On February 27, the Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC) hosted its 24th Alberta Business Awards of Distinction gala. The initiative celebrated twelve exceptional companies, organizations and individuals, each of whom received one of the prestigious annual awards presented by the ACC. This year’s program featured 12 categories that recognized best practices in numerous aspects of business operations.
The Aboriginal Relations – Best Practice Award of Distinction (sponsored by Canadian North) was presented to Urban Systems Limited (USL), an inter-disciplinary professional practice that provides strategic planning, engineering, environmental science, and urban design services to both public and private sector clients throughout Western Canada. Urban Systems, founded in British Columbia in 1975, has grown steadily year by year and today the organization’s 400-plus employees work in 13 offices throughout three provinces and one territory.
“We are both pleased and humbled to have had this honour bestowed on us,” smiled Brian McCosh M.PI., MCIP, a Planner, Project Leader with Urban Systems and a man who has spent the past seven of his 11 years with the organization working with Indigenous peoples and communities. “To be recognized this way is a very nice tribute to the entire staff at Urban Systems; as a team we are able to achieve great things.”
The Urban Systems website notes that “we are committed to our higher calling of spirit in service for vibrant communities; for our people this is more than a corporate mission statement, it is our passion.”
McCosh says that statement is synonymous with the growth and accomplishments being made every day within the walls of Urban Systems’ offices and in the field, where he and his coworkers spend much of their time.
“Together,” he explained, “we serve many different types of clients, including municipal, provincial and federal governments, land developers, private industry and Indigenous communities, the latter of which has kind-of become my area of expertise.”
Cohorts Darryl Lagerquist (Strategic Management Consultant) and (Consulting Engineer, Principal) Chad Fletcher P.Eng are two colleagues that often work together with McCosh.
“Travelling out of Edmonton and into rural Alberta is one of the things we enjoy the most,” said Lagerquist, who explained that “developing relationships with Aboriginal communities in rural Alberta and Saskatchewan” is part of the job and one that instills pride throughout the organization.
“We engage and develop positive relationships with Indigenous communities,” he added. “We are able to help communities that need to improve infrastructure, find partners for new ventures, develop their lands and businesses or need help with community planning.”
Urban Systems is a privately owned company that has been recognized since 2006 as one of the Best Workplaces in Canada. It prides itself on its “Spirit in Service” philosophy, noting that “this is not just a tag line, but something we deeply believe in and something we are constantly striving for.”
That spirit, noted both McCosh and Lagerquist, is brought to every interaction, every day by every employee, each of whom is enthusiastic and passionate about what they do.
They further explained that the Urban Systems website is the perfect place to learn more about the many meaningful projects the firm has been involved with over the past forty years. That’s where you’ll also learn that the spirit lives in their service because “we endeavour to bring spirit as part of the service we provide for our clients, for each other and for our communities. Service implies a relationship between the work we do and our clients and communities. We strive to serve our clients wholeheartedly rather than the other way around.”
Vibrancy is another Urban Systems philosophy, and one that describes “what we help enable communities to become – prosperous, sustainable, resilient and healthy.”
Urban Systems continues to develop and maintain various areas of practice, including Asset Management, Community Energy Solutions, Community Planning, Economic Development, Land Development, Environment, Water, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Transportation.
“Integration is key as no one person has all of the expertise needed to complete a project,” stated McCosh. “We come together as a team, sometimes bringing expertise from another office. To fulfill your goals and meet your objectives you need to work as a team, and being able to bring other team members into the equation when the need arises, is often a difference maker. We are very fortunate to be able to draw from an outstanding selection of qualified professionals when expertise is required to complete a project.”
For each new assignment Urban Systems utilizes the most appropriate expertise from a team of professional engineers, community planners, policy analysts, landscape architects, environmental scientists, communication experts, technologists, legal surveyors, and administrative professionals.
Urban Systems has a wide variety of experience when it comes to working with and accomplishing goals with Indigenous communities. These projects, among others, include the Lower Kootenay Solar PV Project, the Membertou Land Use Plan Zoning Bylaw, the Oyster Bay Land Use Program, Peerless Lake Community Physical Development Plan, Beaver Lake Nation Community Development Plan, Tsawwassen First Nation Integrated Rainwater Management Plan, Iskut First Nation Water Systems Improvement and the Loon River First Nation Highway 88 Development project.
McCosh was involved in the Loon River First Nation project, an initiative assisted in all aspects by Urban Systems in the development of a 25 hectare parcel of designated reserve land adjacent to Red Earth Creek in North Central Alberta for commercial and industrial uses that compete with local oil and gas related support services. This initiative will provide a long term revenue stream to Loon River and capture Nation expenditures on similar services off-reserve. The Area Structure Plan was completed in 2012; construction got underway in 2013.
The Alberta Business Awards of Distinction recognize businesses and organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement and contribution to their community while having developed business acumen and management practices to ensure long term sustainability. To date, over 200 companies have been named Alberta Business Award of Distinction recipients.
For more information about the awards visit abbusinessawards.com. For more information about Urban Systems visit urbansystems.ca and be sure to check out the article: “Planning with Indigenous Communities: Ten Lessons,” a noteworthy piece written by Brian McCosh.
by John Copley