Urban and Suburban density - maximizing your development's profitability

Article By:

Senior Associate | Urban Designer

Urban and suburban communities today are more attractive than ever for the public.

As places to live and work, they attract a wide range of demographic groups, talents and investors. Reflecting all of this, they are experiencing an increase in density, vibrant mix of use and investment opportunities.

Yet, these communities often experience profound challenges, not least for the environment, as they are also significant generators of carbon emissions and unrestricted urban sprawl. Unfortunately, urban and suburban developments are likely to continue along with this ‘business as usual’ path until there is a catalytic cause for change.

In response, both the public and private sectors are searching for solutions to accommodate urban growth in a way that preserves both the environment and the quality of life for residents and visitors while protecting their intrinsic [property] value.

What this paper refers to as ‘smart density’—compact, well- connected and thoughtfully designed development to promote a high quality of life—may be more sustainable and prosperous in the long run. As well, more likely to provide better resilience and risk- adjusted returns for the developers.

Internationally, many dense and well-connected cities have a positive track record for offering a high quality of life and success in reducing their carbon emissions.

What this paper refers to as ‘smart density’—compact, well- connected and thoughtfully designed development to promote a high quality of life—may be more sustainable and prosperous in the long run. As well, more likely to provide better resilience and risk- adjusted returns for the developers.

Although I have intended this document for developers, it will also help other interested community members make smart decisions about where and how to steer their investment towards an attractive, resilient, risk-adjusted return—and at the same time support climate change and sustainable development efforts.

We hope this paper can inspire cities and investors alike to work together to improve urban form and function in ways that promote good density and thriving communities.

Your guide on urban and suburban density

Optimal design for optimal review

The onset of the master plan always includes its alignment with the client’s overall vision of the community, developmental (financial) goals, and market research.

Still, another equally important step is to respect the broader context and its immediate surroundings. It entails background research of the location, land uses, regulations, traffic report, historical/ cultural significance, and the adjacent neighbourhoods.

At the Nadi Group, we carefully plan the allotment of homes to optimize the yield, reinforce public street frontage, align with neighbours and harmonize with the site’s characteristics. Relying on a cookie-cutter subdivision approach does not always provide long-term economic sustainability.

When you utilize a multi-disciplinary team of planners, urban designers, landscape architects, and civil engineers at an early conceptual stage, you'll find it extremely useful to identify site opportunities and natural features for high profile [value] optimization.

Fulton Grove, an urban neighbourhood designed to be a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the south-western Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor of Winnipeg, provides a perfect example of this process. A private developer engaged Nadi Group to develop a master plan concept based on sound planning rationale and best practices in the design of complete communities.

We established a reasonable, logical and methodical concept development plan that explains the planning principles, land use and densities in terms of units/ acres for the site.

In addition to establishing a design framework that optimizes the yield and aligns with the relevant planning policies and zoning by-laws, it is critical for the developer to understand the density trends of a city and how the market typically reacts as a TOD develops over time.

If the city's concepts for BRT and TOD is in the infant stage (which was the case for us), it's necessary to look at other cities with similar Prairiesque conditions, population and development trends for reference and direction.

Invest in high-quality public space amenities

One common mistake in some suburban developments is the lack of essential services and amenities. A well-planned development attracts families with children and pets by featuring attractions like parks, splash pads, fountains, trails, playgrounds and dog parks.

The current Covid-19 situation has taught us how important providing better and more public space amenities for people to enjoy outdoor activities within the ethics of safe distancing. Besides being touted as a post-pandemic recovery, economists view this as a way to boost the economy. If we want to protect property value, developers should focus on increased accessibility, walkability, and designing spaces that respond to our ‘evolving’ physical, social and cultural needs.

What to maximize your profits even more?

To read chapters four, five and six, download your FREE version of Urban and Suburban Density: How to maximize your development's profitability here.

Urban and Suburban Density's remaining chapters:

Traditional mixed-use model and missing middle housing

Future-proofing through intergenerational housing

Affordability does not mean cheap

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