Earlier this year, UDI – Edmonton Metro shared several New Year’s Resolutions for the region – from elevating city building conversations to curbing public infrastructure sprawl to refining our regulations to set us up for development success.
To identify actions to help see these priorities through, a panel including Janelle Brenner (Maclab Development Group), Dhruv Gupta (Akash Group of Companies), Katrina Rowe (Cantiro Communities), and Andrew Usenik (Strata Developments), was held on January 19 with nearly 200 city builders.
Moderated by Brian Murray of B&A Studios, the panel reflected on the year that was, identifying several challenges that impacted development and the communities in which we live.
“Inflation and tighter borrowing requirements has increased the risk associated with our projects,” said Gupta. “This impacts our collective ability to keep housing affordable, and to attract people to the region.”
When asked about what could be done to address this, Gupta noted how the City of Edmonton’s Zoning Bylaw Renewal Initiative will help to enable housing opportunities through clear, permissive regulations.
Rowe agreed with Gupta, adding, “Money continues to be expensive. But we need to keep investing in infrastructure and people. We’re a national leader in addressing housing affordability and development. By improving our regulatory environment, processes, and timelines – we can keep it that way.”
Brenner offered another perspective on the challenges faced in 2022, noting that work-from-home has impacted our downtown, hollowing out buildings of people and businesses.
Usenik agreed with Brenner, citing remote-work’s impact on city spaces, in addition to staff development and learning.
“From what we’re hearing from our colleagues, remote work has challenged how staff interact with one another, and have reduced opportunities for spontaneity and mentorship,” he said.
Usenik called for a reimagination of places-of-work as places-of-amenity, and how companies should explore ways to support the comfort and convenience people receive when working-from-home.
To support the downtown, Brenner cited how public investments in infrastructure like the Warehouse Park can catalyze private sector development, like The Parks, a mixed-use residential and commercial tower in the downtown.
“Our downtown needs a critical mass of people, it needs to be walkable and safe, and it needs to integrate how we live, work, and play,” she said.
Hopes for the region
While the previous year presented considerable challenges, the panel pointed to several innovations and successes that pave the way for economic investment, people attraction, and job creation.
Usenik pointed to the City of Fort Saskatchewan’s use of hydrogen-blended natural gas to fuel nearly 2,100 homes and businesses.
“Hydrogen represents a $2.5 to $11 trillion global economic opportunity, and the region is producing hydrogen and our members are incorporating hydrogen into their projects,” he said. “We can create full hydrogen communities but the barrier is legislation.”
He said his wish for 2023 is for the Province of Alberta to amend the Utility Act and to make hydrogen a regulated utility.
For Rowe, she would like public infrastructure to be designed and constructed in a more efficient manner.
“The private sector has been pushed to densify, to build more compact housing,” she said. “As a region, we can make things even more compact – like school sites, storm ponds, and underground infrastructure.”
Gupta and Brenner’s hope for the region is focused energy and attention to attract investment, jobs, and people.
“We have a great collaborative environment here, and an acknowledgement that we can’t build a thriving region alone,” said Gupta.
5 Key Takeaways
- Make our region affordable. We need to ensure our region remains an attractive place for people to migrate to – by keeping housing costs low and non-residential development opportunities plentiful.
- Make places of work a meaningful amenity. We need to reimagine our places-of-work as places-of-amenity. As our industry thrives on relationships, bringing people back to our city landscapes is key.
- Make public infrastructure efficient. We need to curb the over-engineering of our public realm, as that erodes affordability and conflicts with climate change goals. Our communities are being designed in smart ways by the private sector; we need public sector requirements to match the moment too.
- Making our downtown safe and clean. We need our city’s heartbeat to be safe, secure and clean – in order to carve a path for economic investment and robust residential growth.
- Make city building an ongoing priority. We need to continue to grow, evolve, adapt, and stay relevant as an industry.