I was at a lunch last week hosted by the Urban Land Institute in Vancouver. It was just one of a series of lunches being hosted under the umbrella theme of The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change. This is a proactive and thoughtful initiative that aims to help the real estate development community better understand what responsible development means in a world where environmental policies, exploding populations, capital market concerns and energy costs are changing the landscape forever.
What will our industry look like in 2050? Three industry leaders and thinkers weighed in with their opinions.
Gordon Harris is the President and CEO of SFU Community Trust, developers of UniverCity, the award-winning sustainable urban community adjacent to Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Mountain campus. He pointed to the imperative for moving from Green to Greener, and that how our definition of sustainability has to include not just environmental issues, but social issues as well. I found it startling to hear that the average lifespan of a building is 17.4 years, and agreed with Harris that finding ways to re-purpose and build smarter — to avoid tearing buildings down — should be something we design into the development process.
Mark Holland is a Principal at HB Lanarc, where he focuses on integrating sustainability principles into the mainstream development industry. He talked about our responsibility as a development community to not only think long and hard about new structures, but also existing ones; in Vancouver alone there are over 200,000 homes that will need to be retro-fitted in the next 40 years. Mark and I have worked together on projects before. He’s the best at helping developers understand issues around sustainability in practical terms. He speaks our language.
Sadhu Johnston is the Deputy City Manager for Vancouver, after a term in Chicago as Chief Environmental Officer to Mayor Richard Daley. His points were succinct: we are doing a good job here, but we must do better. We must find solutions that solve multiple problems. We must address the rising cost of housing, as it directly impacts issues of homelessness. We must look across disciplines to solve problems, and collaboratively map out our approach to urbanization issues.
Applause is due to the ULI for staging this series of events. Sometimes I’m convinced the real estate development industry is only willing to innovate a millimeter past whatever the last successful project was. But if we’re largely responsible for the built environment, especially in terms of housing, we need to think bigger thoughts, collaborate, question and challenge the status quo. Events like this one get the conversations started. Bravo.