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The Role of Placemaking in Economic Recovery

Placemaking in design is a practice that looks to maximize the value of every project to its surrounding real estate value. Now more than ever, it needs to be involved in the front-end strategic planning of projects, and to address the question – how will our experiences, including living through a global pandemic, help define the cities of tomorrow?



May 27, 2020

The year 2020 will be a memorable year for all of us. Never before in our lifetimes have we experienced a global crisis that has impacted every country, every community and every citizen. Our supply chains, our governance and our values have all been challenged, and our global economy has been hit very hard. As a leading technology-driven design firm, we have been challenged to work differently, to collaborate more, and to become responsive to this changing world. We continue to ask ourselves how we can learn from this “social experiment”. It is necessary to help our clients not only survive, but to come back even stronger as part of the economic recovery. Placemaking in design is a practice that looks to maximize the value of every project to its surrounding real estate value. Now more than ever, it needs to be involved in the front-end strategic planning of projects, and to address the question – how will this experience help define the cities of tomorrow?

Many of the trends associated with the pandemic have occurred globally, and affect the way every individual project is being delivered. Through the course of our campaign and the following articles and thought leadership, we share lessons learned in areas where IBI’s Placemaking practice has had success, and suggestions for how these lessons can be applied to add value to the economic recovery in the areas of planning and design.

IBI Group designed M3 Condos, an 81-storey tower that will become the centrepiece of Rogers Real Estate Development’s 4.3 million sq. ft. master planned community in downtown Mississauga.

Shaping communities.

We have all been instructed to “stay home”. Through this reset, we see our homes, our communities and our cities differently. Our daily patterns and influences have gotten much smaller, more focused and we appreciate both the good things and the bad things about the communities in which we live. They are made up of buildings, streets, parks and the spaces in between. These are the spaces, which we share, that contribute to our lives. The impact is greatest within a range of five to ten minutes from where we live and work. As we recover, and plan and design new communities, we will be asked to challenge density, built form, land use and policies about living and working. Retail may shift towards an appreciation of small mom and pop stores. Mixed-use projects may be more habitable, comfortable and resilient to flexibility in work/life balance. Quality of design and creativity of these communities will become more and more critical in a demanding real estate market.

Creating places around transit infrastructure.

We recognize that despite the need for social distancing, this should not be a rationale for urban sprawl, and transit will still provide access throughout the city. Density may be re-examined, as will the amount and configuration of open space, and the need for shared roads and public spaces both have their peak demands. If designed differently, these spaces can be combined to increase real estate value. Think about some of the best cities in the world, and what we love about them. Think about why this is, what choices we have to make, and what goods and services are at our fingertips. When visiting a favourite city, a hospitality resort, or even a small town or village, we all recognize the appeal – the choice in how we move around and the walkability of the community. We feel safe when walking through a plaza or down a narrow, but sunlit street.

vivaNext York Region Rapid Transit
IBI Group is part of a design consortium working on vivaNext, a Bus Rapid transit (BRT) system to serve the future of the York Region and alleviate congestion in the Greater Toronto Area.
IBI Group's design team is working on an ambitious project to transform and regenerate Barnsley, UK's town centre.

Making old things new.

As transit is upgraded, underutilized land uses are being rethought, and parts of the city will also need to be rethought. Industrial lands and shopping malls surrounded by major parking lots are being re-examined to include housing, opportunities for mixed-use environments and places for people. A combination of economic development and design is allowing these infill neighbourhoods to fill in vacant pockets within the city with rich and diverse neighbourhoods that offer new forms of housing opportunities. With these, flexible community centres, libraries and market squares are being re-invented to revitalize new pockets of communities with diversity and richness that is much needed in the overall character of the city.

Strategic planning through IBI Quantum.

Technology has played an important role in keeping people connected through these difficult times, but it cannot solve every problem. What it can do, through a deeper understanding of metrics, of human behaviour, of movement patterns, and of artificial intelligence, is allow us as designers to test options, quantum numbers of options, and to use our skills as designers to decide which options can move forward based on the parameters we choose to analyze. This is a differentiator for IBI Group, with some 20 per cent of our business being created through intelligence, as applied to design and planning. Not only can we acknowledge human behaviour and predict human preferences, we can model, test and create flexibility within design using a combination of “what we know”, and model how these environments will look and feel.

Planning for a resilient future.

Through the pandemic, our workplace has changed, and we have adapted. But with this, our travel patterns, our need for defined office space, and for meeting rooms and board rooms has also shifted; not just for us, but for all of our corporate clients, banks, contractors and project offices. Drawings can be submitted differently, construction and contract administration has become more remote, and efficiencies have been made. We are seeing less paper, more online submissions, and behavioural changes that have long been needed in the construction industry. Public engagement is critical to gaining input into the way communities are designed, and through technology, we are able to reach out to more people, in less time, in efficient ways that increase access to the audience and allow for more meaningful and fulsome comments. These comments are caught early enough to change the design visions, and to allow us to show the change prior to construction, with virtual reality renderings, animations, and walk throughs.

Trevor McIntyre is Global Director, Placemaking. He is responsible for leading the landscape architecture and urban design practices across the firm. Trevor is a landscape architect and member of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architecture and the American Society of Landscape Architecture.

Trevor has been a leading planner, landscape architect, and urban designer for more than 20 years, with projects in Canada, USA, Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Asia. He leads the Toronto design practice in community planning and design, master planning, and landscape architecture. He has a Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Guelph.

Headshot of Trevor McIntyre

Written by Trevor McIntyre

Global Director | Placemaking
Toronto, ON
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