How real estate developers can contribute to healthier, happier communities

Doug Allan, Vice President of Finance and Operations, Burrard Properties

Fireside Lounge


Real estate developers often have reputations of acting in their own self-interest over those of their customers. However, this doesn’t need to be the case and I am convinced that real estate developers have an opportunity in front of them to become one of the most important players in addressing a problem Western societies are facing at present – growing rates of anxiety and depression.

On my commute home from work today, I listened to a TEDTalk discussing what has contributed to the rise of chemical anti-depressants and skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety in our society. The speaker pointed to how humans evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and how only recently – perhaps the last thousand years – we have entered a new era of human interaction. All the way up to the ages of William Wallace in the North of Scotland, humans stuck together in tribes or clans to accomplish common goals for their mutual benefit. Whether it was hunting for food or taking care of senior members of their community, people worked together. This has led to our species’ rise to the top of the food chain. But recently, this has changed.

We now often live alone. We drive to work alone. We work in a cubicle alone. We drive home and we eat alone and go to sleep alone. With the rise of technology and high-density living, along with the pressure Western culture puts on us to accumulate property (whether that be real estate, vehicles or other “stuff”), we have fewer and fewer forcing functions on a daily basis to interact. And because human interaction, collective goals and experiences are basic needs for our species, without it we are suffering.

At Burrard, we acknowledge this issue head-on, and in fact, have made Community one of our core values. Whether it is at our office or inherent to our product, we consciously acknowledge the power of community on the well being of our people and customers. For example, we worked with our architects at Nexus to create community spaces for the building which are conducive to human interaction. Whether it is sharing a cooking class at the rooftop kitchen, or working with neighbours in the co-working lounge, Nexus encourages its residents to get out of their homes and meet each other.

Wellness has historically focused almost solely on physical wellness, that is, eating right and exercising. Up until recently, the concept of wellness has downplayed the importance of mental health. In my opinion, as someone who has been through the loss of a brother and the mental health challenges which go hand in hand with extreme grief, I can say that mental health is far more important than physical health to a person’s holistic wellness.

Real estate developers have an opportunity to think hard about what their projects’ can do for the holistic well being of residents and implement designs which encourage people to live better and focus on what matters. Whereas previously amenity spaces were designed for marketing brochures, they can be designed to facilitate a healthy lifestyle – fitness centers, commercial retail units which focus on healthy foods and experiences, community and art spaces, green space and gathering spaces to name a few.

Naysayers will argue that these things all come with financial costs. And yes, as a CPA, I agree, projects need to pencil to be feasible and so there may need to necessarily be a shift of new construction square footage away from low occupancy living spaces and towards higher occupancy gathering spaces for a building’s “tribe”.

Using geo-mapping technology, many studies have confirmed that people use a very small portion of their homes, leaving much of it underutilized and expensive to own, heat, maintain and finance. Compelling evidence which points to an argument to re-allocate square footage away from underutilized space which one family can use, to shared spaces which a community can use to get together and work on a project, socialize and share stories.

I think real estate developers have the potential and opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the quality of life of future residents by keeping these concepts at the forefront of their designs. Burrard will play a leading role.