The Urban Land Institute (ULI), one of the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world, is working to help shape the future of the industry, and create thriving communities.

Today, ULI Toronto and the Women’s Development Collaborative examined how women-led development initiatives across the Greater Toronto Area are overcoming financial challenges and changing the face of major urban developments. The interactive webinar, entitled “Women Transforming Toronto: Female Developers Delivering Iconic Projects,” explored how female leaders are delivering projects that are inclusive, innovative and transformative.

Moderator Zahra Ebrahim, co-founder of Monumental Projects, kicked off the conversation with a quote from the late great Jane Jacobs, legendary urban planning author and activist: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Ebahim, who is also a board member of the Canadian Urban Institute and board chair of the Park People, noted that the defining characteristic of Toronto is that it’s North America’s most diverse population. While it’s consistently in the top 10 of most livable cities lists, there are significant challenges ahead to accommodate a rapidly growing population and the associated planning and housing challenges.

She compelled the panelists to explain how they address these challenges and come up with appropriate solutions.

Sherry Larjani, president of Spotlight Developments, spoke about the importance of affordable housing in terms of both ownership and rentals during this tough financial climate. “We purposely cultivate partnerships with not for profit organizations so we can achieve common goals together. We are not thinking in silos about housing, but rather in terms of a community that needs to thrive and survive and prosper.”

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Similarly, Tsering Yangki, executive vice president of real estate finance  and development with Dream, says she takes a community-focused approach. “We connect dots in terms of institutions and Indigenous communities to make sure we are aligned. We take a long term investment approach to our KPIs.”

To illustrate, Yangki referenced the Canary Landing development in Toronto. The first-of-its-kind city-building project brought to life by Canada’s leading real estate companies, Dream, Kilmer Group and Tricon Residential.

The development features several not for profit organizations structured in into the project. The integrated vertical community takes into account female perspectives in terms of, for example, safety and daycare convenience as well of sustainable environmental elements.

Specifically, the project is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold via various sustainable design and energy-saving strategies employed across the five building areas.

“Our goal was to deliver a community that is successful and thriving for future generations,” said Yangki. “The Indigenous land blessing took place before shovels went into the ground.”

Innovative energy systems are providing solutions for some of their projects. The growth of district energy systems, also known as low-carbon thermal energy networks, can distribute thermal energy to multiple buildings in an area or neighbourhood. These systems typically consist of a heating and cooling centre, and a thermal network of pipes connected to a group of buildings. They are able to decrease emissions while taking advantage of natural resources such as Lake Ontario.

Finally, the panelists were asked to provide their words of wisdom about how more females can break into the business and make a positive impact on urban developments.

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Larjani was candid with her comments. “Be prepared to hear a lot of ‘No’,” she said. “You will not get the seat at the table handed over to you.” However, she encourages young females to “ignite your engine and keep at it.” She shared that she worked hard to to earn her seat at the table by educating herself on what questions to ask and how to relate to people in this male dominated industry.

“There’s no shortcut and there’s lots of hard work involved,” said Yangki. “The real estate business is a long term pursuit, because you have to earn trust and credibility over time.” She also encouraged those with ethnic backgrounds to reach out to their communities and be strategic, that representing one’s background can be a “super power.”

Overall the webinar emphasized the importance of collective project planning and execution, and, despite financial challenges, the vast opportunities ahead for those seeking to build innovative, inclusive and transformative projects in the Greater Toronto Area.

Featured image credit: Canary Landing/Dream.


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