Friday, November 30, 2012

Bringing Urban Development Into Focus

Submitted by Carla Guerrera, Senior Urban Planner (Vancouver, BC)

Aerial view of the planned West Don Lands
along Toronto's waterfront
In 2011, 81% of Canadians were living in urban areas, and the trend towards urbanization continues to rise. As cities continue to grow, HOW we develop and accommodate growth within the existing urban areas becomes critically important.

Urban development has been the cornerstone of my career. So when the opportunity arose to help build an emerging urban development team at Stantec, in BC, it was quite intriguing.

From managing the redevelopment of the West Don Lands, an 80-acre brownfield site on the Toronto waterfront, into an award-winning, vibrant, mixed-use, sustainable neighbourhood, to redeveloping former gas station sites into mixed-use, transit-oriented developments in Metro Vancouver, utilizing our existing urban land to accommodate growth is where the magic happens. My practice goal is to bring creative solutions to underutilized and existing sites to meet client and community needs and ensure successful projects.

Urban development opportunities are never straightforward and require innovative, thoughtful solutions. I love untying the knots, the complexities, whether they are financial, regulatory, design-related, environmental, political, or community-related. From implementing Canada’s first Woonerfs (Dutch shared-space streets), to an innovative model for an new transit-corridor (Cherry Street), to getting the first park approved underneath an overpass structure (Underpass Park), I have enjoyed the challenges of how we can improve our existing urban contexts while accommodating growth in a sustainable way.

The proposed new transit corridor along
Cherry Street in Toronto
Canadian cities and communities are rightfully moving towards a new model for urban development—one of vibrant, mixed-use, medium-to-high-density, walkable communities with active and public transportation. We need to continue to vigorously move away from the notion of single-use, low-density, car-dependent development from the past. We need to embrace underutilized and derelict sites in the best locations with services and transit at the doorstep. Responses need to be adaptable and customizable to place, people, and context. Community stakeholders need to be engaged early and often in urban development opportunities that shape the face of communities, and there is opportunity to do this better. At the same time, we need to help stakeholders understand the pressure that growth puts on the urban environments (and urban boundaries), implications of growth pressure, and options of how growth can be accommodated.

Professional planners play a key role in leading this process with the community for urban development opportunities. Practice needs to be thoughtful, design-focused and responsive, both for the buildings and the public realm. Public and private partners need to work together because the sweet spot for success for urban development lies in those private and public sector partnerships.

Carla Guerrera
It is our job as professionals to execute efficiently, and the best way to do this is to collaborate through integrated design. Integrated design is a key to this model of urban development because it combines diverse knowledge, expertise, and skills across disciplines. This allows the best solutions to emerge as we shape our communities and cities. As professional planners, transportation experts, landscape architects, engineers, architects, and sustainability specialists, we have the opportunity and responsibility to break down silos and work together to create desirable urban environments that will be the communities in which our children will thrive.

As a large, national, multidisciplinary firm with strong practices in planning, landscape architecture, architecture, transportation, engineering, and sustainability, Stantec is well-positioned to put this into practice—to implement a more sustainable model of urban development in Canadian communities, and to do it with a strong integrated design team, ensuring successful projects.

And through Stantec’s vision and commitment to developing an Urban Development team, it is being put into practice.

That is why I joined Stantec.

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