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episode # 132

Hot Button Issues for Vancouver’s Election with Urban Land Institute’s Duncan Wlodarczak

With Vancouver’s civic election fast approaching, Adam & Matt sit down with Vice Chair of the Urban Land Institute and Chief of Staff at Onni Group, Duncan Wlodarczak, to discuss our city’s most pressing issues, the role of ULI in local & global housing policy & where real estate thought leaders would like to see Vancouver in 2028. Here’s a hint: there’s more to it than just bikes. Not that there is anything wrong with bikes. Seriously, we didn’t mean anything by that. We have lots of friends that ride bikes.

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Episode Summary


Tell us about yourself:

I’m the Vice Chair of Urban Land Institute BC, which is a volunteer role I’ve held for two to three years. Professionally, I’m the Chief of Staff at Onni Group. I grew up in Richmond and have lived in the West End for the last 10 years.

What is the Urban Land Institute? And what is the difference between ULI and UDI (Urban Development Institute)?

The main difference between UDI and ULI is that UDI is an advocacy group for the industry while ULI is a non-profit. Urban Land Institute is education and research based. It’s a global organization, whereas UDI is local. Our organization is member driven, rather than corporate driven. And because we’re a global organization, we have connections outside of just Vancouver or BC.

Members get involved with networking, knowledge sharing, receiving publications and attending conferences. We’re very concerned with trying to develop leadership.

What areas in BC are you focused on?

The vast majority of our membership is in Vancouver. We also have some members in Victoria and a small group in the Okanagan.

On the mission/goals of ULI

 Our goal is to be a leader within the industry on the practices of sustainable land use. Our core mission is excellence in city building. So we train our members to be the best they can be in their positions to achieve that excellence. We spend a lot of time figuring out what excellence in city building looks like and how our members can contribute to that.

We focus on leadership, particularly young leaders. We also have a women’s leadership initiative. Thought leadership is a large area and we’ve focused on topics such as affordability/housing, transportation, waterfront development, and relationships with the community.

On bridges between nonprofit and private industry; why are there walls between the two?

There’s a distrust between the nonprofit sector and private industry. At the end of the day, it comes down to not understanding the mission of the other group; whether it’s profit based or focused on a specific goal. But we need to remember that even if our missions aren’t completely aligned, it doesn’t mean we can’t find a partnership and accomplish mutual goals.

What are the most important factors facing Vancouver and where are you guys focused?

 In Vancouver it’s all about mixed-use, mixed-income and mixed-employment. It’s creating communities that have access to transit and good walkability. It’s about making complete communities with access to those amenities. Those principles are the same no matter where you are, in Vancouver or elsewhere. We see that the areas that do this best in Vancouver are the most attractive areas. Because they’re attractive, they get expensive and competition for that space creates tension. The challenge is executing this kind of space.

On Vancouver being a victim of its own success

It’s hard to argue with that! Who wouldn’t want to live here and be a part of this? Of course, people want to invest and live here. We see it across the board in every community of Vancouver.

How is Vancouver perceived in the global context of ULI?

 Vancouver is right at the top in terms of planning and best practices. We have unique practices in Vancouver for city planning that achieve those goals of mixed-use, walkability, etc. Vancouver is a city, that from a planning perspective, you strive for. However, we’re also known as an expensive city and people know it’s hard to live here.

With the upcoming Vancouver election, how is ULI engaging the process?

 ULI is a non-partisan organization so we don’t take a formal stance. However, we do want to be in the conversations. We want to have our members meet with elected officials and share their expertise. We hold round table discussions with candidates and mayors in other cities. It’s a great way to see how other cities are doing it and what we can learn from them; we’re not the only ones with affordability and growth issues. Vancouver has its growing pains. We want to know what we can do to work with elected officials and share the ideas that lead to the wider goal of excellence in city planning.

Where does ULI hope to see Vancouver in 5-10 years?

We hope to see our role as being a part of the conversation and the future growth. We have that expertise, both locally and in our global network, to make positive changes. Vancouver has been at a crossroads for over 30 years; we’re dealing with constant growth and change, and the challenges that come with that. How we tackle that growth and focus on sustainable use of land and city building is the question. It’s hard to say what that will look like because we just don’t know – which is why we want to be in on the conversations. How do we best accommodate that growth and that change?


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