Urban Design Advisory Panel full of professionals - where are the well informed people who live in the city?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 14th, 2018



The City of Burlington has established its first Urban Design Advisory Panel, created to help achieve design excellence in the city.

The Urban Design Advisory Panel is made up of nine design experts, representing a cross section of design disciplines from architects and landscape architects to urban designers and planners.

Tall building design - set backs and spacing

Set backs and spacing were set out n considerable detail in the Guidelines.

Meeting monthly, the panel provides independent and objective professional urban design advice to staff in Burlington’s Department of City Building on development applications for all tall and mid-rise buildings and public development projects, studies and policy initiatives.

The advisory committee members are:

Ken Coit (Chair)
Jana Kelemen (Vice Chair)
Nigel Tai
Naama Blonder
Jessica Hawes
Brad Smith
Wai Ying Di Giorgio
Alex Taranu
Matt Reid

Members of the committee are highly qualified design professionals who currently possess full membership for a minimum of ten years in at least one of the following professional associations:

Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC)
Ontario Association of Architects (OAA)
Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA)
Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA)
Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) or
Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI).

Tall buildiong design - material use

The guide lines are not mandatory but it didn’t take developers very long to make extensive use of them. There wasn’t any public input on the creation of the guidelines.

What’s missing from this list is at least two people who are not professionals; people who have a “feet on the street” sense of the city.

Nothing on what this advisory committee has done in the past. Will dig into that.

Jim Young, the Aldershot who delegates to city council frequently, once said: “Have you ever heard a city appointed advisory committee disagree with the city.”

To learn more about the panel, please visit www.burlington.ca/urbandesign.

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10 comments to Urban Design Advisory Panel full of professionals – where are the well informed people who live in the city?

  • Tom Muir

    This is all about tall and mid-rise (whatever that might be as we see happening) buildings. That is taken as a given, so they are already rationalized. The advisors mandate will start with that as a given.

    All the figures in the story show that height and density, and how multiples of them might fit together into clusters of tall buildings.

    Whether it is desirable, or if people whose city it is want it, or if all the other things Stephen White points out are missing, are not in that mandated purview as far as I can see.

    Remember, “good planning” is what the planners say it, and “good architecture” is what the architects say it is.

    In the eyes of many, this advisory mandate is about how you put lipstick on a city planning and Council bought pig in a poke.

  • Andrew

    Have advisory design review panels been used anywhere else?

    • Andrew Miller

      Further to a little research, I have answered my own question. There are several municipalities in this part of the world that have design review panels. I cannot find any that include resident members. However, all of the design review panels are advisory only and do not comment on planning policy matters. Their function is to give independent professional design advice to the applicants and municipal planning staff.

  • Penny


    I am glad that your experience on a citizen advisory committee was positive. This is not always the case. I sat on a citizen advisory committee for a few years and left because nothing happened, and there was no vision on how to move forward. With no budget it was impossible to move forward with suggestions that did not meet the City’s mandate.

    It seems that the cycling committee and the millennial committee have been able to accomplish some initiatives. The question in my mind is-did this happen because these committees were in line with City policy rather than the other way around?

  • Allan

    Many architects are egotistical, and only interested in making a statement with a “landmark” design that doesn’t fit in with the surroundings. Jim Young’s suggestion of having local non-partisan parties may help keep them in check.

  • Stephen White

    What this advisory committee provides is “…independent and objective professional urban design advice”. However, design or architectural appeal, is only one component of the issue. There are other aspects of this issue that need to be taken into account, including: (a) the impact upon surrounding neighbourhoods; (b) the impact upon transportation networks; (c) the environmental ramifications of a development; (d) health and safety considerations; (e) the effect upon local businesses; (f) the additional burden upon local infrastructure (e.g. sewer; water; etc.). A building can theoretically have a good design but the sheer size and enormity of the structure ends up overpowering everything around it and thus, creates negative externalities for others.

    So…who is looking after those issues? Not, I suggest, the members on this Advisory Committee. The problem with many Advisory Committees is that the people sitting on them are either advocates for a particular issue, or they lack the kind of broad awareness and objectivity to fully appreciate the impact of an issue upon other stakeholders in the community.

  • William

    The makeup of the committee is entirely predictable. Ridge and Tanner will trot out these ‘experts’ as they tune out the public. Council, rather than using their democratically elected authority, will genuflect to this panel.

  • Chris Maynard

    Jim Young is wrong. My experience on a citizen advisory committee had many points of disagreement with the city plans and decisions. I was also witness to changes of substance from the work of citizens advisory committee. I appreciate disagreement and varied opinions however gutter politics is never helpful.

  • Hans

    From the designs of new buildings that I’ve seen in the last few decades, I conclude that good architectural design died very early in the 21st century.

  • Penny

    City Advisory Committees are a total waste of time. As Jim Young stated “Have you ever heard a City appointed advisory committee disagree with the City” Typically these committees have no budget and no voice. This is Lip Service.

    What needs to be established is an Independent Urban Design Panel that presents its ideas to the planning staff, Council and residents.