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  I feel very fortunate to do what I do—urban planning—which is about the art, business, culture, and science of great place making.

Simon O'Byrne

Vice President, Regional Business Leader, Community Development (Canada)

Edmonton, Alberta

Simon is an award-winning urban designer and planner and vice president of Community Development in Canada. With his planning expertise, he’s frequently quoted in North American media, and he’s a regularly sought-after public speaker.

His experience ranges from intensive urban revitalization redevelopments to the creation of many master-planned communities, brownfield, and transit-oriented developments. Simon has led multi-disciplinary design teams in the planning and successful delivery of large, complex, and politically charged projects.

Simon was the 2015 Allard Chair in Business for MacEwan University, and he’s been named as one of Edmonton’s Power 30 by the Edmonton Journal. Alberta Venture magazine named Simon as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Alberta for 2012, and in 2009, Avenue magazine named Simon as one of the Top 40 Under 40. As a community leader, Simon volunteers and leads many different civic, economic, social justice, charity, and professional boards and committees.

Interconnected to the core

Transcript of the video follows
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<p>Messy vibrancy is at the heart of any plan that involves people, because a great plan is about connections. And connections are fluid, they are unpredictable, and messy.</p> <p>The economy is at the center of any great planning exercise. We want to make sure that we are allowing the economy to flourish because the economy is going to give us the means to continuously rebuild the city in a more progressive, more interesting way.</p> <p>We need the public space to give us great outdoor living rooms. If you don’t have great outdoor living rooms, there’s no place to hang out, there’s no people watching opportunities.</p> <p>Transportation is the big connector. It attaches everything together.&nbsp; We need to provide the means and the modes by which these people are going to connect to their work, to where they’re going to play, to where they’re going to just experience life.</p> <p>Great cities are not just about movement. They’re about being walkable, they’re about providing connectivity. So we need to create much more walkable, pedestrian centric cities.</p> <p>As we think about heritage, that is something that gives us a strong sense of place, a strong identity. The cities that have success in their core are cities that have preserved their heritage.</p> <p>And why this matters is because it’s all woven into the soul of the place, the spice of the place is its culture. We want visual stimulation, we want to have animation happening.</p> <p>This connects to sustainability. That means thinking about how do we reduce, relentlessly, the ecological footprint of the city.</p> <p>All of these seven components, they create one big major idea here. It’s that: as goes the city center, so goes Saskatoon. You cannot have a great city without having a great city center. Because the city center, the downtown, the core: That is the brand of a city.</p>

Looking for ways to improve your city? At a recent PechaKucha presentation in Edmonton, Alberta, I talked about how my city could play to its strengths and improve its urban offerings with light, with office-to-residential development, and by creating a waterfront district.

At the Winter Cities Shakeup Conference in February, I spoke about co-chairing the City of Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy—best practices, what’s worked, what hasn’t. There are lots of lessons to be learned when creating a successful winter city.

Productivity can always be improved. But how do you start? As the keynote speaker for the Edmonton Construction Association’s conference this year, I laid out some strategies for recognizing the hurdles (awkwardness, terminal niceness, fear of confrontation) and overcoming them to create more productive workplaces.

I’m currently writing a chapter for Urbanizing the Suburbs by Island Press, about the urbanization of Canadian suburbs. I’ll explore the demographic, economic, and policy trends that are radically reshaping the built landscape in Canada.

Look out for an upcoming blog about how to create a ten-thousand step urban village. We now know that exercising intensely for 30 minutes a day—or walking 10,000 steps instead—can drastically reduce the risk of diabetes or heart and stroke events. Now we’re looking at how to design urban spaces that encourage walkability and transit use, thereby reducing auto-dependency and supporting healthier lifestyles.

How do we transform our streets in North America? Recently I’ve been reading Street Fight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan to get some more ideas.

For other ideas, and to keep connected to urban design trends in North America, I regularly read Granola Shotgun, City Lab, and Design Boom.

In December, I was interviewed by Mark Connolly on CBC radio to talk about how Radical incrementalism can progressively change our cities.

I’ve been interviewed about my work on the Winter City Strategy by Radio Canada, CBC Calgary, and by Portia Clarke on Radio Active in Edmonton.

Edmonton is redefining its relationship with winter, and as co-chair of the Winter City Strategy, I’m finding exciting ways to support and propel that. Check out Eillie Anzilotti’s CityLab feature to learn more about what we’re doing.

In thinking about how we could apply some of our Edmonton-based solutions to our nearby sister city of Calgary, my conversation with CBC went to wind chill factor and design material choices.

I currently volunteer with the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force (as the past-Chair) and the University of Alberta Planning Program advisory committee. I also serve as co-chair for the Urban Land Institute Alberta Research and Education management board.

In my community, I’m an honorary chair for the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation, and I work with the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Board and the Canadian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility.

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