Planner, Urban Strategies, Toronto

Interviewed by George Pantazis

Though Eric Gallant graduated from the Planning Program in 2010, planning hadn’t occurred to him during his undergraduate degree in Geography at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). A professor at UNBC who had taken into consideration Eric’s interest in urban geography and the environment, recommended York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. It wasn’t until he’d researched FES that Eric realized planning suited his interests.

“At first,” Eric said, “my plan of study at FES looked broadly at cataloguing the barriers and solutions to achieving environmentally sustainable cities.” As his studies progressed, he focused more closely on food planning and near-urban agriculture, trying to understand why land was continually being converted to suburban development despite seemingly sound policies to protect farm land and encourage compact development. This line of inquiry led him to an investigation of Ontario’s Places to Grow legislation and Canada’s housing industry. His Major Research Paper analyzed the implications of omitting housing policy from growth control policy in the Greater Toronto Area.

For his field experience, Eric interned at Toronto’s Urban Strategies Inc. where he worked as a planner on Vaughan’s Official Plan, and a number of municipal growth planning exercises. He participated in community meetings and roundtables, and helped with growth management studies in Durham Region and Comox Valley, British Columbia. Upon graduation, Eric completed an internship with Sustainable Cities International in Senegal, focused on building capacity at the City of Dakar planning department.

On his return, Eric was hired by Urban Strategies, where he is currently working on a range of projects. In Oakville, he is part of a team creating a master plan for the redevelopment of a 7 hectare site in the centre city. The plan will seek to balance the Town of Oakville’s desire for residential intensification with neighbourhood concerns about traffic, congestion and aesthetics. For Metrolinx, the regional transportation planning authority for the GTA, Eric is helping to analyze the potential for transit oriented development around GO train station sites. He is also developing a Citizen’s Guide to Density, funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The Guide will serve as an educational tool for citizens – explaining the benefits of densification through a series of case studies in well-designed, higher-order residential projects.

When asked how FES prepared him for his future career as a planner, Eric said critical thinking. “We were taught to take a step back,” Eric elaborated, “and look at the assumptions made on what a city is and how it functions. Critical thinking, for me, meant seriously questioning the processes, forces and actors at play in urban and regional development.”

“FES also taught me” he said, “that any professional who deals with cities has to look at them as something more than just buildings, roads, and infrastructure; at the end of the day, cities are made of people.” For Eric, this understanding this reinforces the importance of honest community engagement in city building. As a planner, he now works with an eye to ensuring development fits into its surroundings; advocating heights, densities, building forms and tenures appropriate to a site’s built, natural, and – perhaps most importantly – social context.