Denis Vranich – Urban Growth: A Sustainable Approach

There's never been a better time to work in urban planning and development.

Everywhere you look in Toronto and other major cities across Canada, you see new construction. It’s the land of opportunity for developing new living and work spaces for the growing number of urban dwellers.

The demand is fueled in part by growth in the tech sector and other businesses that are looking to places like Vancouver and Toronto to establish headquarters. Demand is also being fueled by a simple need for housing: after all, more than 80 percent of Canadians live in urban centers.

This building boom is changing the urban landscape dramatically. Take Waterloo’s new Ion light rail line. The initial phase of the new transit corridor, which is currently under construction, will connect Waterloo and Kitchener. Ion has sparked a lot of conversation and collaboration in terms of using it to attract new retail and high-density development along the rail line. This $818 million investment is a huge one, but it promises to generate even more capital once the rail line is established.

The surge in new development has energized the job market. Urban planning now ranks second in the Canadian Business 2016 Best Jobs rankings. The number of jobs and wages in this field have grown.

But with this kind of growth comes responsibility for anyone with a stake in their city’s future, including civic leaders, urban planners and developers, building owners and residents.

Increased population density, traffic and new buildings all create tremendous demands on the infrastructure that require a sustainable vision for planning and management.

As a long-time developer in the Hamilton area, I’ve shifted my focus to green multi-residential units, which create less of a drain on energy resources.

We need to create new green infrastructure elements and capitalize on the ones we have.

Green spaces — parks, plazas, walking/running trails — are a vital part of the urban mix. We need to make sure these environmental resources are respected and protected.

As developers, we need to concentrate on creating new developments that encompass a diverse array of building styles, and a healthy balance of residential, commercial, cultural and recreational amenities — at prices to make them accessible to different income levels.

We also need to incorporate more green materials, LED streetlights and bioswale systems to channel runoff from rain water.

There’s a lot of activity in sustainable urban planning, but there should be more. Vancouver’s Greenest City initiative is a model for other Canadian cities. The city has committed to getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050, and has launched zero waste and climate change adaptation strategies.

There are 9 million people in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario. By 2031, the Canadian Urban Institute projects that 12 million people will be living there. The organization’s Visualizing Density project is designed to help planners, builders, government officials and residents to design optimal urban communities that can accommodate this population bulge in an innovative and sustainable manner. The Canadian Urban Institute’s Downtowns 360˚program was designed to help Canadian downtowns show returns on investment and attract more funding.