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May 6, 2013

One-man Trade and Speaking Mission to Australia March 2013

By Donald B. Johnston Between March 7th and 15th, I went to Sydney, Australia to be the keynote speaker at the UrbanGrowth NSW Annual Conference on the future of Sydney.  The conference organizers were very interested in Toronto’s experience compared to Sydney’s, particularly around densification of the City and the institutional frameworks, background and interim results experienced in Toronto.  I like to think that as a trained urban planner (BES, PhD), former national industry leader (former CEO of  Real Property Association of Canada), commercial real estate lawyer and commentator, I was uniquely situated to present both the public and private perspective. The conference organizer is a senior executive with UrbanGrowth NSW and a former colleague of mine on the Global Reporting Initiative’s Construction and Real Estate Sector Supplement initiative which was completed in 2011. My message focused on the urban boundaries we have (Oak Ridges Moraine, Lake Ontario), our long experience with densifying around subway stations (since 1952!), and the current condo boom and house price impacts. Sydney has a lot of flat land, but prices are higher than in Vancouver. Increased density can equal lower house prices. The key message was that Sydney has too much single family development and needs to densify particularly around transit stops and major intersections as it has begun to do in one such municipality, Parramatta.  That message was widely quoted in national and local newspapers after my speech. I was interviewed by two television stations, and clips were shown on the evening news. I would never get that exposure in Toronto.  I was also invited to speak at the luncheon of the Canada Australia Chamber of Commerce in front of thirty or so members.  I threw away the canned tax and security slideshow in favour of open dialogue of how our two countries are similar, how they are different, and where we might work together to increase trade between ourselves.  I spent the balance of my time in Sydney meeting with other law firms who do business either with Canadian companies or with Aird & Berlis LLP, and with sustainability leaders to get an update on Australia’s sustainability agenda and best practices. A worthy trip, and a great country.

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