Book Review by Dr. David Witty MRAIC, FCIP, RPP for Planner's Bookshelf
1200 pages. Showing the Way is a wonderful, engaging,
thoughtful life story centred on Peter Oberiander's personal and
professional journey. It's rich telling of a man who was always the
I consummate gentleman. someone who dealt with adversity and
challenges with an inner strength and resolve that changed society and our
profession for the better
Ken Cameron is celebrated m h«s own right and is best positioned to
write about his mentor, Dr Peter Oberlander CM. They first met as teacher
and student at the School of Community and Regional Planning [SCARP],
UBC where Peter developed and ted SCARP for over 20 years- Cameron's
account of Peter's life ts as much about the history of the Canadian planning
profession during the 20th century as it is about Peter Oberlander Cameron
is able to provide the reader with a window seat on the transition ot that time
from a profession dominated by non-Canadians to a time when planners,
such as Cameron, were trained and employed by the likes of Oberlander. It is
wonderful journey and an important one for all us to reflect upon.
The book ably land delightfully captures Oberlander's role in shaping
SCARP, Vancouver, the Lower Mainland. Canada and the planning (and
architecture! profession. His was a unremarkable journey; one fraught with the
racism of fascist Germany, the outbreak of WWII and anti-Semitic Canada of
that time. But. it is also a story of resolve, possibilities, kindness and adventure.
Ken Cameron has done a remarkable job capturing the times, the nuances
of lite and the evolution of the man, Oberlander from an interned non-citizen
to a global citizen who walked with pride and energy amongst the leaders
of Canada and the world, in acknowledging Oberlander's role in shaping
C^4HC lone of many such influences, Cameron notes that "through the
stori' runs Peter Oberlander's grasp of the importance of communities to
humanity, his extraordinary conceptual ability as an educator, his energy, and
his determination to convert ideas into action for a better world" (p.87l That
sentence encapsulates Peter Oberlander's impact: an impact that has shaped
dramatically the planning profession. Cameron captures Peter Oberlander's
special way of collaborating, of gaining support for ideas (to give them
'action'), to coerce and to doggedly push and push to ensure that society and
communities were well served.
Many of us experienced that Peter Oberlander. For instance. I well
remember when Peter came to a 2004/5 CIP Council meeting to seek CIP
endorsement and commitment for the 2006 World Urban Forum 111. He made
his typically impassioned 'pitch' far support. As was usually the case with
Peter, there was no question that his request was endorsed!
Peter Oberlander was able to transcend the local and global
easily and fluidly. He had the knack of knowing where the greatest
impact could be made and joined with others to achieve success.
He was a key team' player, always looking for alliances that would
deliver the needed action to achieve desired goats. Yes, a very fitting
planning approach to one of Canada's ablest urban visionaries.
Ken Cameron is able to depict that life story and Oberlander's
contribution to Canadian communities, urban agendas and
the planning profession by capturing our interest and holding
it in a compelling writing style. In so doing, Cameron provides
others' anecdotes (and his own of life with Peter Oberlander. the
professor, the consultant, the Secretary of State and global citizen.
Such reflections offer a personal insight into an extraordinary man,
insights that are often absent in a biography of this type.
Through Cameron's patience with words, he captures a sense
of both a visionary and a practical realist m Peter Oberlander
For instance, Oberlander understood the importance of SCARP
students spending time in studio on 'real' practical issues, such
as completing plans and research for BC towns. He realised
that Canada needed to train its own planners and put in place a legacy of planner training at UBC; a legacy Oberlander believed
was his most important. But, Peler Oberlander did so much more.
He advocated for the important role cities would play in the 20th
and 21 St centuries. He did so many ways: as a member of the
reformist Vancouver TEAM that helped to stop freeways in downtown
Vancouver, as a promoter of Habitat '76, advocate for some of
Canada's first regional planning, leader of the innovative Ministry
for State for Urban Affairs, and creator of international bodies to
advance urban agendas.
Through it all, Peter Oberlander just kept going, and going. His was
a life full of his work, his family and his friends. It was a life well lived
and one well served by Ken Cameron's gift of storytelling.
This book certainly captures the essence of the man, Peter
Oberlander: the theorist, teacher, mentor, practitioner and the
politically astute visionary. But, it is much more than that; it is a
wonderful collection of memories of a time when Canada and the
world dreamed big dreams, it is time to reflect on those ambitions
and dream again. Ken Cameron has done us a service in capturing
the life of such a dreamer, in my view, this is a compelling read for
Canadian planners and students of Canadian planning.