Basil Luksun's career path was inspired by the injustices he saw growing up in South Africa.
The director of planning and building lived in the country during the Apartheid era. Luksun's parents were Chinese, which meant his family fell under the category of "non-white" and were subject to the rules of segregation at the time, including not being allowed to vote, own property, attend local schools or use the local bus.
Luksun had been studying geology at university for two years, working in South African gold mines during the summers, when he decided to switch to city planning.
"Living under the rules of Apartheid," he says, "I saw the consequences of bad public policy."
After graduating, Luksun immigrated to Canada in 1973.
As a new immigrant, it took him a while to find a position, but when he did it was as a planner with the City of Burnaby.
"It has been my whole planning career, it's just been a fabulous place," he says. "I think I have the best planning job in Canada."
He says Burnaby is a wonderful, inclusive and involved community.
The mayors and councils he's worked with have provided exceptional leadership, he adds, saying that the councils have taken a policy-oriented approach to planning the city.
For the majority of his career, Luksun worked alongside Jack Bellhouse, who was director of planning and building before him.
They shared an office together for most of that time, he adds.
"Most projects, I sat on one side of the office and he sat on the other, and we would just bounce ideas and write," Luksun says. "We just had a wonderful working relationship."
He was appointed director of the department after Bellhouse retired in 2006.
Luksun has participated in planning the community since he moved to Burnaby, but he considers himself just one team member in that process.
When he started in the '70s, the city was focusing on green space planning projects including Barnet Marine Park, the Burnaby Mountain conservation area, Deer Lake Park, and Burnaby Lake Regional Park.
Each project involved collaborating with levels of government and other groups and property owners, buying and exchanging land, and working with a goal in mind - to preserve a large portion of Burnaby's green spaces.
"It was a significant accomplishment for the city to do that," Luksun notes.
He has worked for six mayors in his 39 years with the city, starting his career the same year former mayor Tom Constable was elected. He then worked under Dave Mercier, Bill Lewarne, Bill Copeland, Doug Drummond and currently, Mayor Derek Corrigan.
The city's focus on long-term planning - from the Official Community Plan to the individual town centre plans, and the social, economic and environmental sustainability plans - is a source of pride for Luksun, who adds it means the city doesn't make "ad-hoc decisions" regarding issues such as building permits and rezoning applications.
Since he started as a planner, Burnaby has gone from being primarily a suburb of Vancouver to being a city in its own right, he says.
"I think we are developing more of an identity of our own," Luksun says. "It's sort of a city with its own character, now."
But now Luksun feels it is time for him to retire, he says, adding that his job as director is a very busy, seven-day-a-week position.
He leaves his position with the city at the end of May and plans to spend the next three months "decompressing," he says.
"It gets to a time when it's probably time to move on," he says, "and be able to watch some late night TV and read the newspaper in the morning over a cup of coffee."
He emphasizes that he is grateful to everyone who has contributed to the planning of Burnaby for the past four decades - from residents who volunteer and serve on committees, to mayors and councillors, to fellow staff.
Luksun says the city's achievements are a team effort.
"I'm just fortunate to have a part in it," he adds.
Luksun lives in Vancouver and has two sons - Warren, 29, who is completing his residency in anesthesiology at the University of Toronto and Derek, 27, who is a manager at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. The two have been involved in community building themselves, Luksun notes, adding both went to university with scholarships for contributing to the community.
Deputy director of planning and building, Lou Pelletier, will take over as acting director until council appoints a permanent director to the position, according to Luksun.
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