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Urban Systems Opens New Practice Area: Land Economics

As you may have heard, a new Land Economics practice has launched at Urban Systems, a move directed at bolstering the firm’s Strategic Properties and Economic Development work and bringing in-house a mix of land use market and financial expertise that has historically needed to be outsourced. Justin Barer and David Bell, the two new hires leading the practice area from the Vancouver office, are thrilled with the opportunity to join a talented team doing interesting and varied work across Western Canada.

Visit our Land Economics webpage to learn more about our diverse range of clients and projects..

With over 25 years of professional consulting experience between them, Justin Barer (formerly of Rollo + Associates and Hudema Consulting) and David Bell (formerly of Colliers International Consulting, Thomas Consultants, and AECOM), have joined forces to create a new breed of land economics practice that is, by design, more integrated with the planning, engineering, and economic development process. Following the theme of their co-hosted 2013 InFuse Vancouver Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) workshop, Justin and David’s driving goal is to use market and financial analysis to improve the conversation between public and private sector players, with the ultimate aim of creating better planning and development project outcomes, successful economic development initiatives, and more resilient communities.

Land economics is a natural fit for Urban Systems, as it dovetails well with a wide range of planning, engineering, transportation, and economic development work for First Nations, public sector and private sector development clients and can be integrated into work programs of any scale. Work they enjoy the most centers on market and financial analysis that can help hone or “reality proof” a client or community’s vision so that critical market-driven challenges can be overcome and key project objectives can be realized. This covers a broad spectrum, including:

  • Downtown revitalization and urban infill
  • Land use supply and demand analysis supporting municipal planning initiatives (growth studies, neighbourhood and larger area plans, Official Community Plans, etc.)
  • Site-specific highest and best use studies
  • Development feasibility analysis and development concept scenario testing
  • Adaptive re-use studies
  • Retail-commercial development strategies for complex mixed-use projects
  • Shopping centre remerchandising, repositioning or redevelopment analysis
  • Employment land (industrial and office) market studies and strategies
  • Economic growth sector analysis
  • Business attraction and retention strategies
  • Retail-commercial market leakage analysis
  • Population, demographic and housing demand forecasts
  • Transit-oriented development opportunity studies
  • Land use policy review from a market/development perspective
  • Transportation network improvement impact assessments
  • Strategic land inventories, acquisition and disposition analysis
  • Economic impact analysis

While their work has focused mainly on Western Canada, and more specifically in Urban Systems’ existing metro markets, it has also taken them a little further afield. Justin, for instance, has done work in Swift Current and Ottawa. Over the 2007-2010 period, David’s work took him to three of the BRIC countries (Russia, India, China), as well as Libya, French Polynesia (Tahiti), the Bahamas, and Montana. Exotic work trips aside (and there are plenty of colourful stories to go with them), their most rewarding career work experiences so far have been a little closer to home:

One of Justin’s most satisfying professional experiences has been his ongoing work with the Town of Canmore: “It’s such a wonderful, vibrant place to visit, and both the planning and economic development staff are great to work with and eager to find ways to build on their success. I worked on their retail strategy, short-term accommodation strategy and sector-specific economic development analysis, and in all cases we have seen our recommendations directly influence policy and initiatives relatively quickly. There’s a very talented and driven group of people working in Canmore, and I hope we have many opportunities to continue working there.”

Simmons Heritage Building in Calgary, part of the East Village Retail Strategy
David’s most rewarding consulting experience has been his involvement in the revitalization of East Village in Calgary: “Seeing so many good things happening in East Village, from innovative adaptive re-use of historic buildings to new riverfront condominiums, the new National Music Centre, hotels and the new Central Library now underway, is very rewarding. From the early visioning workshops in 2007, through development of a retail-commercial strategy, collaborative work on the East Village Master Plan and strategic updates through to 2014, it was a treat to work with CMLC and such a talented team of professionals to make the vision really come to life.”

Since joining the Urban team in early April, Justin and David have plugged into a variety of interesting assignments in multiple markets, including:

  • Benchmark review of railway museum facilities for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (Coquitlam)
  • Maplewood employment land study (District of North Vancouver)
  • Five Corners site redevelopment real estate package (CEPCO – Chilliwack, BC)
  • Riverdale land use market & financial analysis (Ta’an Kwach’an Council – Whitehorse, YK)
  • Capilano View Cemetery land use demand analysis (District of West Vancouver, BC)
  • Cochrane North retail opportunity analysis (Cochrane, AB)
  • Enoch First Nation Land Use Demand Market (Edmonton, AB)
  • About Justin

    Urban-Systems-JustinBarerWhen Justin isn’t at work, he says on nice days you’ll likely find him at a local park or on a hiking trail with his wife and two daughters (ages 4 and 2). On rainy days you’ll find them doing the same things (or possibly at the Aquarium or Bloedel Conservatory). He and his wife Dikla (a physiotherapist) have been married almost 9 years.

    Justin is into local craft beer and loves exploring our “rapidly multiplying micro-brewery locations.” He loves Brassneck, Main Street and Strange Fellows.

    When pressed to tell us something quirky about himself, Justin laughs and says there’s not much time for quirk between work and kids. But he soon admits he has a deep love for 1970s era Japanese cars of all shapes and sizes, and has been holding on to a 1974 Toyota Corona coupe for around 18 years, which he intends to restore when he acquires that “elusive combination of time and disposable income!” In the meantime, it sits in his garage covered in boxes of old toys.

    About David

    Urban-Systems-David-BellDavid has been married since 2011 to the lovely Susanne (a GIS administrator with Translink who he says knows more about bus routing and ridership volumes than any other human he knows) and has a stepdaughter who is off to St. Thomas More Collegiate next year. When he isn’t working you’ll find him hanging with the family, cycling, listening to music or at a live music show. Like Justin he is big into the craft brew scene. He says he loves anything by Dageraad in Burnaby, Steel & Oak in New West, Four Winds in Delta, 33 Acres or Bassneck in Vancouver and loves exploring new beers as well. He’s been a film nut since he was a kid and plays the piano. Dave and his wife are working on a little home music studio, and with the help of his sister-in-law Kathleen, he and his wife are also renovating their second 1912 house in New West (the last house was nicknamed The Titanic). Fun quirk of his current place? The former owners were Italian and built a bocce court out back.

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