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Municipal Background Studies

Unless urban planning is anchored by real estate economics it will fail to achieve its objective. Demographic and psychographic forces drive property demand… and real estate demand is the engine that powers successful municipal urban planning. Without real estate demand, municipal planning is stillborn; successful municipal urban plans harness property demand and channel it into the neighbourhoods that best meet the municipality’s planning objectives, fiscal and physical. Urban plans, constructed to capture and enhance real estate values, expand the municipality’s property tax base. Successful municipal plans start with a clear understanding of the forces that drive property demand and real estate values.

Municipal planning is a tall order. A municipal plan rarely starts with a consideration of real estate demand. With historic, current, and future challenges to address, competing interests to balance, fiscal compromises to strike, and general consensus to form, there is a lot riding on municipal planning policy and planning regulation. No good urban plan arises without fostering a robust public conversation that allows citizens to identify priorities and problems, and ultimately shape the direction of their community. However, no good urban plan arises only from the public. Despite best efforts, the fact is that most planning processes will inevitably exclude the participation of some community members. Even with the most comprehensive engagement effort, ideas need context, opinions need substantiation, and issues need to have their root causes identified. To produce a good urban plan, that robust conversation requires accurate, unbiased demographic, psychographic and real estate data to set the table for discussions, spark ideas, and inform decisions.

This is where we come in. We access a vast array of demographic, psychographic and real estate datasets to help build a complete understanding of communities and the forces which drive property demand and real estate value. Data in isolation is just a number. In order to make our economic base analysis research actionable, effort is spent in equal parts to provide demographic, psychographic and real estate supply and demand information on the community itself, and to place that information in a broader geographical and temporal context. Where time and budget permits, we supplement these activities with key informant interviews to ground-truth and substantiate our conclusions. Overall, our approach is to avoid the common practice of simply providing clients with a voluminous but directionless dump of information; we pride ourselves on being able to distill useful, locally relevant insights and the impact on the various real estate market sectors.

Every community has its own quirks and characteristics, issues and opportunities. Whether as a stand-alone investigation, or an integrated stage of a larger municipal planning process, we are uniquely resourced and experienced to enhance your situational understanding through a Municipal Background Study. We can tailor our scope to the specific areas of interest, but typical subjects of investigation include:

  • Demographic Analysis and Projections – Who is your community? Who are you planning for now, and who should you be planning for in the future? Using data from both government sources, such as Statistics Canada programs and custom tabulations, and industry leading third-party providers such as Environics Analytics, we build a detailed demographic profile of the community including population trends, residency (permanent and seasonal), households and family structures, mobility, and more.

We show the evolution of demographic trends over time and can project them into the future using a variety of methods, requiring tools developed in-house combined with the expertise to know the correct approach for the context.

  • Jobs, Labour Force, and other Socioeconomics – What is the economic base of the community? Which industries are growing jobs or losing them, and which represent local specialisations and potential competitive advantages? What is the size of the local labour force, its training level, and what are the participation and employment rates? We examine the geography from the perspective of both jobs and workers, and since economies rarely conform to political boundaries, examine the regional integration of the labour market through commuting data.

Beyond these brass tacks, we look at the fiscal capacity of households in the community to ensure consideration is given to everyone, not just those in the work force. Where are incomes growing and shrinking, what are household spending patterns? When combined with demographic analysis and projections, we can further understand how the socioeconomic landscape will change in the future, and how this may transform the economic base of the community.

  • Built Environment: Commercial, Industrial and Residential – What is the stock of built space in your community? Using a combination of census, assessment, and in some cases data from CompuVal®, our proprietary real estate information technology platform, we can build a comprehensive inventory of the built environment in the community. We can show spatial patterns and concentrations of uses, the progression of community development patterns over time, and identify areas of future development potential. With further effort, we can examine the fiscal landscape created by these development patterns, identifying areas that are represent productive capital, and compare this with the supporting infrastructure intensity to draw insights about tax-efficient development.

When combined with other demographic and economic analysis, we can identify the suitability of this supply of built inventory, and provide insights into where new space is required (and when), or conversely, where expensive capital projects may be an economic development effort barking up the wrong tree.

  • Housing Affordability and Needs Analysis – What is the state of housing affordability within the community, and how does this vary for subgroups of the population as classified by family structure, income, tenure, or other socioeconomic dimensions?

We draw on a variety of data sources to examine both the demand side (individuals and families), and supply side (existing housing, units under development, and planned future development) of the housing market. By reconciling the two halves of the equation, we identify gaps in the location, style, or price of housing in the community.

  • Land Development Economics – Where data is available, we can use property assessment information to examine the spatial patterns of land development economics and identify areas of higher or lower development feasibility to help understand how the development industry and current market conditions may or may not be aligned with the identified needs. This can help identify where gaps can be addressed through traditional planning policy that shapes the function of the development market, where more innovative tools may be required to further change the economic equation, or where non-market tools are required to address a gap that the market itself is unlikely to address.

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