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What trends are impacting future municipal design and construction?

Peter Caulfield
What trends are impacting future municipal design and construction?

What are the main trends impacting development and construction in urban Canada? While some trends identified by experts are familiar, a few might come as a surprise.

"One of the main trends is the reprioritizing of urban space," said Brent Toderian, of Toderian UrbanWorks in Vancouver.

"In the future there will be more balance between the automobile and other forms of transportation, thanks to more emphasis on walking, biking and public transit and less on roads and highways."

Toderian says the western Canadian cities of the future will work better for everyone, including vehicle drivers.

"Building more car lanes to ease traffic congestion has been proven not to work," he said. "Most cities in North America have been designed around the car. City planners in Europe have recognized the mistakes we’ve made in North America and they’ve been correcting them over there."

Toderian says there will be new opportunities for urban design and construction.

"Look for fewer roads, surface parking lots and parking garages and more paths for walking and biking," he said.

Toderian says opportunities will be of two kinds.

"There will be short-run and long-run development opportunities," he said. "An example of a short-run opportunity is a pilot project to use dead spaces in advance of a permanent project. Short-run projects are fast and cheap. They might not be as lucrative as permanent projects, but they can still be profitable and they can add to a contractor’s public profile." Toderian says driverless cars and car-sharing could have a major impact on future urban development.

"They could facilitate the growth of fleets of shared cars," he said. "Or they could lead to people taking their car to work, sending it home, so they don’t have to pay for parking, and ordering it up to pick them up when they need it. We don’t know yet what will happen."

More shared and driverless cars in the future signals the growing support of the idea of transportation as a service, not a product, says Andy Yan, City Program director at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies.

"We’re in the process of redefining industrial, commercial and residential space and the amenities that go with them," he said.

Yan says the development and construction industry will need to construct buildings whose functions can evolve over time.

"Developers should plan for an increasing number of buildings to be transformed as they are no longer needed for the purpose they were originally built," Yan said.

Two examples of successful building makeovers in Vancouver are the Eaton’s and Woodward’s department stores on downtown Hastings Street. "In the future there will be a growing number of abandoned shopping malls for developers to convert to new purposes," he said.

Helen Goodland, principal of Brantwood Consulting in North Vancouver, says there are two meta-drivers of change in construction in Canada.

"One is population growth," she said. "We can expect another 1 million residents in B.C. by 2041."

Another is the growing squeeze on natural resources and building materials.

"We’re competing for natural resources and prices are being driven up," said Goodland.

"Half of all concrete being used in the world is being used in China. And increasing regulation, such as carbon-neutral buildings, which will be commonly built in 10 years, will increase building costs."

To prepare for this new reality, the Canadian construction industry is going to have to adapt.

"The construction industry here is a novice at enhancing productivity," Goodland said. "It needs to invest in modern construction methods, education, better equipment and the recruitment of new skilled workers. The industry needs to become more efficient and more effective."

Don’t discount the impact of fashion on urban trends, says Michael Geller, a Vancouver architect and planner.

"Not owning a car has become a status symbol for many people, especially millennials," said Geller.

"Car ownership today is way down compared to what it was 20 years ago. Many people either don’t own a car or want to own one."

One of the results is that there isn’t the same pressure to provide parking spaces.

"But there is a growing requirement for parking stalls for bikes in new residential and commercial buildings," Geller said.

The bus is no longer the "loser cruiser" to young people, he says.

"But subways and streetcars are higher-status today than the bus," Geller said. "They’re more socially acceptable."

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