By Kayla Van Egdom
Carbon Talks is proud to launch a new blog series: Innovator Profiles featuring individuals and technologies that are helping Canada shift to a low carbon economy.
#1: Larry Beasley
Larry Beasley is an innovator in the urban planning sector. His vision and talents have played a vital role in the development of Vancouver City. In addition to the work that helped produce the livable and desirable “Vancouverism” of our city, Larry Beasley plays the role of city planning advisor to many other urban areas – his expertise spans internationally from cities across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.
According to Beasley, every urban planner must act as the designer of the city. He has learned that applying the underlying principles of planning (density, diversity and citizen engagement) is only the first step in city design. Every city has its own culture, and this culture will drive the necessary modifications of the basic principles.
A key element to Beasley’s widely 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 (compared to the dense arrangements in Vancouver’s inner city, for example) 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 all very unsustainable. His suggestions for sustainable infrastructure are 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 sees the transformations and challenges in Vancouver mirrored across the country. Cities throughout Canada are seeing a shift towards sustainable city cores. They also face the challenges of unsustainable suburbs that account for two-thirds of overall housing.
Beasley has proven that his visions are definitely attainable. 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 will not only address sustainability issues related to over reliance on cars, but also address some of our population’s current health problems as exercise-centric alternatives to driving such as bike riding and walking are healthy on an environmental and personal scale.
Through citizen involvement and a consumer-based view of cities, Larry Beasley believes that every city can become a livable 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.