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Innovator Profile: Gordon Price

Innovator Profiles highlight extraordinary community members that are making a difference.

When Gordon Price discusses City Conversations, the popular lunchtime series that connects experts and the public in an animated dialogue on matters of civic importance, he uses the word ‘serendipity’ to describe how a public square embedded within a city can foster discussion.



Serendipitous may, in fact, be the best term to describe Price’s career. A former activist who rose to prominence in Vancouver as a city councillor from 1986 until 2002, he joined SFU as Director of the City Program in 2005.

The son of a senior civil servant, Price grew up in Victoria embedded in the realm of public policy, but was also fascinated by the natural world surrounding him on Vancouver Island.

An avid whitewater kayaker and hiker, his love with nature transferred to the built environment. In 1978, he moved to Vancouver’s West End where he became involved with two high-profile public issues: street prostitution and the AIDS epidemic.

As a result of that engagement, Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell urged Price to run in the 1986 Vancouver municipal election. Price won, ultimately serving 16 years on council before choosing to leave public office in 2002.

“It really was a remarkable time [to serve on council in Vancouver]. I came on immediately following Expo ’86, and when I left office we were in the final stages of the bid for the Olympics,” says Price of his days at City Hall.

“I had the privilege of working with a superb staff, and every day was akin to a graduate seminar, just constant engagement with the environment as well as being afforded the opportunity to watch the city change and build the neighborhoods we see today.”

Following his term in office Price sought out a new career, succeeding founding director Judy Oberlander as the Director of the City Program.

“The City Program has built an outstanding foundation with certificates in urban design and sustainable community development.

“It is really are a continuation of the vision of Simon Fraser University, of moving SFU off the mountain and affording the public opportunities to engage with the university in dialogue on issues that shape the city.”

He says City Conversations takes that notion to the next level. With Michael Alexander, Price recently launched a series of noontime conversations at SFU’s Vancouver campus under the SFU Public Square banner.

With topics ranging from the state of the urban arts-and-culture scene, to the issue of what to do with Vancouver’s viaducts, City Conversations consistently attracts standing-room-only crowds.

“The key [to success] is flexibility and responsiveness,” notes Price.

“Often people are anxious about change. Dialogue and discussions are ways to reduce that fear, and with City Conversations we create an accessible environment where we can look at an issue from varying points of view. When you look at the animation of SFU’s facilities, people flow in and flow out, and there is a tremendous audience for engagement. We are only scratching the surface.”

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