Calgary·Analysis

How to create a new Calgary neighbourhood in 12 not-so-easy steps: Part 3

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.

'Brookfield wants Livingston to be what the homeowners want it to be,' says resident

The Livingston design guidelines state that when you build a new home, it can’t have the same design as the three houses on either side of it or the three houses across the street. (Richard White)

(This is the third of a three-part series. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.)

Building new communities is a risky, high-stakes business that can take 25-plus years from land acquisition to completion.

This three-part series looks at 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.

Step #9. Selling & marketing

Now the developer can begin the process of selling some of the land to homebuilders and commercial land developers and develop some of the land itself.

Until this time, the developers have been carrying the entire financial cost and risks for the new master-planned neighbourhood. Brookfield Residential is both a developer and a homebuilder, which means it will sell about 70 per cent of the land in Livingston to building partners as a means of sharing some of the risks.

The types of homes that are built are based not only on the Tentative Plan but also on market demand.

The developer spends a considerable amount of time looking at local and emerging markets to understand what types of homes customers are seeking, what they can afford and what is already available in surrounding neighbourhoods.

About 70 per cent of the land in Livingston is sold to building partners as a means of sharing some of the risks. (Richard White)

With a focus on affordability, developers are constantly researching innovative ideas to deliver superior quality more efficiently.

One example of innovative thinking is how Brookfield has taken a block of 10 typical rear-lane single-family homes and divided the parcel into 16 lots — five front-drive single-family homes and 11 rear-lane duplex homes — which increases the density by 40 percent.

Once the homebuilders have decided on the design of the homes, they apply for building permits and begin marketing them to the public.

The developer continues to build the parks, pathways and other amenity spaces, as well as continue to sell and/or build on the commercial land.

Creating new communities in the 21st century is vastly different from that of the mid-20th century. Today, it is about creating vibrant neighbourhoods, not just building homes. (Richard White)

Step #10. Moving in

Currently, Livingston has 325 occupied homes.

When I visited, there were a few people cycling the pathway in the central park and others out cutting their grass and working in the yard. It was also busy at the show suites with people looking at what the new homebuilders were offering.

But even though children are playing in the parks and burgers are being grilled in backyards, the developer has to maintain the infrastructure for a certain period of time and make any repairs as needed. Only after a two- to three-year period is a final acceptance certificate issued by the city.

Step #11. HOAs fast-track getting to know your neighbours

Creating new communities in the 21st century is vastly different from that of the mid-20th century. Today, it is about creating vibrant neighbourhoods, not just building homes.

Developers realize the need to upfront the cost and development of amenities like parks (sometimes with lakes), pathways, playgrounds and recreation and meeting facilities that foster a sense of neighbourhood.

In Calgary, most new communities have a Homeowners' Association (HOA) that helps to kick-start the new residents getting to know each other.

Because the HOA is overseen by a volunteer board of directors made up of residents, it means neighbours must quickly start working together to shape their neighbourhood.

Brookfield staff fill the executive roles of president, secretary and treasurer in the early years until the association is financially self-sustaining. At that point, governance transfers to a resident-only board that has spent two years shadowing the executive.

"When we design each community, we set aside land early in our planning process so HOA buildings and open spaces are in a central location accessible by walking, biking or driving a short distance," says Jason Palacsko, the vice-president of Calgary communities for Brookfield Residential.

"Typically, Brookfield Residential donates land for the HOA and sets up funding to establish amenities and jump-start operations. The community contributes to operating costs through a mandatory annual fee registered on the title of each home. Our support continues until there are enough residents in place to cover ongoing operations."

Brookfield Residential even has a full-time manager of resident associations to help facilitate the formation and development of HOAs.

"In Livingston, the HOA building and amenities will be completed in 2019," says Brookfield's Brendan McCashin.

"We have already worked with buyers to organize 'meet your neighbour' nights, Green Thumbs and Cocktails (a Mother's Day plant night party), Easter celebrations for the families, Libraries on Wheels, community cleanups and yard design workshops with the Calgary Horticultural Society, as well as meetings to discuss with residents a future park, HOA amenities, services and programming."

Construction of the Livingston HOA Centre began in June 2019.

