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The rise of populism is creating headaches for urban planners and builders pushing for denser development, an urban affairs expert says on BuzzTV this week.

Richard Joy, executive director of Urban Land Institute Toronto, a local chapter of international nonprofit research and education group ULI, suggests on BuzzBuzzNews’ latest weekly Facebook live show that citybuilders have cause for concern in the 2016 US presidential election’s wake.

Growing populist movements — wary of existing governments — have helped support the rise of politicians like US President-elect Donald Trump and even late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, he suggests, and similar forces are arising in the development world.

Joy says the views of “progressive urbanists” who support denser urban development built around public transit rather than car-dependent urban sprawl are running up against comparable populist opposition in communities that don’t see the benefits of building up instead of out.

That kind of development, lauded by contemporary urban planners, “isn’t necessarily what communities feel is the right thing to do,” explains Joy.

“In fact, in many cases they think it’s the absolute wrong thing to do and are pushing back, and I think that that’s something we have to be worried about,” he adds.

So what, if anything, can municipalities do to sell communities on popular urban-planning principles such as increased density? “I think that many planning departments do try to put a premium on helping communities understand the rationale for urban transformation… but are simply too under resourced to deliver on this adequately,” replies Joy in a followup email.

“I really think this is the bigger issue,” he adds, noting departments are often short on resources and flooded with development applications, limiting their ability to negotiate settlements, for example.

In response, ULI Toronto is working to broaden its audience, which has typically been comprised of public officials and building-industry professionals. It is doing so with its two-year Electric Cities initiative, which includes a consultation paper and event programming from cocktail socials to panel discussions.

“If we can show some success in demonstrating to communities that they should embrace the opportunity of growth, of transformation, then we may continue that,” says Joy.

In April, ULI Toronto will be hosting a 1,000-person, two-day symposium at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The event, which runs April 24-25, will feature about 75 international speakers and marks a shift from the institute’s typical industry focus.

A fifth of the attendees will come from “non-professional audiences,” including community leaders, explains Joy.

“This will be the first time you’ll ever go to a real estate conference where the person beside you may not be a real estate professional — and we think this is a good thing to do,” he adds.

UPDATE November 17th, 2016: additional comments from Richard Joy have been added.

Watch the full BuzzTV interview below:

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