Montgomery County’s loss is Calgary’s gain: Rollin Stanley escapes from the coven to Canada

Not sure how this escaped me, but it seems that a few weeks ago, Rollin Stanley was announced as Calgary’s new chief planner. Rollin Stanley, you’ll recall, was the very vocal pro-urban growth planner in Maryland’s Montgomery County, north of Washington, DC, who resigned after these four sentences appeared in Bethesda Magazine:

He has little patience with dissenters. Stanley goes so far as to accuse them of being “rich, white women…spreading fear.” He says they stalk his appearances before community groups, sowing discord. He claims they refer to themselves as “the coven.”

Most Americans still don’t think of Calgary as a very urban place, but it’s been holding its own against Vancouver and Toronto lately when it comes to urbanism in Canada (which is generally much more advanced than urbanism in the US), even without true rapid transit (the C-Train, while impressive as light rail, still has to cross streets). Calgary’s skyline’s been booming, and as the Calgary Herald writes, the city also has an urbanist mayor:

Stanley’s approach somewhat resembles that of Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and beyond his unconventionally frank yet also high-reaching rhetoric. Nenshi, too, deplores suburban sprawl and the financial challenges it brings for government, and praises more walkable districts and transit.

While Nenshi avidly uses social-media site Twitter, Stanley blogs prolifically with long rhapsodies on everything from master plans and neighbourhood walkabouts to census data and criticism.

Here’s his old Montgomery County blog – does anyone know if he’s keeping one in Calgary? Or if maybe we could lure him to Twitter?

There appears to be a general political consensus – that thing Alon Levy’s always talking about – towards urbanism in Calgary, so Calgary will likely get good urbanism:

While the developer sector in Calgary is well-organized, there’s not as professionalized and unified community movement against smart growth principles here, although Watson had warned as he left about community resistance to the coming changes.

In fact, Stanley has showered praise on Calgarians’ support in helping shape the Plan It and Imagine Calgary long-range blueprints.

“That is not something that happens in a lot of places because it cannot happen in a lot of places, so instantly that tells you something,” he said in a brief interview after being announced as planning GM on April 23, the provincial election day.

Anyway, the whole Calgary Herald article is great. But if you don’t have time to read it, here’s another interesting bit about his relationships with private developers in Maryland, and how those in Calgary perceive him:

The Ontario-born Stanley’s outspokenness has caught the attention of the development industry here, curious about the successor to David Watson, the general manager of planning who retired last month.

“We have this sprawling landscape, and it’s what people want. So how do you not provide what people want?” asked Shane Wenzel, president of Shane Homes, which is building in new communities in all four Calgary quadrants.

“You’ve got to hold out some hope that Rollin’s at least open to conversation and what’s been written about in the past is maybe taken out of context. Maybe he’s never really experienced a place like Calgary to this point.”

There may be little choice in the matter, with years’ worth of land already planned for new suburbs and more in the hopper – though their density creeps ever upwards with fewer single-family homes.

Stanley got along just fine with the development industry in Montgomery, who shared his desire to maximize their land’s value by building up and building attractive.

“I was really sad and I think most of the business community was really saddened when he left because he’s a strong advocate for smart growth and developing our spaces in an urban way,” said Evan Goldman of Federal Realty, one of the companies behind White Flint.

It looks like Shane Homes is a suburban, greenfield, single-family builder – it’d be interesting to see how the land owners and developers downtown feel. The article also notes that the Canadian prairie city “is still building anew on almost all its fringes.”

A nice compromise would be for Rollin Stanley’s planning department to continue to allow continued sprawl, while at the same time trying to counteract it by liberalizing infill growth. With the exception of maybe Chicago, it would be the first city to allow density without at the same time restricting sprawl.

Again, the Calgary Herald article.