Former Toronto Chief City Planner Paul Bedford knew from a very young age that he was destined for a career in city planning. Born in Toronto, and raised in Oakville, his strong passion for the geography of cities and fascination with municipal government was inspired by his father’s political career, first as a Chairman of the local school board, and then as a local councillor. He knew in high school that he wanted to become a city planner.
He decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in urban geography at Southern Illinois University. He completed a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning and worked as an intern at the St. Louis Redevelopment Authority in 1970 where he gained valuable inner-city experience.
Returning to Canada was a priority but job hunting during the 70s was much different than it is today. Bedford subscribed to the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Telegram to monitor job ads. Responding to an ad for a position within the planning department of the District of Surrey, B.C., led him to his first full-time job in 1971.
After spending two years in Surrey, Bedford joined the City of Toronto Planning Board as a neighbourhood planner in July 1973. During these early days, the planning budget doubled, and 12 new neighbourhood planning offices were set up around the city. Being able to move within the department gave Bedford the diverse exposure he needed, and it was here that he had his first experience with the Toronto waterfront section. Waterfront Toronto would later bring him back in a different capacity many years later as Chair of the Design Review Panel.
After moving up within the City’s planning department, and gaining much experience, Bedford ultimately became Toronto’s Chief Planner in 1996. This was a role he held until his retirement in 2004. One of the many highlights during Bedford’s time as Chief Planner was the development of the King-Spadina and King-Parliament Secondary Plans in 1996 with revered urbanist Jane Jacobs. They embraced out-of-the-box public policy thinking by abolishing traditional land-use planning regulations in favour of urban design performance standards. It was a bold initiative that has generated extensive private sector investment and massive revitalization of these areas.
Another major highlight during this time was the three-year interdepartmental process he led to develop a new Official Plan for the amalgamated City of Toronto that was adopted by City Council in October 2002 with planning policies and priorities established to guide change through 2031. This process led to a new interdisciplinary city planning structure which encouraged new ways for planners to think, act and plan through strong leadership, urban design advocacy and priority for the public realm. The Official Plan has been very successful in stimulating mixed-use development in the downtown and throughout the city.
In 2003, he championed a new Central Waterfront Principles Plan called “Making Waves. It advocated a series of core principles and numerous big moves to guide development of the central waterfront and was adopted unanimously by city council. It was also a foundation document for the development of Waterfront Toronto precinct plans and the relocation of the Don River mouth.
Although Bedford has retired, he hasn’t slowed down. Calling himself an “urban mentor”, Bedford is heavily involved with ULI as the Dean of the annual Curtner Leadership Program. He was approached by good friend and ULI Executive Director Richard Joy to help develop the program three years ago. It’s a program that invites mid-level city-building career professionals to develop new vision and action plans for neighbourhoods which are experiencing change and challenges.
Since his retirement from the city in 2004, Bedford also taught city planning at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University for ten years. He was a long-term member of the CAMH Property Committee to guide ongoing redevelopment of the hospital lands, a member of the National Capital Commission Design Review Panel, and is a member of the Design Review Panel for the University of Toronto, and as mentioned above, still continues to act as the Chair of the Design Review Panel for Waterfront Toronto.
He loves making an ongoing contribution to Toronto and looks forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of his planning career in 2020.