What type of changes can Vancouverites expect to see when the city’s new general manager of planning and development begins his job next month?
The answer, it appears, is not up to Brian Jackson but to the Vision Vancouver-led council whose priorities are to build affordable housing and transit-oriented development.
“He is keenly aware of the challenges we face and we look forward to him working with our local neighbourhoods, businesses and not-for-profit communities to implement our vision for the future of Vancouver,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson Tuesday in a news release announcing Jackson’s appointment.
Jackson, who lives in Yaletown, is the acting general manager of planning and development in Richmond.
The 57-year-old University of B.C. graduate has 32 years of planning experience and worked previously in California, Nevada and Ontario.
He replaces Brent Toderian, who was fired in February after six years as the city’s head planner. To this day, Toderian believes his termination was related to management style.
Toderian wouldn’t elaborate on why he was fired but acknowledged there are often “natural tensions” between the city’s planning direction and development.
Jackson now assumes management of both areas.
“There are often natural tensions between the planning role, which is often how great the city is built, and sometimes the development role, which is about how fast it can be built,” Toderian said. “It’s been a very long and important tradition in Vancouver for very creative and progressive city building, and there’s a culture of that. That’s certainly the culture in the planning department. So I think it’s very important for Vancouver that that be maintained and even enhanced.”
The Courier relayed Toderian’s comments to Jackson, who said Wednesday he believes his experience working on the planning side and managing development applications will reduce the tension.
“It’s when the vision is so conceptual and so flexible that when an application comes in and people don’t know what the ground rules are, that that’s when the tension happens,” he said. “If we develop area plans that have specificity to them so that the community knows what’s going on, so the council knows what’s going on, so the developer knows what’s going on, then I think you can reduce that tension.”
Jackson said overseeing how the city accommodates growth will also be central to his role. He believes there is a misconception in the public that “the city is out of control” with how it’s growing.
“Accommodating growth that we anticipate, really doesn’t affect the vast majority of the land base that we have here in Vancouver,” he said. “You’re really looking at changing areas along the major arterials.”
Gordon Price, a former NPA city councillor and current director of the city program at Simon Fraser University, said the city made a good choice in getting Jackson.
But, he said, Jackson’s title of managing planning—and development—could limit his independence and essentially make him another senior staffer under the watch of city manager Penny Ballem.
“We haven’t had that many directors of planning, and to a great degree they have been a group of people who have articulated a vision for the city,” Price said. “I think the message from council—if it’s not clear, it certainly seems to be implied—that ‘no, we don’t want that kind of planner.’”
Price believes Jackson’s “singular challenge” will be taken up with Vision’s priority to get affordable housing built in the city.
“The Vision council wants the development community—because they have no choice—to be the deliverer of affordable housing,” he said, noting senior governments are not responding to the housing crisis.
Jackson begins his job Aug. 27.