Job Title:Head of urban planning and Landscaping architecture groups, Stantec Consulting
Why He’s a Top 40:For creating vibrant communities across Canada and beyond, while setting the standard for community engagement
Simon O’Byrne fondly recalls going to Saturday matinees for kids at the Princess Theatre and cycling across the High Level Bridge for a swim in the legislature fountain. “It was great to grow up in such a dynamic neighbourhood,” he says.
A couple of decades later, Garneau continues to be one of the city’s most popular neighbourhoods. “It had a big influence on me becoming a city planner,” says O’Byrne. “I’m attracted to urban planning because it’s the business of making great places.” While urban planning flies under the radar of most Edmontonians, it affects many facets of life, like where we walk our dogs, how we commute to work, how we interact with our neighbours, how we access services we need and, sometimes, how we have fun.
It’s a job that comes naturally to O’Byrne. Since becoming the head of Stantec Consulting‘s planning group three years ago (and recently becoming head of all urban planning projects), he has developed the group into the largest planning office west of Toronto. The planning group does contracts for Edmonton, the province and places as remote as the Caribbean. Each community has different needs, but all must be planned with growth in mind – after all, neighbourhoods evolve. “It’s about making sure you’ve got the bones of it right when you first design it,” he says.
Affordable housing is another crucial part to creating vibrant communities, says O’Byrne. Many working class people spend as much as 70 per cent of their incomes on housing, taking money away from food and other important needs. That’s why he became involved with Habitat for Humanity six years ago. Recently, he earned a service award from Habitat for his leadership role in a development project in east Edmonton’s Bergman neighbourhood.
“I believe strongly that affordable housing is the best vehicle to empower people and lift them out of poverty.” His community involvements don’t end there. He’s also on the board of directors for the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce and co-chairs its municipal finance and infrastructure committee, among other responsibilities.
Ultimately, he’d like to help developing nations create better-functioning communities. “You can sit back patiently and hope others lead the cause, or stand up and make an effort to make sure things get done.”