“Winning [40 Under 40] has been such a great experience and honor. It has pushed me to set the bar higher for myself in terms of what I want to achieve with my work.”
ULI Connect will be profiling one member from each region of the inaugural “40 Under 40” class of 2014. This month, we feature ULI British Columbia member and Vancouver-based developer, Carla Guerrera. To nominate individuals for the 2016 class, go to 40under40.uli.org
Some choose to lean in, but others—like Carla Guerrera—choose to jump in.
Take the time her district council, ULI British Columbia, was tapped to host the 2014 ULI Spring Meeting. Having formed in 2006, ULI B.C. was still a relatively new council, relying heavily on member-volunteers to plan and execute a major ULI event. A member of the program committee, Guerrera played a key role in helping identify panel topics and local tours, and was also asked to be a speaker at one of the product councils.
“You notice people who get things done, and it was very apparent from the beginning that she was one of those people,” recalls David Martin, a real estate attorney and partner at Fasken Martineau who was serving as acting chair of ULI B.C. at the time. “Her capacity to deliver is what allows you to sleep well at night.”
While gearing up for the Spring Meeting, Guerrera was also serving on the ULI B.C. management committee, ensuring that the council met its day-to-day obligations and leading an interdisciplinary team at Stantec. She was also pregnant with her second child and parenting a toddler.
Looking back, Guerrera says the Spring Meeting feels like a bit of a blur—but also a major achievement. “It was a busy time, but I was excited to play a role in the memorable experience of Vancouver hosting the first ULI Spring Meeting outside of the United States,” she says.
Guerrera’s drive and her ability to juggle work, life, and volunteer responsibilities were what led Martin to nominate her for Urban Land magazine’s 40 Under 40 inaugural class. She was at home with her newborn when she was told she had won the award. She says she felt humbled to be included in such an esteemed group of emerging land use professionals from around the world.
“Winning the award has been such a great experience and honor,” Guerrera, 39, says. “It has pushed me to set the bar higher for myself in terms of what I want to achieve with my work.”
Getting Her Start in Brownfield Redevelopment
Since receiving her master’s degree in planning from Queen’s University in 2002, Guerrera has acquired a variety of experiences that have allowed her to develop technical expertise on complex land use issues and to grow as a project manager and team leader.
She began her career with Waterfront Toronto, which for the past 15 years has embarked on an ambitious plan to unlock private development potential of publicly owned land along the city’s lakefront and riverfront.
Guerrera was a project manager on the development of the West Don Lands, an area along the Don River that was once a contaminated industrial area. She played a major role in creating an innovative, multi-award-winning master plan for the site and shepherding it through early phases of development. Now, a new neighborhood is rising along the 80-acre (32 ha) brownfield that offers a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, a walkable community, and flood protection and recreational amenity through an area called Corktown Common, an urban marsh/prairie that is also an 18-acre (7.3 ha) public park. This past summer, the area was home to the athletes’ village as part of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.
After gaining experience on West Don Lands, Guerrera headed to Vancouver to work for Wesgroup, where she oversaw the redevelopment of another brownfield. This time, it was the conversion of a vacant gas station site into the Prescott, a gleaming, residential high rise with ground-floor commercial space that serves as a gateway to the Central Lonsdale neighborhood in North Vancouver.
“The key to revitalizing brownfield sites in a cost-effective and creative way is to see the remediation and redevelopment process on a continuum and not as discrete steps,” she says. “It’s about looking at the interface between these two processes and understanding how they can be integrated to ensure both profitability and efficient land use.”
Despite their industrial pasts and current environmental challenges, brownfields are critical to any urban revitalization strategy, Guerrera says.
“What’s really interesting about brownfield sites is that they’re primarily located along key commercial areas with high walkability, access to schools, services, and transit,” she says. “It is these derelict and vacant sites located in prime neighborhoods or waterfront districts that have the potential to be most transformative for cities.”
“An Unrelenting Spirit”
Whether it was being part of the group responsible for delivering the Spring Meeting or remediating a contaminated site, complicated projects attract Guerrera. “That is the most interesting part of land development. Every site, every project has its own personality and obstacles that have to be overcome.”
Such projects also test one’s ability to lead diverse and interdisciplinary teams, says Guerrera, who defines leadership as “the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Tenacity, patience, and vision also are key to longevity and success in a land use career. “Especially in this industry, it’s all about the challenges and complexities. It’s about bringing an unrelenting spirit to the work and staying focused on the end game.”
Confidence, too, has played a role in Guerrera’s trajectory, Martin says. “In addition to working really hard, Carla speaks her mind. She brings her ideas to the table and doesn’t hold back. At the same time, she is very approachable. People like to talk to Carla and share their ideas with her.”
Career Evolution: Mixed-Use Projects in Urbanizing Suburbs
Earlier this year, Guerrera made another career move by taking a leadership role at Darwin Properties, a well-known Canadian construction company that now has its own development arm. As vice president of planning and development, she oversees 1.8 million square feet (167,000 sq m) of mixed-use development, primarily in three municipalities—the District and City of North Vancouver and West Vancouver District—along Vancouver’s North Shore. It is also the part of Metro Vancouver, in which she and her family have settled down.
For Guerrera, it is not only exciting to be working in the area she calls home, but to be a witness to so much positive change. North Vancouver City and District as well as West Vancouver District have evolved from being bedroom communities to mixed-use urban centers in their own right. Sandwiched between the harbor and the mountains and accessible to downtown Vancouver, the North Shore is a desirable place to live—but affordability and the lack of diverse housing options remain issues. While single-family homes tend to dominate, the townhouses and mixed-use multifamily properties that Darwin and other developers are providing are filling the gap.
“What we’re seeing is that these inner suburbs of Vancouver are rapidly urbanizing and becoming more vibrant, dynamic places to live and work,” Guerrera says. “It’s really exciting to be part of that transition.”