Plan­ners help to shape city

In­put from pub­lic has grown dur­ing past two decades

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - KATHY MCCORMICK AND

They may not have built this city on rock ’n’ roll, but they built Cal­gary, none­the­less — and more likely on nig­gling de­tails and many, many con­sul­ta­tions with the var­i­ous groups in­volved in res­i­den­tial constructi­on and gov­ern­ment.

They are the con­sul­tant plan­ners who put to­gether the de­tails to turn a piece of dirt into an ac­tive, vi­brant com­mu­nity where peo­ple can live, work and play.

This group of ex­perts in land de­sign work to­gether with the res­i­den­tial land de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies to bring the de­vel­op­ers’ vi­sions alive — re­sult­ing in the di­verse, new neigh­bour­hoods that are home to tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

The un­sung he­roes of land de­vel­op­ment have been “fairly in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing the city,” says Bela Syal, one of the prin­ci­pals of Brown and As­so­ci­ates Plan­ning Group, which is cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary this year. “We of­fer vi­sion­ary, strate­gic so­lu­tions to plan­ning a neigh­bour­hood, and bridge the gap be­tween the city poli­cies and de­vel­op­ers.”

The plan­ners are the li­ai­son be­tween city coun­cil and ad­min­is­tra­tion and the ur­ban de­vel­op­ers — but “we also go to the pub­lic for in­put,” says Greg Brown, who founded Brown and As­so­ci­ates.

“We be­lieve as pro­fes­sion­als that we can use our creative ideas and ex­pe­ri­ence to come up with so­lu­tions so it is a win/win, and that vi­sion will be im­ple­mented to every­one’s sat­is­fac­tion,” he says.

It’s not an easy row to hoe, ei­ther, due to the many and ev­er­ex­pand­ing reg­u­la­tions re­gard­ing the growth of the sub­urbs which have been of­ten ma­ligned as ur­ban sprawl.

Dur­ing the past two decades Brown and As­so­ci­ates has been in busi­ness, change has been a con­stant fac­tor in all as­pects of res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment, says Greg Don­ald­son, an­other of the prin­ci­pals who make up Brown and As­so­ci­ates.

“One el­e­ment that’s be­come of sig­nif­i­cantly greater im­por­tance is the amount of pub­lic in­put in land de­vel­op­ment and the higher level of de­tail across the spec­trum, from el­e­ments of de­sign to the en­vi­ron­ment,” he says.

Buy­ers are more as­tute, says Syal, “and they want more in­put.”

Add on the trendy sus­tain­abil­ity of land de­vel­op­ment that peo­ple cur­rently de­sire and the whole field of res­i­den­tial land de­vel­op­ment is chang­ing con­stantly, says Syal.

“There is quite an aware­ness to achieve sus­tain­able so­lu­tions,” says Syal. “Every­one is looking at more re­spon­si­ble growth.”

A greater va­ri­ety of hous­ing is wanted, as well as things like dif­fer­ent ser­vices, shops and of­fice build­ings in a mixed-use com­mu­nity — and that makes a more vi­brant neigh­bour­hood, says Syal.

“Peo­ple want more ameni­ties where they live, and they want to be close to where they work.”

But one thing hasn’t changed, says Brown.

“Peo­ple are still looking at forms of hous­ing that they can af­ford,” he says. “That’s al­ways been an is­sue and it still is to­day.”

In spite of the Plan It doc­u­ment — a vi­sion for Cal­gary’s fu­ture cre­ated by the city ad­min­is­tra­tion which aims to guide the trans­porta­tion and mu­nic­i­pal de­vel­op­ment of the city for the next 60 years — “there is still a strong de­mand for sin­gle-fam­ily hous­ing from peo­ple,” says Syal.

Plan It em­pha­sizes more com­pact growth in the in­ner-city com­mu­ni­ties. By the end of the doc­u­ment’s time frame, the city en­vi­sions 50 per cent of growth will be in the in­ner city.

Plan It sees such growth con­cen­trated in multi-fam­ily hous­ing de­vel­op­ments of higher den­sity around trans­porta­tion hubs, rather than new sin­gle-fam­ily hous­ing, which would be par­tic­u­larly dis­cour­aged in the sub­urbs.

“The city is do­ing the right stuff cre­at­ing the vi­sion, but is forc­ing change the right an­swer?” says Syal. “When you start putting den­si­ties over a cer­tain limit, the mar­ket has to be ready to ac­cept it — and Cal­gary is not. You may see it evolve, but at this time, there is no de­mand for it.”

An­other of the prin­ci­pals of Brown and As­so­ci­ates, Ron Wrig- ley, who is an ad­vo­cate of more com­pact growth, says it must come from the mar­ket rather than poli­cies.

“I’ve been fight­ing for in­creased den­sity all of my ca­reer, and the mar­ket will ac­cept it at cer­tain lev­els and in cer­tain lo­ca­tions, but it evolves over time,” he says.

The key is al­low­ing for choice and let­ting the mar­ket de­cide, says Brown.

“It’s my be­lief if we don’t sup­ply the form of hous­ing that peo­ple want and they can’t find it here, the buy­ers will go else­where out­side of Cal­gary,” he says. “We need small steps to en­able the de­vel­op­ers and builders to cre­ate in­no­va­tion, al­low in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion to hap­pen and, hope­fully, keep hous­ing af­ford­able.”

Cour­tesy, Brown & As­so­ci­ates Plan­ning Group

From left, Brown and As­so­ci­ates Plan­ning Group prin­ci­pals Dar­rell Grant, Greg Don­ald­son, Greg Brown, Ron Wrigley and Bela Syal, who re­cently cel­e­brated the group’s 20th an­niver­sary.

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