The exit in­ter­view: Jen­nifer Keesmaat

Toronto’s chief plan­ner is ar­guably the city’s most pop­u­lar bu­reau­crat. She cham­pi­oned Rail Deck Park, the com­plete streets con­cept and brought a new era of trans­parency and public en­gage­ment to the plan­ning depart­ment. Af­ter five years, she re­signed from

Village Post - - News | Cityscape - by Ron John­son

Un­der your ten­ure, city plan­ning pri­or­i­tized public en­gage­ment, but aren’t you con­cerned that ev­ery­one is be­ing called a NIMBY?

I don’t think the word NIMBY re­ally ap­plies in Toronto, to be hon­est. We are the fastest grow­ing city in North Amer­ica, so Toron­to­ni­ans are not only tol­er­at­ing change, but they are sup­port­ing a tremen­dous amount of change right now. Do peo­ple some­times op­pose a project? For sure. Is that what hap­pens the ma­jor­ity of the time? No. The vast ma­jor­ity of times projects are sup­ported by area res­i­dents. Part of that is the con­ver­sa­tion we con­tinue to have at the city. When peo­ple come out and want to talk about city build­ing, it’s not a good thing for us to be dis­mis­sive and not have that con­ver­sa­tion. We are mov­ing the dial and hav­ing dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions than we had five or 10 years ago.

Even Mar­garet At­wood, when she spoke against an An­nex de­vel­op­ment, was called a NIMBY.

I think it was un­fairly ap­plied. She raised is­sues about trees be­ing cut down. She raised is­sues about the fact that af­ford­able hous­ing wasn’t be­ing built. She got la­belled as be­ing anti-growth. She’s not anti-growth, and she wasn’t op­pos­ing growth. So I think what’s im­por­tant is that we do cre­ate the space where we can have con­ver­sa­tions in the city about change with­out sud­denly stick­ing a la­bel on peo­ple that is meant to shut down the con­ver­sa­tion. And I think that’s what hap­pened in that in­stance, and I wasn’t im­pressed.

You use so­cial me­dia to con­nect and tell us what you think, but that hasn’t al­ways gone over well. Have you ever felt muz­zled at the city?

No, I never felt that I was muz­zled. I did feel like there were some in­vis­i­ble lines, and I would dis­cover where they were as I crossed them.

It was sug­gested the next chief plan­ner “should stick to the knit­ting.” What are your hopes for your re­place­ment?

I think there is a firm tra­jec­tory that has been es­tab­lished over the course of these past five years. I know the mayor is very sup­port­ive of that tra­jec­tory, and it’s one that is based on a vi­sion-driven ap­proach to cre­at­ing com­plete, liv­able com­mu­ni­ties. I think we will have a very open en­vi­ron­ment for growth as long as we con­tinue to have those con­ver­sa­tions about the fu­ture city we are work­ing to build. At the same time, the next chief plan­ner will have to find his or her own way in this uni­verse.

What is your favourite de­vel­op­ment in the city?

That is a ridicu­lously hard ques­tion, but I’m go­ing to say Park­way For­est at Don Mills and Vic­to­ria Park. There are so many things, I think, that are ex­cep­tional about that project.… It’s be­come this lit­tle jewel in the heart of the sub­urbs where an en­vi­ron­ment that was once feel­ing dis­con­nected and des­o­late now feels like a very ur­ban place with a strong sense of com­mu­nity where fam­i­lies can re­ally thrive.

Proust Ques­tion­naire, Toronto style. De­scribe your perfect Toronto day?

A bike ride through the ravine sys­tem with my kids.

What is your Great­est fear?

That we for­get, as Toron­to­ni­ans, that the city needs to con­tin­u­ally be nur­tured. I be­lieve the city is vul­ner­a­ble to whims and fads, and my great­est fear is that we take our hand off the rud­der.

What one skill would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to speak many lan­guages.

Star­bucks or hip in­die cof­fee­house?

Hip in­die cof­fee­house.

Street­car or sub­way?

De­pends on the cir­cum­stances. Some­times I want to be above ground and see the city, and some­times I want to just move re­ally quickly.

Rap­tors or Maple Leafs? I’m sorry — Rap­tors. Bi­cy­cle or car?

Bi­cy­cle.

Where in the city would you most like to live?

I live there, at Yonge and Eglin­ton. But I could live any­where in this city, in­clud­ing in Princess Anne Manor in the sub­urbs of Eto­bi­coke to the Beach to South Core to Toronto Is­land. I could pretty much live any­where in this city and be deliri­ously happy.

What is your most trea­sured pos­ses­sion?

It’s a T-shirt that I got when I at­tended Obama’s first in­au­gu­ra­tion, and it has a pic­ture of Obama, and it says, “Hope, Dream, Change.”

Doug Ford or John Tory?

Please don’t do that to me. Ob­vi­ously John Tory.

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