Brian Jackson’s appointment as the City of Vancouver’s general manager of planning and development last summer generated an onslaught of news stories and profiles.
He replaced Brent Toderian, who was fired last February from his job as the city’s director of planning.
Jackson, 58, had been Richmond’s acting general manager of planning and development and he’s also worked in Ontario, California and Nevada. “It’s a bit unnerving for somebody who’s worked both in the private and public sector,” he said from his city hall office earlier this month at the start of his fifth month on the job. “But in the public sector, the appointment of a planning director or senior staff person was never the subject of media interest or scrutiny. So I just couldn’t believe they would be interested in something like that.”
Jackson attributes the attention to Vancouverites’ fervour for urban affairs and architecture. “There’s a lot of media interest, but there’s also a lot of the public that follows these issues,” he said, noting the increased scrutiny doesn’t affect how he works. “I carry on my job professionally, to the best of my abilities and in terms of saying what I think when it’s appropriate. I’ve always operated under the guidance of current council policy and I don’t think it’s changed the way I do business at all, [but] it’s funny to be recognized on the street. When I’m walking down the street some people say, ‘Oh, you’re Brian Jackson.’”
That a senior-level bureaucrat is, at times, recognized speaks to the fact development matters have captured the public’s interest in unprecedented ways and helps explain the launch of this column.
Neighbourhood Dissent was also the Courier’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2012, in the wake of community protests against development targeted at city hall.
As reporter Mike Howell wrote in our Dec. 12 issue: “At the root of dissension was development. The ruling Vision Vancouver council is governing at a time when new single-family lots are non-existent and the population is increasing. They favour building up instead of out, creating office space for jobs around transit hubs and squeezing affordable housing onto an already dense land mass.”
Jackson said he thinks some people didn’t have a clear understanding of the type of change that could be coming and that the city needs to do a better job communicating more specifics about what future development could happen in neighbourhoods.
“We have to have a conversation with the community about growth — that the easy areas to accommodate future development in the city for the population that’s coming as Vancouver grows have been taken up. Now the decisions with respect to where and how much growth is happening are harder,” he said. “So we have to look very carefully at the existing communities and the goals, objectives and plans that have been developed. But we also have to take into account that growth is happening in Vancouver and we need to take a very careful look at where we want that to occur. So we need to engage the people, certainly through the planning process — the area planning process much more, and more thoroughly than perhaps we’ve ever done before.”
Developers, he added, also want more certainty with respect to rules by which they can or cannot develop.
This column will reflect perspectives of all those involved in development — from residents to politicians to
developers. Send me an email if there are development stories you consider worth coverage and watch for the next Developing Story for more on Jackson’s priorities for 2013.