Brent Toderian says the eight most frustrating words anyone within a municipality can utter are: “We could never do that in our city.”
Toderian, the former chief planner for the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is the first of three speakers making up this year’s City Center Series, an exploration in placemaking presented by the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs.
In its third year, City Center will kick off its new series Wednesday, Jan. 24. Toderian will speak at the Richard F. Celeste Theater, Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave. All events will take place from 6-8 p.m. (doors open at 5:30).
During the kick-off event, Toderian will focus on how transportation and mobility design affect a city’s environment, economy and cultural vitality.
“Brent Toderian is one of the most exciting thought leaders in the field of urban design,” said Claire Swinford, the Downtown Partnership’s urban engagement manager. “His approach to thoughtful city-building is especially relevant to Colorado Springs at this time. His ideas on the future of urban transit will galvanize our public dialogue around current issues of public transit, walkability, bikeability and vehicle traffic, giving our citizens and civic leaders new tools to craft forward-thinking solutions for our city.”
Toderian, an advocate of dense, well-designed cities featuring transit-oriented development, was chief planner for Vancouver from 2006-12.
“Vancouver already had a reputation as a very livable city,” Toderian said of its history when he took the job. “It’s a city studied internationally for its planning and design. My job was to take it to the next level.”
It was during Toderian’s tenure, for instance, that the city prepared for and hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. He was also instrumental in increasing density and non-auto transit options and improving livability.
“Over a few decades, Vancouver saw its downtown population grow from about 40,000 to 110,000,” Toderian said, adding 7,000 of those are children.
“If you design [cities] for families and kids, you will get them in numbers that will surprise you,” he said. “We’re still told families don’t want to be downtown. But Vancouver is proof that’s not true. Many cities have proof. If families don’t want to be in your downtown it’s because your downtown repels families.”
Density done well
Having consulted cities across the globe, from the Americas to Australia, Toderian said one stands out.
Medellin, Colombia, was the home of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and was the murder capital of the world, Toderian said.
“[The city] contacted me after having already been named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the most innovative cities in the world. They wanted to take their city to the next step,” he said. “And I love using Medellin as a model. I use it as often as Vancouver.
“Relative to the significance of its transformation, Medellin’s challenges were much bigger than yours. They achieved so much because they got past a culture of excuse.”
Toderian said one conversation-ending excuse Americans tend to employ is that the country’s infrastructure must revolve around the automobile.
“There are three elements of density done well,” he said. “First is aligning land use and transportation and connecting land use and density … with infrastructure that achieves a mode shift from driving.
“If you design density for your car, it will be bad. It will fail. The only thing worse than low-density sprawl is high-density sprawl in car-dependent places.”
The second element, according to Toderian, is creating amenities that make density “livable and lovable,” including parks, community centers, daycares and schools.
“These are all things we need and should expect as density goes up but they are often not provided,” he said.
One solution is “density bonusing,” which requires developers to pay for infrastructure “that makes density work,” Toderian said.
“But that sounds like a regulation and American politicians hate regulation,” he said. “Americans are ideologically against success when it comes to city-building. But you need regulation for a good city.”
The third element of density done well is design, Toderian said.
“Cities should have a very high design standard. You have to design density well — even beautifully,” he said. “Why would people want density in their neighborhood if it’s ugly?”
When people picture density, they often assume the worst “because the worst is often provided,” Toderian said. “If you put all the elements in place, you stand a chance to have successful density, but all three often mean culture changes for a municipality.”
City Center tickets are $10 per event, or $25 for the whole series. Tickets can be purchased and the speaker schedule viewed at downtowncs.com/event/citycenter. There will be a free community reception in Cornerstone Main Space following Toderian’s presentation, with tacos and local craft beer from sponsor Fieldhouse Brewing.