ABOUT THE BOOK
From subjects to citizens: it’s a transition that people in many nations of the world have made during the last 100 years. But it hasn’t been easy. Community building has been impeded by two world wars, economic hardship, oppression, persecution, and fumbling attempts at international order. It is undeniable, though, that humanity has made significant progress in empowering citizens to take control of their destiny. This book traces that progress through the remarkable and previously unpublished story of one man, Peter Oberlander.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ken Cameron has had a distinguished career in planning in Ontario and British Columbia, guided by the training and mentorship of Peter Oberlander and the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning. A founder and former Chair of the International Centre for Sustainable Cities, Ken Cameron is the author, with Mike Harcourt and the late Sean Rossiter, of City Making in Paradise: Nine Decisions that Saved Vancouver (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007). He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his partner Angie Walkinshaw and he is an Adjunct Professor at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
Born into a liberal, middle-class Jewish family in Vienna after World War I, Peter Oberlander had his life torn apart when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. After his father suffered incarceration and physical and mental abuse at the hands of the Nazis, Peter’s family escaped to England with the clothes on their backs. The British, facing the imminent threat of a German invasion, interned Peter and other refugees of military age from Austria and Germany as “enemy aliens.” Without his prior knowledge or consent, Peter and others were transported to Canada across the U-boat infested Atlantic to Canada in the hostile company of German prisoners of war, to a hostile reception by Canadian authorities who reflected the government’s philosophy that any Jewish refugee to Canada was one too many. Throughout this experience, Oberlander never lost his passion for architecture and city planning or his sense of his responsibility to contribute as a professional to a better world.
Ken Cameron has spoken about citizenship and Showing the Way at many great events around Vancouver, BC.
Showing the Way was officially launched at a UBC School of Community and Region Planning event on July 12 2018. Author Ken Cameron gave a talk relating Peter Oberlander’s contribution to the School and to the planning profession in British Columbia.
LECTURE - CITIZENSHIP AND CITIES: THE TORCH OF A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Free lecture - Citizenship and cities: the torch of a sustainable future
Adjunct Professor Ken Cameron introduced his new book, Showing the Way: Peter Oberlander and the Imperative of Global Citizenship September 24, 2018, at SFU Vancouver. Through the previously unpublished story of Oberlander’s progression from persecution and internment to becoming a pioneer in Canadian urbanism, Cameron's book elucidates the remarkable evolution of the concept of citizenship over the past 100 years. The lecture featured commentary by Dr. Patrick Smith, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute of Governance Studies at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Smith’s research interests include metropolitan governance, global cities and local democracy. He was closely associated with Dr. Peter Oberlander in the latter’s role as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and they collaborated on a number of studies and publications.
INVENTING A PROFESSION
“Peter Oberlander virtually invented British Columbia’s planning profession.” That comment was made by Professor Zack Taylor of Western University, an expert on regional governance, upon reading my book, Showing the Way: Peter Oberlander and the Imperative of Global Citizenship. Here are excerpts from the book to substantiate his statement.
Larry Beasley CM, Retired Co-Director of Planning, City of Vancouver, and Distinguished Practice Professor of Planning, University of British Columbia
As the consummate Canadian urbanist of the 20th century, Peter Oberlander’s mark is
all over Greater Vancouver and other pace-setting cities, not only through his own
innovations but also through the work of so many of the students that he taught and
mentored. Ken Cameron’s superbly crafted book tells the story of this ever-forward man
who set the foundation of the urban culture of our country.
Patrick Condon, Professor, Urban Design, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia
Showing the Way is much more than a description of a life. This book teaches us that
the value of life lies not in what you get but in what you give. Peter Oberlander had
every reason to turn inward after being subjected to the horror of the Nazis. He had
even more reason to turn bitter when he experienced the unexpected antisemitism of
Canadians - Canadians who only very grudgingly provided him refuge. Instead Peter
Oberlander dedicated his life to building the very containers needed for a true
democracy, i.e. cities where all are valued and all can find their place. His optimism and
generosity under the circumstances described in this book are breathtaking. His life and
work are a beacon for young city builders to follow in these unsettled times.
Michael Geller, planner, developer and commentator on urban affairs, former CEO of Simon Fraser University Trust
While this book at one level tells the life story of a most remarkable man, it also offers
great insight and perspective on the planning history of Vancouver and Canada. It will
be of interest to not only those who knew or met Peter Oberlander, but also to others
around the world who want to understand why cities and citizens in Canada, and
especially Vancouver, have excelled at creating livable urban environments. It advances
the powerful idea that one of the keys to the future of humanity is better cities, managed
by their citizens.
