Urban Land Institute lays Ottawa foundation with new chapter

Zibi
Planned megaprojects such as Zibi, a rendering of which is shown above, helped to spur the formation of the Urban Land Institute's Ottawa chapter.

A non-profit organization with a self-declared mission to “provide leadership in the responsible use of land” in urban areas is preparing to launch an Ottawa chapter.

The Urban Land Institute says it has more than 40,000 members in 82 countries. Founded in 1936, the group has offices in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London and Washington, D.C., and hosts events and educational seminars around the world designed to “foster collaboration locally and build healthy, sustainable communities,” according to its website.

ULI currently has three Canadian chapters in British Columbia, Alberta and Toronto. Dubbed district councils, these individual branches of the organization host events at the local level, conduct community outreach programs and provide “industry expertise to community leaders,” ULI says.

ULI’s Toronto chapter has hosted a handful of events in the capital over the past couple of years. But local planning advocates have been pushing for Ottawa to get its own district council because of a spate of big-ticket development projects on the go in the region, including light rail, the Zibi mixed-use community on Chaudiere Island and the multibillion-dollar plan to revitalize LeBreton Flats with an NHL arena as its centrepiece.

“We’re seeing a lot of really cool and interesting development happen and development opportunities on the horizon, so it’s a really neat forum to allow dialogue on exchange on that stuff,” says Jamison Young, a partner in the Ottawa office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP who is spearheading Ottawa’s drive to join the organization and will chair the local chapter.

"It’s about progressive planning of the urban environment in a way that transcends any particular discipline or perspective.”

“In our mind, it’s about progressive planning of the urban environment in a way that transcends any particular discipline or perspective.”

ULI’s members include a wide range of professionals with an interest in planning and development issues such as urban planners, architects, engineers, lawyers and academics, who pay an annual fee to be part of the organization. Young called them “people who are genuinely interested in (taking) a step back and looking at progressive urban development from 30,000 feet.”

They also come from both the private and public sectors, he explained, adding the organization’s diverse membership looks at planning and development issues through a broader lens than simply a commercial real estate perspective.

“That’s an important detail in Ottawa,” Young said.

He said the popularity of recent ULI-sponsored events suggests there’s a strong local appetite for the group.

A ULI-sponsored seminar last fall on light rail that featured presentations from OC Transpo boss John Manconi and the city’s head of planning, Steve Willis, drew more than 100 people, Young said. More recently, the organization hosted a walking tour of the revitalized Arts Court district that attracted about 60 participants.

This Wednesday evening, ULI’s Toronto chapter is hosting a “summer social” at the Zibi site. Many of the city’s top real estate and development executives are expected to turn out to network and tour the mixed-use community that is slated to be home to 5,000 residents and 6,000 office workers once it’s complete.

The group has also lined up two of the biggest names in local real estate for what it’s billing as a “fireside chat” in mid-October, when Minto Group executive chairman Roger Greenberg and Trinity Development Group founder John Ruddy will discuss their careers during an event at TD Place stadium.

Greenberg and Ruddy are also partners in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the CFL’s Redblacks, pro soccer franchise Ottawa Fury FC and the Ontario Hockey League’s 67’s. Organizers expect at least 120 people to attend their talk.

Young said he expects the Ottawa chapter to host up to eight events a year on topics ranging from green building initiatives to how employers are redesigning offices to tailor to their workers’ needs.