Metropole Consultants is a Toronto-based urban planning consulting firm formed in 1996 by Pamela Blais. The firm’s focus is on strategic approaches to urban planning issues, integrating planning, economics and environment.

Approach

Metropole Consultants’ distinct approach grounds city plan- and policy-making within a deep understanding of the complex social, technological and economic forces that shape cities today. The success of regional or local plans and policy depends upon understanding key drivers of urban change – that is, understanding urban dynamics.

What do we mean by urban dynamics?

The specific set of interacting drivers that shape patterns of urban growth, decline and transformation, built form and urban environment, and the urban issues we face.

In the 21st century, this means understanding urban change within the context of a global economy

A globalizing economy is the single most significant force driving urban development patterns, and shaping the critical urban issues that all cities face.
Globalization is having profound impacts that are not being adequately addressed in the planning of our cities.

Many of the key issues our cities face can be linked with globalization.

Issues such as
• changing land use patterns resulting from restructuring urban economies
• very fast growth in some cities, raising pressing infrastructure needs, while other urban areas and cities experience economic and physical decline
• housing affordability
• increasing socio-economic polarization between neighbourhoods
• control, including planning control, over the shape, form and quality of our communities in the face of global capital and corporations.

Every city, large or small, is part of the global economy.
But while global economic drivers are universal, each city has its own unique position within the global economy, its own particular relationship with the global economy.

… a particular relationship based on the industry makeup of the local economy, its strengths and weaknesses, its local assets and urban geography.
Consider for example, the fast-growth, resource-dominant cities of western Canada – versus declining older manufacturing towns in central Canada, versus the global financial centre of Toronto. All are subject to globalization, but intersect with it in different ways.

This unique role and relationship has to be understood in order to develop effective plans and policies

That is… how is the local economy changing, and what are the implications for the kinds of economic activities that are planning for?
It’s no longer just about providing the right quantum of land for economic activities, but planning for the right kinds of economic spaces and places, in the right locations.

Local real estate market conditions, and financial incentives and disincentives inherent in public policies are also important drivers of urban development patterns.

Public policies – such as setting of development charges or taxes – affect prices and decision-making, but not always in ways that are intended or that align with planning objectives. Considering the market context and aligning public policies is essential to ensuring the success of plans and planning policies.

In the new context, city and regional plans can play a key role in supporting local competitiveness and economic development.

The economy is changing in such a way as to make cities, urban environments, and therefore planning central to economic competitiveness and prosperity.
Cities are no longer just a place where employment is located. Cities and urban environments are a fundamental and integral part of production and exchange, competitiveness and prosperity. Most city plans don’t take advantage of this.

HOW WE DO IT

Based on our research and analysis, Metropole Consultants has developed a proprietary conceptual model of the key urban dynamics shaping our cities. We update and refine this model on an ongoing basis with new information and analyses that informs effective urban policy and plan-making.
We combine this model with local analysis of the specific city, region or community we are working in. Beginning with some key indicators, we assemble information from a variety of sources in order to understand the nature of the local economy, its economic geography, and identify key economic assets.

Collaboration Metropole Consultants typically works as part of a multi-disciplinary team, which could include other consulting firms in the fields of planning, urban design, engineering, public engagement, and others. And of course, we work in close collaboration with the client.

BENEFITS OF THE APPROACH

There are several important benefits to our approach:
• it is comprehensive – treats the holistically city as the complex, evolving entity that it is
• as such it increases probability that city plans and policies will be successful in achieving their objectives, and reduces the likelihood that solving a problem in one area will create an unintended problem in another
• alignment – ensures that planning policies are aligned with other municipal objectives
• it is forward looking , anticipating future change and issues
• but this is based on an understanding of long term structural change, not just “trends” or short term market predictions
• in understanding planning in the context of urban change, it maximizes the leverage of planning policies and therefore maximizes positive outcomes
• and inherent to the approach is that planning policy addresses only what planning policy can effectively address.

Services 

Metropole Consultants conducts research and analysis, and crafts effective policy in the following areas:

Projects