BuzzBuzzHome Corp.
July 6, 2011

Who is urbandreamer?

That’s something that everyone who loves Toronto development gossip and news would like to know. The mysterious figure, known only through his Twitter handle @urban__dreamer and his presence on development forums, is a great source of development industry and real estate news and is a true architecture, design and urban issues enthusiast. He also guards his true identity with a Batman-esque zeal.

We still don’t know where he gets all the amazing info that he tweets, but we hope this BuzzTalk will provide some insight into the enigma that is urbandreamer.


BuzzBuzzHome:Do you work in the development industry?

urbandreamer: No. I’m an outsider.

BBH: Whydoes the development industry interest you — and has it always?

UD: I’ve always been interested in architecture, from 12th century English castles to modern office blocks so my interest in the business starts with aesthetics and ends with lasting legacies. Nothing lasts as long on Earth as a well-crafted building! Architecture runs in my blood—my family history going back centuries has been practising architects, although the past few generations not so much… I want to continue this legacy…

Eversince I was a child — perhaps aged six or so when I became aware of my greater surroundings — I’ve been nuts for new development and bigcity living, starting first playing in my giant sandbox with all my toys — Lego, Tinkertoy, diggers and dump trucks constructing new roads and buildings; watching houses and barns under construction inthe surrounding countryside — yes even farmers are competitive building ever taller silos, larger barns and storage sheds, new homesto impress their buddies etc; the sense of excitement and anticipation of the big city upon spotting the CN Tower from the 401 on trips to Toronto; then as a young teenager watching Vaughan and Waterloo become a sprawling mess — but at the time just naively excited to see builder’s billboards proclaiming the next great peaceful suburban dream; later as a keen art student gravitating towards drawing cars and buildings rather than people. 
I spent many nights as a teenager pouring over maps then drawing another layer with planned streets, buildings, subdivisions etc. — what would’ve ledt o a career in urban planning had I known such a field existed!

Finally, having moved to Toronto in the mid-90s I spent many nights on long solitary walks from the Annex to Forest Hill, the Bridlepath,or Parkdale and beyond taking in the streetscape, new retail shops,the built form, new developments along the way, the urban decay and imagining what I’d do with the site… To this day, nothing invigorates my passion for good urban development more than walking the streets of the city finding relationships between buildings, the street and vacant spaces dreaming of what I’d do with strip plazas, empty lots, even older buildings if I was a developer.

BBH: Why has your interest never provoked a desire to work in the industry?

UD: I was a very shy child, and I suppose feeling the misunderstood outsider, never was surrounded by folks that shared my interest, and thus never knew exactly how to enter the industry. Joining urbantoronto almost a decade ago opened my eyes to a whole new world,where folks actually thought the things I did, or gasp! made a living from it! But it was easy to play the anonymous critic on these sites rather than participate in a related career.

AsI get older I’m becoming keenly aware I will one day be in this business, because nothing else quite frankly interests me! I believe I’m taking steps towards that goal, as you’ll see later… Ideally I’d love to be a boutique developer, doing innovative small scale developments. Realistically, I love research and the thrill of being first to discover a new project or potential site, so working on the research side of the business is a logical first step.
BBH: What are your thoughts, generally, on the Toronto condominium scene?

UD: The condominium scene in Toronto overall is made up of a tight network of insiders, conservative business folk where sadly, only the bottom line seems to matter. There are signs of change though, from folks like Brad Lamb or Peter Freed or Symmetry Developments or UrbanCapital’s River City, that good design can be a central part of the business. Nonetheless, even though many eyesores and mediocre buildings have gone up over the past decade’s boom, the end result is an increasingly vibrant city with more pedestrians, bars, cafes, galleries and such that make life worthwhile, and increasingly educated condo buyer willing to buy quality designed projects.

Thereis a danger the city is being overbuilt — I think we’ll see a fairly large correction within a few years, as all these new developers start to launch projects — usually a sign of a market top. Everything is a cycle, so it’s all good for the long term health of the business.

BBH: What resources do you use for your research? You seem to know everything!

