Born in 1921 in North Vancouver, Norm attended the University of Alberta after his war service, graduating in 1950 with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture and completing his Master’s degree in 1952. Norm began a distinguished 31-year career with the Edmonton District Planning Commission (which later became the Edmonton Regional Planning Commission) in 1953 as a planner working with rural municipalities, a rarity in those days since political acceptance of land use planning was tenuous. Recognizing that the principles of good land use planning could only be realized if the public and municipal councils saw that their long-term interests would be protected or reinforced, Norm built support for the conservation of agricultural land, regional transportation planning, the protection of the North Saskatchewan River valley system, and orderly growth of urban communities. He became the Executive Director in 1966.
Norm was active in the formative years of AACIP (first known as Alberta Association Town Planning Institute of Canada) between1956 and 1963. By the mid-1970s, rapid growth was having an impact on many Alberta municipalities. Norm worked with the Commission and the province to expand the staff and its services. Many new staff, often recent graduates, joined the commission over the next decade increasing the size of the operation four-fold. Norm was a key influence in the professional development of these young planners. He supported the Canadian Institute of Planners, worked with AACIP and encouraged his staff to be active. The experiences he provided by sending young planners out to work directly with councils and communities would be considered unique today. It is a testament to his ability as a mentor that many of the staff later became leaders in planning across Alberta and Canada.
Norm Giffen believed that planning was all about people: the land owners; the councils; the general public; and the professionals who work with all of them. The lessons of listening, understanding and being open to new ideas that he demonstrated have served well all who had the chance to work with him.
Over the decades, Norm’s ability to find areas of agreement and build on the strengths of all participants in the planning process led the planning commission through many controversial issues. Norm’s ability to build consensus and trust contributed greatly to the completion and adoption of the Edmonton Regional Plan, 1984. Those who worked in regional and municipal planning in Alberta during the formative 1950s and 1960s, and the expansive 1970s and 1980s consider Norm Giffen a friend and a true gentleman.