Livingston HOA Amenities at a Glance:

  • 30,000-square-foot building (banquet room/commercial kitchen/meeting space/gym).
  • Amphitheatre.
  • Multi-purpose — tennis/pickle ball/ hockey rink.
  • Multi-purpose — Hockey/Basketball/ Skateboard.
  • Splash Park that is a skating rink in the winter.
  • Tobogganing hill.
  • Enhanced playgrounds & play elements throughout.
  • Pathways system.
  • Leasable space — daycare, firehall, cafe, retail.
In Calgary, most new communities have a Homeowners’ Association that helps to kick-start the new residents getting to know each other. (Richard White)

Step #12. Individuals create good neighbourhoods

While the construction of new homes, streets, parks and pathways are necessary steps in creating a good neighbourhood, it is individuals who are the real catalysts when it comes to creating community.

Christy Komar moved into Livingston last October.

Her family chose to build their forever home there because, "we wanted a community that was ethnically diverse and where neighbours stopped to talk to each other. Brookfield has encouraged home owners to do what they want in their front yards to make them unique and individual. I love that I can tell people my house by describing it, because all the houses don't look the same!"

Komar also noted that Brookfield has organized lots of homeowner and potential homeowner get-togethers, like Neighbour Day.

"It has been fantastic to meet our future neighbours (as our home was being built) and our current neighbours," she says. "Already, the playground down the street from our house is a huge gathering point. I let my kids go and play without me because the other neighbours with younger kids are often there."

Cynthia Watson will be moving from her home in Marda Loop to Livingston in a few months and couldn't be more excited.

She will have a seven-minute bike ride to work at Vivo, the huge recreation/wellness centre where she is the chief evolution officer (yes, that is her correct title).

She did a lot of research before choosing Livingston and what she likes best is the connectivity of the neighbourhood's parks and the walkability to the urban corridor and retail area.

"I was very impressed with Brookfield's grassroots approach to foster a sense of community from the very beginning, including zoning for secondary suites. It will be amazing when the Green Line eventually arrives," says Watson.

Calgary's new neighbourhoods are all designed as hybrids between dense urban neighbourhoods and the spacious sprawling suburban communities of the mid to late 20th century. (Richard White)

Watson also told me about how Brookfield is teaming up with Vivo through their civic innovation collaboratory with Dr. Dwayne Sheehan (their researcher-in-residence at Mount Royal University), to conduct an innovative study of the first 25 Livingston pioneers (Komar is one of those in the study) to learn more about the process of how people integrate into a community.

Sheehan is excited about the opportunity to engage Livingston's first residents to gather information in a more rigorous manner than the typical survey conducted by developers a year or more after people move into a new community.

Already they have a better appreciation for how to facilitate the need for connectivity and communication between immediate neighbours, those on the street and those in the community-at-large.

People want to set up pot luck dinners, find babysitters, dog walkers or set up walking groups.

"We also identified some traffic flow concerns early that are being addressed, it is not all flowers and rainbows," Sheehan says.

In communicating with several participants in Vivo's study, I learned they have all bought into the vision of Livingston as a walkable, friendly community that will be built over the next 15 years.

Komar says it best: "Brookfield wants Livingston to be what the homeowners want it to be!"

How good is that!

New Neighbourhoods are not evil. To borrow one of Brookfield's early slogans for Livingston, "This Is Not Your Grandmother's Neighbourhood."

Indeed, Calgary's master planned new neighbourhoods are more than just a sea of cookie-cutter single family homes, like those evil suburbs of the late 20th century.

In fact, the Livingston design guidelines state that when you build a new home it can't have the same design as the three houses on either side of it or the three houses across the street.

Calgary's new neighbourhoods — places like Livingston, Seton, Walden, Providence or Quarry Park — are all designed as hybrids between dense urban neighbourhoods and the spacious sprawling suburban communities of the mid to late 20th century.

While they may not have the highest Walk Score in the city, they are indeed walkable.

Livingston will be on par with Kensington. It will have the same density and diversity, it will eventually have an LRT link to downtown, a main street, and access to the big box stores nearby.

So there you have it … everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about creating a new neighbourhood.

If you haven't been to one of Calgary's new neighbourhoods, you should take a trip one weekend and check them out for yourself. You might be in for a surprise.

Livingston at a glance:

  • 11,000 homes.
  • 4,500 multi-family homes.
  • 30,000 people.
  • 200 acres of open spaces & parks.
  • 20-acre environmental reserve.
  • 6 school sites.
  • 500,000-square-feet commercial development.
  • 7,000 permanent jobs.

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 atcalgarytheroadahead@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 the city, and has written extensively on Calgary's urban development.

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