9 Urban Designs Lessons We Learnt in 14 Years

Guest Speaker:
Naama Blonder & Misha Bereznyak

Co-Founders, Smart Density

January 18, 2022

5 Key Takeaways:

  1. Travel is the best teacher

Naama and Misha were able to acquire a wider scope of knowledge regarding urban design through their years worth of experiences traveling the world. There are aspects of urban design to be learned from experiencing cities first hand through travel that are not always taught in school.


When visiting new places across the world, you are able to view cities in all their facets and recognize their attractive characteristics. Whether it be a street or a building, there are underlying details to the landmarks that enhance the character of a city to be analyzed. The knowledge you will gain can be carried home and provide you with the opportunity to extend its value.


  1. Urban designers are a small, self-selecting group

Urban designers make up quite a small profession and are less diverse in approach in comparison to others, such as architects, real estate developers or engineers. Therefore ideas that urban designers find easy to perceive regarding urbanism or the role of cars in cities are far from obvious to everybody else. We are often foreign to other professionals. For this reason, it is crucial to communicate ideas and opinions in the simplest form, to avoid misconception.


Furthermore, we need to be aware of the democratic society we live in. People will always have opposing views as to what is a good way to live. Ideas that only cater to a segment of the population will have a negative impact on our ability to make change, as change requires widespread support. We must consider being more inclusive in regards to whom our ideas will apply.


  1. “Green” is Grey

When we think about sustainability, there is a lot of focus on visible things, such as green roofs or just the amount of open space. Not to discredit their use by any means, however these are not the only components of sustainability.


A residential street in Tokyo displays this notion to the fullest. Although it appears to feature less aesthetic buildings with no sidewalks, street trees or furniture, or any large parks in the area, it is actually quite energy efficient. Since the area can be sustained easily and for an extended period of time, the buildings can always be adapted to become more energy efficient and there is flexibility in use, this area meets the human needs to an effective degree. Therefore, when considering sustainability, we need to think of infrastructure that can be upheld for decades or even centuries. Oftentimes, these things tend to be rather gray.


  1. If something is “not appropriate in its context” perhaps we need to revisit the context

In reference to her experience working on a master plan for Mirvish Village, on Bloor and Bathurst, Naama discusses the criticism that she would often hear from city planners, people in the industry and especially from the residents of the Annex is that it’s “not appropriate in its context”.


As the planning system allows homeowners to dictate what occurs on the site, people were objecting to a higher density project, due to it being steps away from single-family houses.

This further exemplifies that there is an issue to be noticed about the city’s planning system that contributes to the housing crisis.



  1. Density is a key for the greatest places

This very concept justifies part of the reason for Naama and Misha’s choice in naming their company Smart Density. Innately, we are social creatures who are attracted to places in which other people enjoy socializing. It is the social proof of places.


We cannot discuss the vitality of businesses or the use of infrastructure without considering the very people who will seek enjoyment in these places, and subsequently allowing them to thrive. When we have to have people, we have to have density. Density becomes the sustainable use of land, the resource which we do not grow anymore of.