Innovator Profiles

Larry Beasley

Larry Beasley, City of Vancouver

Larry Beasley, retired Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver, is internationally acclaimed as one of the world's most important urban planners largely for his leading-edge work in making Vancouver, British Columbia, one of the most liveable cities in the world.

by Kayla Van Egdom

It was during his thirty-plus years in Planning for the City of Vancouver that he led the transformation of the downtown core along New Urbanism lines, creating a visionary planning model that became world-renowned as “Vancouverism” or "The Vancouver Model." In 2004, Larry was recognized as a Member of the Order of Canada for having "played a leading role in transforming" Vancouver's "downtown core into a vibrant, liveable urban community”.  In 2007, he received the Kevin Lynch Prize from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -  the most prestigious award in American planning.

In addition to his work in Vancouver, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans the globe from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.  According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as a designer of the city. He has learned that applying density, diversity, and citizen engagement as the fundamental principles of planning is only the first step in city design.

A key element to Beasley’s successful urban planning is to see the inhabitants of the city not as mere stakeholders, but as consumers of the city. As is true of any product with an end consumer, Beasley’s city designs have unique value propositions for each group of citizens. He employs what he calls experiential planning: fostering dialogue between citizens and planners in order to understand the desired living conditions of a city.

Beasley’s use of experiential planning has helped him understand the culture-specific needs of cities around the world.  In Abu Dhabi, Beasley recognized the local population’s needs for privacy and preservation of their culture. By recognizing these needs, he realized that courtyard style houses and relatively spacious living arrangements were necessary to make Abu Dhabi livable for its citizens. Through citizen engagement and the desire to understand local culture, Beasley is able to achieve both livability and sustainability for cities.

When asked about the current state of Vancouver, Beasley points out that there are both structural and infrastructural aspects of sustainability. Structurally, Vancouver has made great strides, particularly in terms of the density and diversity of its housing and the transportation system in the city’s core. However, in terms of infrastructure, Vancouver has a long way to go. Although the use of renewable hydro energy is a step in the right

 direction, our overall waste and water handling, energy use, and transportation methods are unsustainable. Beasley sees the need to rethink utility systems, layer Vancouver’s public transit system to make it more effective and accessible, and develop office buildings and housing more strategically (rather than building office parks in unpopulated areas and continually subdividing for single families).

Beasley says the transformations and challenges in Vancouver are mirrored across the country. While cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores, they are also facing the challenges of unsustainable suburban development that is accounting for two-thirds of overall housing.

Many successful projects have proven the attainability of Beasley's visions. For example, False Creek’s urban area (which Beasley played a vital role in designing) boasts a 90% citizen satisfaction rate and a reduced rate of car ownership.

In Beasley’s ideal city, everything of importance - grocery stores, schools and places of employment - is within the citizen’s walking distance. This not only addresses sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars. It also addresses some of our population’s current health problems as alternatives to driving, such as bike riding and walking, promote exercise and reduce environmental pollution.

Through citizen engagement and a consumer-oriented view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a liveable and sustainable one. He sees Canada as having a responsibility to lead by example (as cities all over the world look to the West for inspiration) and to observe and replicate sustainable practices that are being carried out in other locations all over the world.

Larry Beasley is currently the “Distinguished Practice Professor of Planning” at the University of British Columbia and the founding principal of Beasley and Associates, an international planning consultancy. He is also Vice President for planning of a major Canadian development company, Aquilini Development. He teaches and advises the private sector and governments around the world. He chairs the ‘National Advisory Committee on Planning, Design and Realty’ of Ottawa’s National Capital Commission; he is the Chief Advisor on Urban Design for the City of Dallas, Texas; and he is the Special Advisor on City Planning to the government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. (From Larry Beasley's bio in UBC SCARP at   http://www.scarp.ubc.ca/profiles/faculty/Larry%20Beasley)