Shaping the Future of Cities

June 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm Leave a comment

A profile of the City Program by the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.:

By Sam Brown 

Every year, thousands of people are drawn to BC’s Lower Mainland by its beauty, opportunity, and lifestyle. However, with population growth comes increased demand on land, infrastructure, and natural resources, creating challenges that need solutions. In 1995, Simon Fraser University established the City Program in Continuing Studies at its downtown Vancouver campus to help address urban land use issues related to housing, density, green space, heritage conservation, and transportation in the region. Since its inception, City Program has continued to be relevant, both for the Vancouver area, and for communities elsewhere across North America.    

Designed for mid-career urban professionals such as architects, engineers, developers, builders, and other real estate practitioners, City Program offers two certificateCity Program field trip programs: Urban Design and Sustainable Community Development. In the City Program’s infancy, courses were attended by seven or eight students, but this number has grown to reach as many as 45. Since its inception, 220 students have graduated with SFU City Program certificates.

In 2001, the Urban Design Certificate was launched as the first of its kind in Canada. The program explores the art and science of place-making (the creation of places that people want to visit, experience and enjoy), and place-keeping (maintaining and enhancing the qualities and benefits of places through long term management), while concentrating on the economic, social, and environmental considerations involved in sustainable urban design. The Urban Design Certificate Program has been endorsed by seven professional associations in BC and Alberta, including the Urban Development Institutes of Alberta, Calgary, and Pacific Region. To satisfy growing demand throughout the country, City Program Urban Design courses are now offered in Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Modeled after the Urban Design Certificate Program, the Certificate in Sustainable Community Development uses presentations, in-class dialogues, and field trips to teach students how to implement change in their own communities based on best practices. The program emphasizes both community dimensions (social, human, economic, and cultural aspects) and place-based factors (land and the environment) to help students become champions of sustainable community development.

A broad range of land use and real estate professionals are recognizing the City Program’s impact on their ability to make well-informed decisions in their work:

“By working with a diverse group of professionals in a high energy, dynamic, and creative environment we are able to take an integrated, ‘hands-on’ approach to addressing a variety of urban design challenges on ‘live sites.’ This program has helped me develop the skills and knowledge that have universal applicability in building better places, neighbourhoods, towns, and cities.” – John Madden, Planner, City of Vancouver

The City Program also offers free lectures, which are often led by world-renowned professionals. Among them is Peter Calthorpe, an architect, urban designer, and planner who was named one of 25 “Innovators on the Cutting Edge” by Newsweek for his work on redefining the models of urban and suburban growth. City Program has held over 150 lectures to date, with more than 25,000 attendees.   

The City Program’s course offering has changed over time to adapt to community needs. In 2010, the Surrey Transportation Lecture program was launched in partnership with the City of Surrey’s engineering department to help local residents and professionals understand transportation issues in their fast-growing city. The lecture program laid the foundation for the development of the Certificate in Transportation, which will focus on linking transportation system design to sustainable land use strategies. The Certificate in Transportation will be offered starting in 2013.

Furthermore, a course in community food systems was added to the Sustainable Community Development Certificate in 2011. This course explores a broad scope of food system opportunities, including land use planning, urban design strategies, economic development efforts, and successful grassroots initiatives.

With an evolving curriculum, expert instructors, and revered speakers exploring topics in planning, transportation, architecture, landscape architecture, land use economics, heritage, real estate development, and urban design, the City Program is producing graduates that can develop the cities and communities we envision for tomorrow.

“My experience with the City Program has been compelling and immediately relevant to my work. The instructors are consistently of high quality, and Vancouver is a fantastic laboratory for the study of urban design.” – George Adams, urban design manager, City of Austin, Texas

In 1995, the Real Estate Foundation provided Simon Fraser University with a $300,000 endowment grant to help create the City Program. In addition to sustaining income from the endowment fund, the Foundation has also awarded SFU an additional $145,000 in grants for curriculum development and programming. The Foundation’s support of the City Program aligns with our mandate to support research and education that builds knowledge and expertise among BC’s land use and real estate practitioners so they can enable positive change for BC communities. 


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