Jill Grant, Professor Emeritus and former Director, Dalhousie University School of Planning
In this book, Ken Cameron has produced a compelling story of the life and contributions
of a legendary Canadian planner, educator, and humanist. Peter Oberlander is one of
several immensely influential immigrants – including Thomas Adams, Humphrey
Carver, Hans Blumenfeld, and Jane Jacobs-- who have shaped the way we imagine
and plan Canadian cities. This book ably addresses a gap in the history of Canadian
planning by documenting Oberlander’s trajectory – from elder child of a middle-class Viennese Jewish family, to interned teenage refugee, to brilliant student at McGill and Harvard, to university professor and to leadership roles in government agencies and international commissions. Peter Oberlander’s commitment to creating spaces for active, sustainable, and meaningful citizenship shines through on every page.
Mike Harcourt CM, former Mayor of Vancouver and former Premier of British Columbia
Ken Cameron’s great tribute to Peter Oberlander is terrifically written! Peter was the
embodiment of an engaged citizen of the world, with a unique talent for turning ideas
about cities and citizenship into action.
Anthony Perl, Professor of Urban Studies and Political Science and former Director the Urban Studies Program, Simon Fraser University
In his characteristically perceptive profile of Peter Oberlander as global citizen, Ken Cameron has opened a new window of understanding into the character of Canadian
cities. Across Canada, and well beyond it, Oberlander’s thinking has opened minds to creating the cities that we now depend on.
Many people wonder: What lies behind the particular look and feel of a Canadian city?
Our urban communities often appear poised somewhere between the refined form and sophisticated function of the great Old World cities and America’s expansive civic
exuberance. Some marvel at how Canadian cities can offer up the best features of both
old and new urbanism in one place, and Cameron has contributed an important piece of the explanation for what makes our cities stand apart from, and often above, their counterparts.
Gordon Price, former City of Vancouver councillor and Metro Vancouver director, former Director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program and Co- editor of PiceTags (https://pricetags.ca/ )
In Canada we periodically get planners who are as much leaders and great teachers
as politically astute bureaucrats. Some become celebrities. But they are among the many who were trained to lead, guide and imagine at a time when the issues of Canadian cities began to emerge, and we believed we could plan ourselves a better future.
Peter Oberlander came to Canada from Eastern Europe as a victim of the Second
World War, but he was a global citizen. A student, a professor, a director. Competently trained and organizationally ambitious. Truly working at local, national and global scales - with a core belief in the possibility of creating beautiful, humane and democratic cities. Which Canada largely achieved.
This book is that story - of the man, his times and his achievements. Engaging,
entertaining, with a message of hope.
Zack Taylor, Professor of Political Science, University of Western Ontario
It is no understatement to say that Peter Oberlander is one of only a few people who
can be credited with originating the distinctive approach taken by Vancouver and British
Columbia to urban development and planning. He virtually invented the province’s
planning profession, he was the intellectual godfather of the Agricultural Land Reserve,
and he played a crucial role in the development of Vancouver’s citizen-based approach
to planning. Ken Cameron does us a great service by connecting these dots. More
importantly, however, he reveals the man in full and in his historical context. Self-
assured, optimistic, and brilliant, Oberlander always seemed to be in the right place at
the right time, soaking up the vital ideas of the times and building the networks and
coalitions needed to put them into practice.
Nola Kate Seymoar, CEO Emeritus, International Centre for Sustainable Cities and Co-Chair, Vancouver City Planning Commission
In Showing the Way, Ken Cameron weaves together three themes in a triple helix: the
story of visionary Canadian planner Peter Oberlander; the development of community
and regional planning as a profession in Canada; and the meaning of citizenship in a
world of immigrants and refugees. Peter Oberlander’s lifelong dedication to building
community and a sense of place in his adopted country were forged by his early
experiences in World War II as an Austrian-Jewish refugee, forcibly separated from
family and interned in the UK and Canada. This compelling book draws on Cameron’s
personal knowledge of Oberlander, from student to colleague and friend. He offers
warm and sometimes humorous accounts of their collaborative attempts to influence the
federal and provincial governments to address Canada’s challenges as an urban nation.
Book Review by Nancy Knight, Ph.D. MCIP RPP, June 2018
Ken Cameron’s latest book is an inspiring biography of Peter Oberlander who was a major figure in Canadian planning for 60 years and illustrates how the concepts of citizenship and service were central to Oberlander’s life. Equally, Ken’s book provides an overview of a formative time in the evolution of planning in British Columbia in particular – the latter half of the 20th century. Far from a dry, dusty tome, Cameron’s book blends factual information with entertaining and humanizing anecdotes, photos and illustrations. For the planning profession, the book lucidly illustrates planning leadership at work and shows us how it can be done; Professor Oberlander combined his core planning principles with a pragmatic, action-oriented outlook and an extraordinary network to achieve great things for Canadian urbanism.