Event Overview

Exactly forty years ago, Vancouver hosted the first UN Habitat Conference. In 1976, cities were struggling to survive, global warming was only feared by a tiny few, and the global rural to urban migration had just begun. Now cities are “thriving” but with economic disparity more glaring than ever. Cities like Vancouver are magnets for unimaginable personal wealth, while cities like Surrey BC accommodate wave after wave of immigrants of vastly lesser means. What are we to make of these transformations? What role, if any, can urban design play?  Design, the very thing that made Vancouver so attractive as a place to invest, and, ironically, may have helped price Vancouver homes out of reach of average families. We think there is still time to think, decide, and act. This forum provides at least one, and hopefully an important, step in this direction.

The two-day forum was divided into nine sessions as follows;



Day 1 - March 10 2016


As 2016 will be the 40th Anniversary of the first UN Habitat conference and Habitat Forum located in   Vancouver, BC in May 1976 we also especially welcome papers that reflect on this milestone and what has been learned, and not learned, about urbanism since that time.

Keynote Speaker: John Friedmann (Honorary Professor, SCARP, UBC)


David Wachsmuth (Assistant Professor, McGill University - Planetary Urbanization and the Great Lakes Megalopolis: From Habitat I to the CompetitiveMegaregion

Sinead Petrasek (MA Candidate, Theories of Urban Practice Parsons, The New School, New York) -  Quito as a UNESCO Heritage Site

Ann McAfee (Adjunct Professor SCARP and Retired Co-Director of Planning Vancouver) - Reflections on the Role of Policy Research in Reshaping Urban Form, Function, and Funding

Session 2 - Capital: Restructuring, Reimagining, and Redirecting Capital Flow and Value Growth in the Making of the New City

This session explores how to re(de)fine and articulate alternative planning mechanisms and spatial practices that both acknowledge and/or overcome purely market-driven developments. Can modern, equitable, and resilient urban transformation be financed outside of neoliberal market mechanisms? Do the processes of global finance now inevitably work against an “economy of means” and a socially sustainable and equitable new city? Is there a way to build this new city to insure that capital value gains stay in the hands of the largest number of residents? How can global capital flows be harnessed toward more socially sustainable ends in both the developed and the developing world – in both the catchment areas where investment is for the rich (London Vancouver and its ilk) and in peripheral zones where the largest share of new urban dwellers must find a home (Dhaka, Surrey and its kind). How can creative financial engineering and public-private partnerships be integrated sustainably? How can cultural capital be leveraged to transform the design of cities?


John Bass (Associate Professor, UBC SALA) -  An optimist’s view of single-celled urbanism

 Colleen Xi (PhD student in City Design and Development at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning) - Liangzhu Culture Village: A paradigm for Chinese Urbanism

Caitlin Jones (Executive Director of the Western Front Society in Vancouver) - Urgent Imagination: Art and Urban Development

 Brian Falk (Director of Publications, Center for Applied Transect Studies) -  Lean Urbanism

Session 3 - Reimagining Governance and Planning Policies

This theme explores how new forms of governance, including innovative planning and policy mechanisms, can affect the social and economic equity of cities. Can democratic participation truly exist in contexts where social and economic equity is unbalanced? Where in the world are successful experiments with new forms of urban policy happening? At what level of political and economic power are they implemented? What kind of population do they serve?

What are the trend lines for and against the democratization of urban policy decision-making? Has democracy more or less control of city building as the century progresses? How do we understand the changing role of policy and democratic decision making in cities subject to large global capital flows? Similarly how do understand the role of policy and democratic decision-making in “Arrival Cities”?

Keynote Speaker: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (Professor of Urban Planning; Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs Urban Planning. University of California, Los Angeles)


Neal LaMontagne (PhD Student, UCLA Luskin School of Public Policy) - Urban Design is an Active Verb

Amr elBahrawy (Intern Architect/Design Assistant at MMC International Architects Ltd.) - Nasr City: A study in the dynamics of making and breaking urban attractors in Cairo

 Orly Linovski (Assistant professor in the Department of City Planning at the University of Manitoba) - The Political Realm of Urban Design Practices

Session 4 - Reimagining Governance and Planning Policies


Wendy de Hoog (Researcher at Stadsruim and affiliated with the Delft University of Technology) -  Organic Urban Design

 Lee-Michael J. Pronko (MA in Political Science at Carleton University) - Start-up Urbanism

Wayne Beggs (University of Texas at Arlington) - Vancouver’s Design Future: A Modest Proposal

Session 5 -  City of Surrey Panel; The 21st Century City is Not Where it Used to Be: The Former Suburb Becomes the Global City

A panel of the regional leaders who have created the livable region and made the South of Fraser a true second centre – and the potential new centre of the region – give their views on this dramatic shift. This promises to be a landmark event in how we think about urban regions, both in Canada and around the world.


Don Luymes (Manager of City of Surrey Community Planning Department)

 Anita Huberman (CEO, Surrey Board of Trade)

 Juan Wei (Senior Program Manager, Sustainability Asia Society Northern California)

 Patrick Cotter (Partner & Founder of Cotter Architects)

 Uwe S. Brandes (Executive Director, Urban and Regional Planning Program, Georgetown University)

 Bruce Pickering (Vice President of Global Programs at Asia Society)

Day 2

Session 1 - Reframing the Agency of Design

This theme explores the agency of design in envisioning resilient (social, economic, political, environmental, and spatial) urban developments. What is the role of physical design in enabling social imagination, debate, and democratic space? What are the costs and benefits of increasing or decreasing the degree of citizen control in city building? How do we imagine design as an agency of social sustainability and capital accumulation for the broadest spectrum of urban residents/citizens? How do we understand the value of urban design when deployed in the service of the global competition for “world class status,” usually manifest in the most provocative iconic displays of wealth and power (from the Shard in London to the Vancouver House in Vancouver to the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai). Can we reasonably and realistically posit an alternative? And what does it look like?


Keynote Speaker: Albert Pope (Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture. Rice University, Houston, Texas Area)


Kian Goh (Assistant Professor of Urban Landscape, Northeastern University) - Terrains of Contestation: Designing Urban Climate Change Adaptation

 Daniel Roehr (Associate Professor, UBC SALA) - Shared Stormwater Visualization

 Sara Barron (Ph.D. Candidate, UBC Faculty of Forestry) - Future Suburban Forests

 Saeran Vasathkumar (University of Waterloo) - CACTUS I A Computational Tool for Low-Carbon Urban Design

Session 2 - Reframing the Agency of Design


Rob Freestone (Faculty of Built Environment, UNSW Australia) - Competitive Design in Global Sydney

 Roy Cloutier (Masters of Architecture Candidate, UBC SALA) - Atomized Urbanism: Design in the Networked City

 Michael Geller (Architect, Planner, Real Estate Consultant and Property Developer) - New Forms for Generation Squeeze

Mari Fujita (Associate Professor, UBC SALA) - Enclave Urbanism in Flux

Session 3 - Reframing the Agency of Design

Keynote Speaker: Kristina Hill (Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design. University of California, Berkeley)


Ulduz Maschaykh (Ph.D, University of Bonn, Germany) - Tenure-blind Architecture

 Foong Patrick Chan (Independent Writer + Designer) - Between Philosophy and Urban Design: An Unfinished Field

 Chin-Wei Chang (PhD Student in Architectural History & Theory,The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL) - A Middle Ground between Beaux-Art and Modernism

Noah Billig (Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design University of Arkansas) - Breakneck Istanbul

Session 4 - Reframing the Agency of Design

Keynote Speaker: Matt Hern (Co-founder/director of 2+10 Industries)