Senior Planner Oren Tamir (BA ’99, MES ’06) welcomed 10 students from the planning stream of the Master in Environmental Studies program to the 18th floor East Tower boardroom of Toronto City Hall .
During the two-hour lunch and learn, Tamir delivered an insider explanation of the structure and process of urban planning in Toronto, and talked in general terms about what makes a great planner and how to get the most out of the master’s program at York University.
Lunch and organization of the event was provided by the MES York Planning Alumni Committee (MYPAC), a group he was instrumental in founding in 2004.
“I’d like to thank Oren for making time for us and welcoming us to City Hall,” said MYPAC Chair Adam Zendel (BA ’08, MES ’13) to introduce the session. “Events like this foster the community that MYPAC is all about. We look forward to all of you joining the network when you graduate. We sincerely thank Oren and hope you all enjoy this session.”
Tamir is a senior planner at City Hall and is part of the Midtown Section in Community Planning. The Midtown area extends past the iconic intersection of Yonge and Bloor streets to encompass Bayview Avenue to Keele Street, and from Bloor Street to Eglinton Avenue. In his role, he is in charge of the dynamic and trendy Yorkville neighbourhood.
A former stand-up comedian, Tamir made a few jokes about some of the huge buildings that have recently been proposed in his community that have landed him in front of the Ontario Municipal Board for hearings and in the news.
He also introduced Gregg Lintern, director of Community Planning for Toronto and East York District, who shared a conversation he had recently with FES alumna Jennifer Keesmaat (MES ‘99), chief planner and executive director of the City of Toronto.
“Jennifer said we need four types of people to make a successful team,” Lintern shared with the students. “Visionaries who can identify what needs to be done; analytical types who can assess the process and apply methodology; drivers who motivate and speed up the process; and, doers who love to implement and get things done. We can spend a whole lifetime becoming self aware but knowing your strengths and developing skills in that area is some of the best work you can do to become successful and find happiness in your path.”
Tamir said during his studies, he was nervous about developing on-the-job skills and he understands how students can be anxious about future employment.
Tamir told the group that University is a great time to think about the big picture and figure out why things are the way they are.
“No employer will expect you to know every step of how things get done at first. But, the ability to apply critical thinking, and both understand and succinctly explain why things are the way they are, is really the key,” he said.
In terms of Toronto planning jobs, he had a positive message.
“Virtually no one was hired here in the 1990s,” Tamir said. “We’re looking at a mass retirement in the next few years, and as planners are promoted internally it will leave a big void in entry level planning work.”
A true optimist, Tamir said the key to being happy in the field is leaving cynicism at the door.
“In planning there may be rules, but there is no one right answer,” he said. “As a leader in the development review process, I make recommendations with input from experts including the local community, but ultimately the elected officials in city council have the power to make the final decision. You have to be resilient and can’t be too invested in your own personal opinion, because sometimes the Planning Division’s recommendations are overlooked and decisions are made contrary to city plans.
“On the other hand, when I walk past a building where we made a difference, perhaps by increasing the green space, or pushing for higher quality materials in the façade, it’s so satisfying,” he continued. “This is our city. These building are going to stand for many years. We’re making an impact on keeping Toronto a healthy and liveable city.”