Meet a student

Karim Jiwa

As a practising lawyer, what sparked your interest in urban design?

Over the past 10 years, I have been practising in-house as a lawyer with real estate developers. During this time, I have observed developers who put up buildings with minimal consideration to the elements of urban design. While the buildings are architecturally nice, they often lack crucial design elements that consider how these structures relate and fit into the surrounding community. I realized that I wanted to move more into the business side of development, and I wanted to be the kind of developer who does think about design elements. I started with one or two courses just to see if I was interested in urban design and I immediately realized that I needed to apply to the program.

What has been the most valuable part of the Urban Design program so far?

The most valuable part was being more aware of how a project or a building fits into its surroundings and how people move and interact with each other and with it. I used to see buildings or projects and there were certain aspects that resonated with me, but I wasn’t able to articulate what those were. This program gave me the language that I needed to express that. The materials were also extremely useful; they sit on my shelf in my office and I use them often.

“I’ve really become inspired to try a whole career shift and reassess how I can contribute more to my community.”

What have you learned so far that you hope to apply to your work?

Developers sort of have this mindset that the more we give, in terms of design elements, to the community or the city, the less profitable projects become. I think what I’ve learned through this program is actually the opposite. The more you think through these design elements, the more desirable your projects become and the more I think people want to live there. This community approach becomes your value proposition and forms part of your business model. There really isn’t a disconnect or conflict between those two things.

What excites you about working in this field?

I initially started taking this program so I could be a better developer, but it lit up something within me that made me realize—sure, I want to build projects and make money, but there’s so much more that I feel I can be doing for my community. I’ve really become inspired to try a whole career shift and reassess how I can contribute more to my community. I’m currently enrolled in a master’s in urban planning and I’m also looking to enroll in the Sustainable Community Development Certificate at SFU.

What do you hope for the future of urban design, especially in a place like Metro Vancouver?

I find that right now there is almost a mistrust between what developers want to achieve and what they think the municipalities want. I really hope that’s where I hope I can become a part of the solution. Somehow, through education or whatever it is, that mistrust gap can be made smaller and there’s an opportunity for win-win on both sides. Being on this side of the aisle, if you will, I haven’t appreciated how difficult municipal work is and what they’re trying to achieve. The majority want something better for the city…and I think they’re willing to work with developers.


“I’ve really become inspired to try a whole career shift and reassess how I can contribute more to my community.”