UD: Google! Seriously though, almost everything is online, although some of it is worth paying for! There’s still some expensive material out here that one day I’d love to subscribe to as an industry professional — Loopnet, Urbanation, NRU and other urban issues publications.

BBH: If you were to lead a condominium project somewhere in the GTA wherewould it be and what would it include feature and amenity-wise?

UD: I’d like to lead a multi-phased-project featuring an architect love — Peter Clewes or Montreal’s Saucier+Perotte — using a material this city was built with — red brick — with appropriate scale — 8-10 is perfect — filling in a dreary, but accessible hole in the urban fabric, ideally creating a continuous streetwall. One such street in dire need of change is Bathurst Street, really anywhere south of Steeles would do, but why not start around Bathurst and Bloor to QueenStreet West…? Those rundown rooming houses along that strip make the vibrancy of Spadina and East instantly forgettable… depressing so it needs to change!

The best feature of a project should be design, meaning exterior aesthetic considerations. The exterior must be classically beautiful, able to withstand decades and hopefully centuries of change. Well-designed units — meaning the standard rectangle floorplan of classic 1960s slab towers as a basic template — with accessible retail at the bottom of each building with easy transit access is ideal. The neighbouring community should provide the best amenities money can buy! Cafes, attractive parks and public squares,grocery stores, pubs, libraries etc.
BBH: In your opinion how has the dominance of the condominium in downtown Toronto changed the city both aesthetically and in terms of a community?

UD: While many of these buildings have inferior architecture — Liberty Village area in particular stands out — what an embarrassment! — overall the vibrancy of downtown has changed considerably over the years with all these new folks moving into condos. The city has come alive, and can only increase in vitality! 

Even the much-derided City Place has a purpose — it’s like taking a stroll through Coal Harbour or Yaletown without the view! I think the main downsides of all these condos is 1) the disconnect between condo dwellers and traditional single family housing owners and 2) the overall poor street level integration with large driveways taking up so much space, cheap landscaping, inferior retail spaces and large pointless lobbies. The added density has brought demand for new public spaces, libraries, better transit, and as the market matures with larger units suitable for raising families, modern schools.

BBH:  You invented the term ‘render porn’. What does it mean and how do you decide which one is designated centre-spread of the week?

UD: I should clarify. I have seen the term render porn used for a number ofyears on real estate/condo forums such as SkyscraperCity, SkyscraperPage and UrbanToronto, and can’t claim to have invented it! Geeky online forum members have sometimes referred to conceptual renderings of large projects as render porn — yeah a form of porn ha!
However,beginning April 2011, I created the@RenderPornStar concept, melding the idea of thehot new condo rendering with great architecture and thus making it aRenderPornStar! Every Monday I pick a RenderPornStar of the Weekbased on my elitist (ha!) view of great architecture, and at the endof the year, I shall have the Render Porn Star of the Year!

I’m anticipating having an annual awards show, probably the last Monday in December, at any event space, gallery or pub willing to tolerate a bunch of architecture snobs and developers, architects and render artists associated with my weekly picks! Thus a Render PornStar starts not with a great render but rather with great architecture! It’s my contribution to the development industry — good design and quality renderings need to be promoted!

BBH: What area of Toronto do you call home?

UD: I live in BLAH — that’s Bloor and High Park area, yeah it’s kinda blah! But it’s close to two subway stops, decent bus and streetcar connections, my job, vibrant and trendy areas like Bloor WestVillage, Roncesvalles, the Junction, Blansdowne and has an up comingproject I rather like by Daniels, and the Address at High Park is decent infill too! It feels removed from the city —which I both love and loathe — but I’ve got a great city view to remind me where I am!

BBH: Will you always remain anonymous on the web?

UD: This is a tough one. On the one hand, the mystery is intriguing for the audience, but on the other, does it set back my career aspirations in the real estate/development world?

If I decide to openly pursue a career in real estate, I’m open to being exposed!

Thanks to urbandreamer for taking the time to BuzzTalk with us! If you’re curious, he didn’t reveal his true identity to us, so don’t bother asking :)

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