Vancouver celebrated a big birthday last week. On April 6th it turned 125 years old. A sprightly young age as far as major cities across the globe go, but there’s no denying a lot has changed in that short period of time.
What can real estate developers learn from these changes?
1) There is always room for improvement. Some areas in Vancouver have changed dramatically since 1886. Others, not so much. Within the urbanized and urbanizing areas we have some outstanding examples of good planning. But our sprawl in housing, office and retail space has resulted in growing congestion, pollution and travel times directly outside the downtown core. We’re starting to recognize and reconsider long-standing notions about Vancouver design. Developers need to do the same. Repeating developments that have worked in the past isn’t necessarily what’s needed for the future.
2) Having your own style can be cool. The 2008 Vancouverism Exhibit put it best: Vancouver became first a verb, and now, an ideology promoting an urbanism of density and public amenity. Vancouverism at its best brings together a deep respect for the natural environment with high concentrations of residents. Cities across the world are liking this approach and adapting it to make it their own. What’s your development approach? Perhaps it’s something as simple as dog-friendly design. Every kitchen is designed to accommodate a dog bed and a food and water dish. Screen doors to the balcony include a built-in dog flap. Maybe an entire floor in a residential high-rise is an on-site dog training facility. Whatever it is, can you push it to differentiate yourself further?
3) Think about living rather than building – and living enjoyably at that. Creating spaces that are usable, accessible and foster a sense of community are a must. The granite countertops and high-end appliances aren’t enough anymore. We’re seeing that what an individual can do outside of their 567-square-feet box is the selling feature. The same thing can be said across the country. So what are you doing to ensure that happens? Adequate supply is one thing, but there also needs to be adequate diversity in the homes we build and the communities we develop.
4) Push to be involved in social, cultural and recreational infrastructure. In Vancouver, we’ve worked out a system where extra density in housing developments is granted in return for such public amenities as cultural facilities, parks, schools and social housing. It’s a win-win. These investments are increasing the value of projects and we’re developing a better public realm. Is there room for you to be doing more of the same?
What elements of urban design will produce the most successful cities? After 125 years, how do you think Vancouver fares? I’d love to hear your thoughts.