Urban Systems is a homegrown consulting firm (and, disclosure, sponsor of some SFU City Program lectures) that provides strategic planning, engineering and urban design services.  But up until a few months ago, there really wasn’t that much “urban” in the location of its metro offices:


They were in a business park located roughly between the auto malls and cranberry farms of Richmond – convenient, no doubt, if you measured convenience by nearness to freeway interchanges and arterial roads:


Now they’re in the urban antipodes: Helmcken and Homer in the heart of Yaletown – all brick and wood and open plan:


No doubt more expensive digs, but much better value.  At least if the opinions of their workforce counts:

James Klukas: “The location has also dramatically changed my commute, as I now walk the Cambie Bridge from Fairview Slopes or take a one stop trip on the Canada Line, instead of a 25-30 minute drive to our previous location.  “

Stephanie McNeely: “I love working in Yaletown. It’s closer to home and within a vibrant part of the City. It makes it easier and takes less time to get around. I recently delivered an RFP to the City of Vancouver on my bike!”

Glen Shkurhan: “I love cars and generally like driving, but I completely under-estimated the impact commuting in a car was having on my overall health.  A recent move of my home to Kitsilano combined with an office move to Yaletown offers me a 3.5 km WALK to work each and every work day.  It has been liberating and a massive health benefit…….mentally and physically!” –

Tina Atva: “I finally work in a funky office! I love my 20 minute bike ride to work! Along the seawall every day for a few minutes where I can check out if it’s high tide or low tide.”


As William Whyte observed back in the 60s when corporations were fleeing Manhattan for the pastoral capitalism of greenfields in Connecticut, the location was often coincidentally within 20 minutes drive from the CEO’s suburban home.  That reasoning has shifted too.

Steve Frith, the President of Urban Systems:

I’ve noticed that many clients, colleagues and partners now want to meet here (in Yaletown).  This in turn creates more informal collaboration opportunities, which in turn create more potential and possibility!

The new bottom line.  Which is why many in the business community have come to appreciate that de-emphasizing the single-occupancy vehicle (and the hugely expensive infrastructure it requires) is not a ‘war on the car.’  It’s more about land-use, choices and competitive advantages aligned with sustainability and quality of life.

And not just in Vancouver.  Urban Systems has another office opening up elsewhere in Metro:

Klukas: “We are also excited to move into our new Surrey space (at Gateway on the Expo line) in January 2012.  This move also puts us into a more transit-friendly location, and establishes a more local presence for our South of Fraser and Fraser Valley clients.”

And not just in B.C.   Coincidentally in the Globe: Why corporations are flocking back to downtown Toronto.

The demographic is expected to grow as Toronto’s downtown intensifies and planners concentrate on creating “live, play, work” communities. As Mr. Johnstone, 30, makes clear, the offer of a centralized life is a huge draw for some employees. “It’s turned my commute from about an hour’s drive to a 30-minute walk,” Mr. Johnstone says. “I sold my car after I got this job. I decided to walk, I lost weight, I felt like my lifestyle got better. I’m saving money, and can spend my disposable income in other areas.”

The benefit to the company, meanwhile, apparently offsets the higher cost of rent.

Odd, then, that many politicians haven’t caught up.

As Ken Ohrn points out, “This is what the dinosaurs of local politics fret about: ”

VANCOUVER – Municipal officials warn that Canada’s aging municipal infrastructure is crumbling, and they’re looking for a promise of long-term investment from the federal government to address the problem.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says traffic congestion alone is costing the country $10 billion a year in lost productivity.

Ohrn: “While the best and brightest are flocking to downtown business locations for their employment, ditching cars and looking to bike-shares, car-shares and other alternatives, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities wants federal infrastructure money to alleviate traffic congestion.

“Who wants to bet along with me that their recommendations to the Feds will call for more and more roads and bridges?”

That’s Tuesday, November 13th.  We’ll see.


  1. I think Microsoft made a similar move several years back –
    Their previous Vancouver location (when they first opened up) was down near Knight & Westminster Highway.
    Now, I think they are in the Pivotal Building next to BC Place.

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