitched a complex of office space, stores, a Cineplex, and two residential towers. It seemed an ideal project for land next to a SkyTrain station, providing density, shoppers, and jobs right next to transit. But it’s industrial land, which the region is desperately trying to preserve and which developers love, because it’s so cheap that, if they can get it rezoned residential, they’ve saved themselves millions.

Recent Comments


He is one of the best genious we have in city planner, He is my inspiration.ThankU Sir.
Logo Design

by logodesigs1 on Apr 22 2010 at 10:50 PM

It's good to see the boot is on the other foot and the planners have all the power now! I hope this idea spreads to other cities, where I live is terrible for demolishing historic buildings with real character in favor of modern designs.

Cold Sore Treatment

by JoBeth on Dec 17 2009 at 12:17 PM

"Good planning is not a popularity contest. Being liked is not my priority" he says. Of course being liked should not be his priority, he is not in a bikini contest or something like that. Good article!

by ilmaistro on Dec 13 2009 at 12:23 AM

Shangri_la also has a big name here. It is one of the most luxurious choices we have. I have never spent any night there before, but I guess it should be so great..! Barcelona Tickets

by Laura911 on Dec 9 2009 at 3:44 AM
A user writes:
A well done, balanced biograph—though it's worth remembering that Calgary has pinched over 25 significant Vancouver head offices in recent years.
I've felt for years that the endless condo developments in the West End, Downtown and adjacent neighbourhoods would crowd out new commercial and industrial projects, and one day see Van condo owners trekking out to Abbotsford to find work
As for the Shangri-la, people who live or work there must have a seismic death wish.
Mr. Toderian was not the cautious, watch your ass type, in 2007. He calmed Main St. traffic by eliminating lanes and managed to grid lock 100+ square blocks for months. I suggested to his do-nothingness, Mayor Sullivan, at the time that Brent was a cat which needed belling. But he was too busy dithering over the Parks Board insurrection.
His problem is that he's a rube, a certificated hick who has his binoculars turned around backwards. Like all control freaks, particularly Gen X & Y types, he's a command and control type who couldn't sell a cold beer to Lawrence of Arabia.
But these modern missed opportunities, and might have beens, pale beside the ghastly interference with Edgar Kaiser's plan to build a COMPLETE, state-of-the-art steel complex in the lower mainland. All 53 B C Steelworkers demanded a meeting with Mr. Kaiser in 1980, got it, and laid down the law to him.
He got back on the plane to California, and built the complex at Fontana CA
John Connolly
by vanmag on Oct 1 2009 at 4:32 PM

" . . . quite the hot young planning couple in the city . . ." oh for heaven's sake they are not Brad and Angelina!

If we can get beyond pandering . . .

. . . we may conclude the real purpose of the city: the creation of wealth and opportunity for all citizens to live in reasonable, affordable comfort and security free from debilitating noise, stink and ugliness . . .

Despite the super hyped hyperbole, a decade of "high-profile planning directors", their civic employees, solicitous design professionals and developers, anyone who has a scintilla of sensitivity knows the built city is an embarrassment and if we cannot be introspective about what is happening expect more of the same . . .

by Urbanismo on Sep 20 2009 at 12:54 PM