Key Takeaways from ULI Spring Meeting in Toronto

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Contact Fatima Lee, Senior Urban Designer

The highly anticipated ULI Spring Meeting 2023 took place in Toronto just last month. It is the first time the city hosted the prestigious event in 40 years. The opportunity was set to establish Toronto as a leading North American city in advanced building and urban development, while discussing global best practices for the creation of future-proof, healthy cities. Benoy Senior Urban Designer, Fatima Lee shares the most insightful takeaways from the main conferences she attended.

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230526 ULI Spring Meeting Fatima Lee photo cropped web

Pippa Malmgren: Focusing on the Future while Navigating the Present

  • Gathering solar energy from space. The U.S.A. has planned space missions to the moon and Saudis are looking at solar energy as the country makes the transition from oil to other power sources, including nuclear fusion.
  • Space-based solutions to earthbound problems. Space-based solutions may just be around the corner as the discussion of decarbonization and ESG (environment, social and governance) is on-going.
  • Space mining and satellite connectivity. Mining asteroids could help supply rare earth minerals needed for batteries, and satellite connectivity such as Starlink could help mitigate undersea cable cutting challenges.
  • A determined shift towards a neo globalization’. The vision of globalization is shifting from ‘’all jobs going to China’’ to ‘’ All jobs going everywhere’’. Predictions see manufacturing returning to North America and Europe.
  • Every collapsed bank has a silver lining. The collapse of institutions like Silicon Valley Bank could mean a shift some of the venture capital funds and high-risk investments from the Bay Area to up-and-coming’ first tiers cities such as Toronto, Detroit, and Charlotte.

Outtakes from the General Session: Nathalie Palladitcheff, Ivanhoé Cambridge

  • The cloud is also a physical space. With the growing need of AI, data centres would require more space. the idea of physical spaces required for data centres is comparable to the need for e‑commerce facilities.
  • CBD office space demand may decrease. The need for data centres and e‑commerce facilities implies that logistics wise, we can expect to have more offices nearby the key industry services. Thus, the need of Grade B and C office buildings may not be in as high demand anymore.
  • What to do with empty buildings? The work from home/​hybrid trends are not bringing people back to office. How to make the city more attractive/​accessible and bring people back? European cities are designed to be centralized, but unlike Europe, North America does not have the transportation infrastructure necessary to support that dynamic and structure.

Reimagining the Mall: The Final Urban Frontier

  • Canadian Developers share insights on Toronto and GTA developments. Developers and planners look at densifying spaces, e.g., repurposing traditional destination shopping centres into mixed use properties, as people seek to live in more convenient locations.
  • Trends in development and the careful balance of history preservation. the densification via the addition of residential uses involves a careful balance of preserving history a site in the redevelopment process, while aiming to accommodate the needs of a growing urban population. With the nearly 400,000 square feet (37,200 sq m) of retail space to be brought down to 130,000 square feet (12,100 sq m), parks and other communal features become the new anchors.
  • Street vitality vs retail-driven — a shift in retail paradigm. Traditional retail destinations created harsh environments – inward and enclosed shopping experiences. With the ability to open and transform spaces, blurring the lines with the public realm, street vitality imposes itself as the new standard. 
  • Creating a sense of belonging. including community programming into the mix to engage the public and bringing communities together promotes the sustainability of boroughs and not only shopping centres.

Toronto’s ULI Spring Meeting delivered with a bang”

Fatima concludes that Toronto’s ULI Spring Meeting delivered with a bang”. For many of the attendees, over 80% hailing from the U.S., it was a first-time introduction to Toronto. And it felt equally so for those who had not returned to the city in over 20 years. They had not anticipated the powerful vibrancy of the city’s urban transformation. I believe Toronto succeeded in showcasing why the city is considered the fastest growing Canadian metropole, and to put itself on the global map and on the radar of North American developers.” Yet, she added that with the global perspectives and ideas being discussed, such as space-based solutions for earthbound problems, the common struggle across global cities for affordable housing solutions, and the very tangible needs of a world connected through a cloud, it begged the question for all, where can Toronto’s development industry improve? Fatima says, the main intention I left with, as an urban designer, is to make sure that a developers’ investment on the Canadian market goes into applying those lessons.”

ULI Next Walking Tour.

Concord Adex Cityplace development: A rare brownfield site in Downtown Toronto, with a total of 18K residents and a young (25−44 y/​o) singles and couples demographics, is currently at the last phase of construction following 25 years of masterplanning, design and realization. 

  • All residential and office spaces are sold. 
  • Concord Adex still owns all retail spaces in the project and all public spaces, as well as the events calendar, are co-managed with City of Toronto. 
  • The masterplan requirements included to provide a school and a community centre for the residents.
  • The concept of a multi-purpose building — school during the day and open for community uses during evening times — maximized the value of the community investments. 

Loblaws – First Choice REIT: The original 1920s Loblaws is currently redeveloped into a high-density, mixed-use development that included residential, office spaces, and retail podium, as well as retail activation under The Bentway.

  • As a traditional grocer, Loblaws believed that a grocer would only work on street level due to shipment/​receiving and arrival experiences for the shoppers. Yet, as the original site does not allow the 50,000 square feet of floor space necessary for Loblaws to operate on the street level, a new Urban Grocer’ format was tested and later established, whereby the grocer is brought to level 2.

“I believe Toronto succeeded in showcasing why the city is considered the fastest growing Canadian metropole, and to put itself on the global map and on the radar of North American developers.”

Fatima Lee, Senior Urban Designer, As a seasoned urban designer specializing in commercial planning and programming strategies, Fatima introduces fresh perspectives to Benoy. Her involvement in architecture, landscape design and retail planning for a diverse range of small to large-scale projects in Asia-Pacific and Canada, affords her intercontinental viewpoints that enrich the firm’s approach to experiential projects.