John van Nostrand: Planning — and Unplanning — for the Future of Toronto

John van Nostrand is an urban planner, architect and designer.  He will speak at the Centre for City Ecology about the patterns of development that have emerged in Toronto and across the region, and the roles — both positive and negative — planners and planning have played.

Some say city planning has been a dismal failure.  Appropriate land-uses, especially around the edges of the city, are hit-and-miss. In many cases planning rules have failed to protect the vitality and diversity of older neighborhoods. Continued growth places extraordinary development challenges on both public resources and private enjoyment. Where are the planners?

Over the past 40 years, John van Nostrand has worked simultaneously on a wide range of urban development projects in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada and internationally. His work has included regional and district planning, neighbourhood planning and urban design, and housing design and construction in over 30 different countries for metropolitan communities ranging in size from 100 to 150,000 to 11 million persons.  Throughout he has explored, challenged and attempted to reconcile the blur between “developed” and “developing”; “colonial” and “post-colonial”; and “informal” and “formal” in order to address rapid urbanization.

What can we learn about the art and science of urban planning from the experience of Toronto and the GTA? John will describe three distinct periods in the history of urbanization and planning in Ontario: Colonial (1783–1853), Unplanned (1853–1942), and Fully Planned (1943–2006).  Lessons emerge here that could inform the future of the Greater Toronto Area. Do we need less planning, more planning, or possibly a different kind of planning?

“The pattern of field, woodland and road that covers the Ontario countryside grew gradually from the first small clearings, but it was not, as some may suppose, a haphazard growth, depending on the enterprise and choice of the individual settler. From the first, the government exercised a fairly rigid control over settlement and was, on the whole, successful in preventing random squatting.”

Verschoyle Benson Blake / Ralph Greenhill, in “Rural Ontario,” UofT Press, 1969

“If the city is to be known to its citizens as a ’legible’ one, they must be able to read it as at least one, but preferably several, superimposed and easily recognizable patterns. Within these patterns a mix and swirl should find public open space for its deployment.”

Joseph Rykwert in “The Idea of a Town,” The MIT Press, Third Printing, 1995

John van Nostrand is the founding principal of planningAlliance (, as well as its affiliated practices: rePlan Inc (see and regionalArchitects (see

John’s work has been recognized with international and national awards including the World Leadership Award for Town Planning, the Daniel Burnham Award, the World Habitat Award, numerous Awards of Excellence from the Canadian Institute of Planners and Ontario Professional Planners Institute, and many City of Toronto Urban Design Awards. In 2004, John was awarded the Jane Jacobs Award for Ideas That Matter for his contribution to and advancement of social housing and urbanism. His current work ranges from developing a flexible master plan for the Town of Seaton, just north of Toronto, to a plan for the historic districts of Amman, Jordan.

Curated by:

Centre for City Ecology


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