Calgary·Analysis

How to create a new Calgary neighbourhood in 12 not-so-easy steps: Part 1

Building new communities is a risky, high stakes business that can take 25-plus years from land acquisition to completion. It isn't for the weak of heart.

'You need to have the vision and financial capacity,' says Ryan Boyd, Brookfield Residential vice-president

Brookfield Residential began acquiring land for the Livingston development in 1998. (Richard White)

(This is the first of a three-part series)

If you think creating a new neighbourhood at the edge of Calgary is easy, think again!

If you think creating new greenfield neighbourhoods is a licence to print money for the developer, think again.

Building new communities is a risky, high-stakes business that can take 25-plus years from land acquisition to completion. It isn't for those weak of heart.

Let's examine the complexity of creating a new neighbourhood from beginning to end, using Brookfield Residential's new community of Livingston at the northern edge of the city as a case study.

Livingston is a new community launched in 2017 by Calgary-based developer, Brookfield Residential, located just north of Stoney Trail at Centre Street North.

Once it's fully built out over the next 15 years, it will be home to 30,000 Calgarians.

Located just north of Stoney Trail at Centre Street North, Livingston will eventually be home to 30,000 Calgarians. (Courtesy Brookfield Residential)

It is a mixed-use, transit-oriented community with plans for a town centre in the middle that will include two Green Line LRT stations, half-a-million square feet of retail and services, as well as a major employment hub.

The community was named after Sam Livingston, one of Calgary's first citizens, and many of the streets are named after early pioneers.

Brookfield Residential was formed 60 years ago, as Carma Developers, when a group of 43 homebuilders came together at the Beacon Hotel on 16th Avenue at Centre Street North to discuss how best to collaborate with the city to build new neighbourhoods.

In the late 1950s, more than 1,000 people were moving to Calgary every month and houses couldn't be built fast enough.

Since 1958, Brookfield Residential has created 64 new communities in Calgary, starting with Rosemont.

Step #1. Finding the land

The developer's first step is to strategically analyze how, when and where the city will grow over the next 25 to 50 years, as well as how much residential land is already available and in what locations, as the city likes to have a 30-year supply of raw land.

Developers have to predict where new neighbourhoods will be needed, based on research, experience and, yes, even their "sixth sense."

They have to evaluate how any potential land fits with the province's Municipal Government Act, which governs how urban areas will grow, taking into account things like annexation, environmental issues, water rights and transportation infrastructure.

They must also consider the Municipal Development Plan, which is the City of Calgary's long-range road map for growth over the next 60 years, addressing areas such as density requirements, access to green spaces and diversity of housing types, as well as the need for commercial and institutional development.

While some think it is the developer who decides on the density and diversity of the housing and the shape of new neighbourhoods, it is the City of Calgary that has the most influence.

Developers have to predict where new neighbourhoods will be needed. (Courtesy Brookfield Residential)

"Every five years, we take a really hard look at every bit of land in and around Calgary," says Brendan McCashin, the senior development manager for Brookfield Residential.

"Is it serviceable? How does it match up with the City of Calgary's plans for growth? How can we make this a community where people will be proud to call home? We conduct detailed market analyses to determine what, if any, land we want to acquire. In Livingston's case, we looked at the regional context and started buying land in 1998 and completed the 1,260-acre acquisition from four landowners in 2004."

Then the fun begins.…

Step #2. Negotiate the purchase

Once the developer has identified a piece of land to purchase, the negotiations begin with the landowner(s) to determine a fair price.

This is not as easy as one might think, as the developer faces a number of uncertainties. How long will it take for the city to grow to the point where the new neighbourhood will be needed? How long will it take to get approvals? How will the economy change over the 25 or so years it will take to get the new neighbourhood built? How will interest, taxes and other carrying costs change?

In Brookfield's case, the time it takes before the commencement of the development is the key determinant of the land value.

Determining that time-frame has become the biggest challenge in working with the city to bring a new neighbourhood to completion.

"You need to have the vision and financial capacity to look at a piece of farmland and say this land could become a thriving neighbourhood in 30 years, with the right plan to meet the needs of the next generation of home buyers and the city's ever-changing growth management strategies," says Ryan Boyd, Brookfield Residential's senior vice-president of communities.

The carrying costs begin.…

Step #3. Creating a vision

Once the land is purchased, a vision must be created.

Considerations in creating a vision include the natural features of the land and how can they best be utilized, things like wetlands, escarpments, ravines and forested areas.

What is the best access to the community from existing roads? How can transit best function? How many neighbourhoods will there be? Where should the schools, churches and emergency services go? What about commercial, industrial opportunities? And how does this all fit within the existing Regional Context Study.

From 2007 to present, Brookfield Residential has undertaken a mega research program that included visiting numerous mixed-use neighbourhoods across North America, a trip with city transportation officials to Toronto to study its urban corridor initiative, as well as customer focus groups and market research.

Once the land is purchased, a vision must be created. (Richard White)

In 2009, a design charrette was conducted with City of Calgary staff, consultants, school boards and other key informants to determine how to create a new community that would integrate residential, commercial, schools, parks and recreational amenities in the most synergistic manner to meet the needs of future generations.

Research indicated that the current north Centre Street neighbourhoods would attract a culturally diverse population, each with their own housing needs.

As a result of this research, Livingston's zoning allows for maximum flexibility for residential development to respond to market changes and allow for evolution as the community matures.

It includes everything from townhomes to single-family homes, from secondary suites to low-rise residential near the town centre and even larger homes at key sites.

It also resulted in a modified grid street network that enhances connectivity with multiple exits and entrances to the neighbourhood, and a design that capitalizes on the natural topography of the land, including parks at the top of the three hills and natural wetland areas.

Livingston will have the density of an inner-city neighbourhood like Hillhurst-Sunnyside, with its own main street and two LRT stations.

(End of Part 1. Coming up in Part 2: Plans, Plans and More Plans.…)


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca

About the Author

Richard White

Author Everyday Tourist blog

Richard White has served on the Calgary Planning Commission (Citizen at Large), the Calgary Tourism Board, The Calgary Public Art Board, and the Tourism Calgary Board. He writes a blog called Everyday Tourist about our city, and has written extensively on Calgary's urban development.

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