About Us

A New Physical Planner and Landscape Architect in the Mix at Urban

Frontier Urbanism

We recently added a new member to our team in Vancouver. We are very fortunate and excited to have the talented Dave Flanders join the Urban Systems. Dave is a physical planner and landscape architect and has a uniquely varied career background that includes projects from the far north to the far south. We chatted with him about what he brings to our team and about his experiences working on the frontier.

What brought you to some of the places you’ve worked?
“Originally I was a researcher at UBC working with communities needing to respond to climate change. I spent several years doing local design and planning in Delta and North Vancouver and some as far away as Nunavut, India and Nicaragua.”

Dave and his family
While at UBC, Dave met his wife Cecilia who is from Mexico and is also an environmental planner and social entrepreneur. The two were soon working together in Mexico as consultants.

“We would travel to these rural communities in the mountains of Mexico, live there for a while and work with them on community planning initiatives. There would be times I’d spend a month in Mexico then fly back to Vancouver, dash home, grab a backpack of clothes more suited for the arctic, fly to a First Nations community up North, work for a few weeks, fly back to Vancouver and switch bags to head to Mexico again. My life as an independent consultant has been an adventure. I started getting involved with environmental impact assessment processes and along the way was trained to do traditional land use surveys with indigenous communities where some of these big energy, mining and infrastructure projects were happening.”

What are Traditional Land Use Surveys?
“Traditional land use surveys are a form of socio-cultural research typically undertaken for communities that are facing potential impacts from industrial development. Indigenous people are interviewed about how they use their traditional territories and the cultural features within them. This is stuff that has never been mapped before. As planners, we can integrate this with other information to help them develop a vision of how they see their lands being used. This gives communities a stronger voice in their negotiations with project proponents and government.”

Dave says that the geography is what brought him to these places, but it was the culture and the people that kept him there. His first time doing a traditional land use survey was in Northern Saskatchewan in a Métis community.

“I vividly remember going up there for the first time, years ago. It was the first time I had ever been on a reservation. I remember at first a feeling of fear hitting me. I thought wow I probably shouldn’t even be here. I’m an outsider and people won’t like this.”

But he was warmly welcomed and in awe of the community and their willingness to have him come in and ask very pointed questions about their cultural lives.

“This was in early spring and we stayed with a family who I became close with. Every single day we ate food that the homeowner or one of his neighbours caught. We’d have whole ducks in a sitting—an entire beaver roasted and sitting on a kitchen table—I’ve never consumed so much meat protein. When we weren’t working we’d be out checking fishing nets. It hit me then how directly connected all of these people still were with the land. Despite their modern life; snow machines, wage economy and modern educations, there we were surviving off the bounty of their land and traditional territory. Each day I would go meet another community member or land user and map out their activities. Our team mapped almost 20 thousand features in the region. I came back from that trip knowing I wanted to keep working in these kinds of communities.”

Dave recalls that when he first drove into that community, it seemed barren and in the middle of nowhere. But when driving out on that very same road weeks later, he was profoundly more aware of all that was happening below the surface.

“I realized how much is really going on out there. Every island, river and lake had a hunting cabin or trap line or beaver lodge or some other use. It’s inhabited. It dawned on me then how absent-minded it was to think of the north as this big empty breadbasket that anybody could use as they wish. It’s a real perfect storm for land use conflict. That’s what got me into land use planning. Some of these communities want to see development occur, but in a way that has broad community support. The last project I did before joining Urban Systems was a territory-wide land use plan with a First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, just downstream from the Oil Sands in Alberta. They’re really in the thick of it.”

Dave is delighted to be joining our team, and feels that his work could be a real value-add to what Urban is already doing. “Here is a mix of engineers, designers and planners who are dealing with all different kinds of complex problems. These have political, social, cultural and environmental challenges, not just technical challenges. It’s a breeding ground for constructive collaboration. After almost ten years as an independent consultant, I’m excited to be part of a team—as soon as I came to Urban there was this sense that I was no longer alone.”

If you’d like to speak with Dave about how he could contribute to your work (or to say hi, or invite him for coffee, or to hear a story about his two-year old) he would welcome your connection at 604-235-1701 x6225.

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