July 24, 2015

Gregory Morrow appointed first Parker professor

New professorship combines business and urban design to help solve the challenges faced by growing cities
Gregory Morrow will teach in both the Haskayne School of Business and the Faculty of Environmental Design, and also provide research and community outreach opportunities in conjunction with the activities of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies.

Gregory Morrow will teach in the Haskayne School of Business and the Faculty of Environmental Design

The state of Calgary’s expanding landscape — and what to do about it — is constantly debated by city council, the home builders’ association, and pundits on Twitter. The city’s urban design affects more than just roads and houses — it changes the kind of life Calgarians live, what kind of talent we attract and the health outcomes we can expect.

The University of Calgary has created a new multidisciplinary professorship designed to address this debate and work toward solutions that will have real impacts on Calgary and other growing centres, and the first appointee is ready to take on this significant challenge.

After an international search that involved candidates from multiple continents, the Haskayne School of Business and the Faculty of Environmental Design announce the appointment of Greg Morrow as the first holder of the Richard Parker Professorship in Metropolitan Growth and Change.

An active and engaged advocate who explores the intersection of urban design and development, Morrow has a PhD in urban planning and development from UCLA, a master's in city planning from MIT, and a bachelor of architecture from McGill.

Prior to joining the University of Calgary in 2014, Morrow was active in California’s real estate development industry as principal of Morrow Olson Development. He also held several positions with architecture firms, including with Moshe Safdie and Associates.

Funded in part by the Oak Foundation, Morrow will promote a high-quality interdisciplinary learning and research environment that deals with current and pressing urban development, design, environmental, and social issues throughout his five-year term.

As the position sits at the crossroads of urban design, planning, and real estate development, Morrow will also teach courses in both faculties and provide research and community outreach opportunities in conjunction with the activities of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies.

Morrow’s background in urban design and development gives him a nuanced perspective on the debates, while his continued role on the Calgary Planning Commission provides many real-world examples to inform his teaching.

“The tradition in Calgary — as in most metropolitan centres — is to keep public policy and business separate, if not directly opposing one another,” says Morrow. “The result can be a very polarized environment, where city administration are on one side while developers are on the other.

“The good news is that we are still a relatively young city — and our political voice is reflective of that. The university can play a critical role in helping to mediate and facilitate a dialogue between these groups, to help them manage their points of friction, but more importantly, find their points of agreement.”

To help create this dialogue, Morrow plans a number of initiatives in the coming year, including a shared development workshop between Haskayne MBA students and EVDS architects that will articulate both the economic and policy implications for a shared project. Additionally, Morrow is reaching out to urban designers, real estate developers, and potentially community associations, to engage in informal conversations and more public symposia.

“The traditional model for building a prosperous city is focused on keeping taxes low and incentivizing businesses to move there, but research is showing that in an increasingly mobile and connected world, the economic incentives aren’t enough to attract top talent,” says Morrow. “Instead, the focus has shifted to the livability of the city — its amenities, culture and attractiveness as a destination. When you build a great community, great people want to live there and the businesses will move there to hire them.”

Throughout this consultative process, Morrow will be simultaneously developing world-class research initiatives related to urban growth and change, focusing on the social, economic, and environmental implications and issues surrounding development.

Morrow is teaming with Gavin McCormack of the Department of Community Health Sciences on a study that investigates how health-positive urban design can impact preventive medicine through walkability, social welfare, and community investment. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop legislation and accompanying toolkits to equip designers and developers to build health-conscious communities.

For Morrow, the ability to deliver practical outcomes from comprehensive research can make a dramatic improvement for cities and the individuals who live there.

“I was recently told by a health researcher out of the Cumming School of Medicine that urban designers can do more to improve the health of a community with one project than a physician can do in their lifetime,” says Morrow. “Cutting down the silos between policy and the market through the union of design thinking and business is what gets us there — and that’s a win for everyone.”