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Woman of the Week: Meg Davis

Meg Davis loves to witness change in a neighbourhood. It’s her passion — to watch a vibrant community evolve over the years. As Chief Developent Officer of Waterfront Toronto, Davis gets to see this kind of transformation on a daily basis.

Davis has worked for Waterfront Toronto for the last 10 years, and says the change within the neighbourhood is heartwarming.

“When I arrived here we had a couple small parks and wave decks, which were stunning and beautiful and got a lot of attention, but we hadn’t built a building yet,” she said. “In the last 10 years we’ve built an 18-acre park in the West Don lands, Pan Am athletes village, condos in the West Don lands, [and] East Bayfront. People are starting to build down here and one of the things we have started is programming. Cultural events, the sugar shack program, partnering with Luminato — we are really animating the waterfront.”

The waterfront, a 46-kilometre stretch of Harbourfront property along Lake Ontario between Etobicoke and Rouge River, is constantly transforming. Waterfront Toronto is a public advocate and steward of this revitalization process. It was created by all three levels of the Canadian government with the purpose of overseeing and implementing strategies to transform the area.

One of the things Waterfront Toronto stresses is the difference between redevelopment and revitalization. Redevelopment, Davis explains, refers to the selling of land to the highest bidder, regardless of what they plan on doing in the area.

“Revitalization means achieving public policy objectives such as reducing urban sprawl, providing transit, reducing carbon emissions, contributing to economic vibrancy, addressing affordability and providing excellent public realm and architecture by leveraging public land,” she said.

It’s this kind of urban development that Davis is passionate about. Her love of urban planning was encouraged by a geography teacher in high school, whose lesson plans focused on urban affairs. “It really grabbed me. I took as many courses like that as I could,” she said.

Her education is mixed. She has an Honours Bachelor degree from Western University in urban development, a Master’s in business Administration from the University of Toronto, and recently completed an Executive Leadership Program. She started her career as a junior planner with Bramalea Limited, focusing mostly on real estate. From 2005 to 2007, Davis acted as Director of KPMG Canada, focusing on public-private partnership projects, including $1 billion long-term care facilities and the sale of Highway 407.

“I love the physical aspect of it,” she said. “I love to see things come up from the ground and take shape. For me, the use of P3s were a unique opportunity to see how the government and the private sector could come together.”

This is especially true of Toronto’s waterfront, which Davis describes as essentially “one big P3.” Waterfront Toronto is putting a large emphasis on affordable housing within its neighbourhoods, and using that as a foundation for planning.

“You can have affordable housing and expensive condos, [but] if you don’t provide the public spaces, it’s not a place anybody wants to live,” she said. “You can’t squander the opportunities – being by the water is unique in Toronto and you have to make it a complete community.”

As Chief Development Officer, Davis is responsible for leading the development of all lands controlled by Waterfront Toronto. She is particularly proud of the Pan Parapan Am Games Athlete’s Village in the West Don Lands, which was transformed after the games into affordable rental housing, vibrant retail properties, student housing, market condominiums, and public art. Davis says it advanced revitalization of the neighbourhood by over five years.

“We are really animating the waterfront. I think the transformation is huge,” she says.

Davis helps co-chair the Women’s Leadership Initiative ULI Toronto. They are working on a speaking series that will help promote the voices of women in real estate, which she says is still a heavily male-dominated industry.

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