After a productive five-year run, Toronto’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat will “pursue other interests” as of September 29, 2017.
The progressive Keesmaat spent a lot of time battling quid-pro-quo politicians during her reign, as she embraced the Jane Jacob’s vision of street-level-focused, pedestrian-friendly cities. Keesmaat has not said what interests she is pursuing, but told her adoring Twitter followers that she will first take “a breather” and spend some time with her family.
Although her tenure was short, Keesmaat managed to make a big impression. She certainly hasn’t been afraid to dig in her heels regardless of opposition, even when the opposition came from our can-be-formidable mayor.
“I want to personally thank Jennifer for her tremendous passion, leadership and innovation in driving forward a number of major projects for the City as we continue to move Toronto toward becoming a more livable, affordable and functional city,” said Mayor John Tory in a release. “Jennifer has used her platform and voice as Chief Planner to help guide Council’s efforts to build a better city for all Torontonians and I wish her all the best in the next phase of her career.
I was just thinking the other day how the number of cyclists on downtown streets seems to have exploded recently, and Keesmaat deserves credit for at least some of that, championing reformed (and actually useful) bike lanes.
Even if, as a diehard driver, you hate her for it, our new focus on a more sustainable, less-gridlocked downtown core has added a vibrancy to the mix that I think benefits everyone in the long run.
Unfortunately, her battle to expand the Crosstown LRT will go unfought, as city council has consistently chosen less viable, more expensive options instead. She won’t see her imagined $1 billion central city park come to fruition either.
It’s not surprising that some of Keesmaat’s thinking was too modern for some. In June, she told the Toronto Region Board of Trade that young families should stop dreaming of starting their lives together in detached homes, and start picturing condo life. While she’s entirely right (and it’s not that bad, people!), it’s not what a lot of white-picket-fence-longing people want to hear.
“It’s been an honour to work with Mayor Tory, Council, City staff and my remarkable team in the City Planning division over the last five years,” said Keesmaat. “I promised myself that after five years in public service I would review my future options. I look forward to new challenges in the important business of city building now enriched by invaluable lessons, new friends and colleagues acquired while serving the people of our great city, Toronto.”
Love her or hate her, she made her mark, and we’ll be lucky to have someone with her passion and commitment again next time. Director for community planning for Toronto and East York Gregg Lintern will act as interim chief planner until a replacement is found.