Celebrating 35 Years: The Humble Beginnings of B&A

“Starting B&A was like planting a seed in rocky soil hoping it would grow into something beautiful.” – Greg Brown

In the dynamic world of urban planning and design, B&A stands as a beacon of innovation and excellence. As B&A celebrates its 35th anniversary, we had the privilege of sitting down with Greg Brown, the visionary founder, to explore the humble beginnings of what was initially known as Brown & Associates. Greg’s journey from a small startup to a leading firm in the industry, with three offices in Western Canada, is a tale of passion, perseverance, and profound insight.

The Genesis of B&A

Greg Brown’s story begins with a deep-rooted desire for independence and creativity in the face of economic adversity. After earning his MBA and returning to Calgary in 1988, Greg faced the challenge of a depressed oil market. Despite the hurdles, his motivation to contribute to the urban landscape and build something unique was unwavering.

Before founding B&A, Greg honed his skills and gained valuable experience at Stanley and Associates (now Stantec), where he was involved in significant urban development projects. This experience provided him with a deep understanding of the complexities of urban planning and the importance of integrating innovative solutions into city landscapes. The knowledge and expertise Greg accumulated during this time were instrumental in shaping his vision for B&A.

“I wanted to be independent, not working in a huge corporation, and to grow something created out of my own energy,” Greg shared. This drive led to the birth of Brown & Associates, a small firm that would become a leader in urban planning in Calgary and beyond.

Maccosham Building in 1988.

The First Office in Calgary

The early days of B&A started in a small yet strategically located office in the Maccosham Building on 10th Ave SW. The building, characterized by its wooden beams and skylight, was a modest space where big dreams were nurtured.

“We had one floor of that building. It was within walking distance of City Hall, where I spent a lot of my time,” Greg reminisced, highlighting the importance of being close to the heart of the city’s planning activities.

Calgary in 1989

In 1989, Calgary had a population of approximately 700,000. The city was characterized by its growing urban expansion, with development steadily pushing its boundaries outward. Key areas of development included the burgeoning suburbs with the steady expansion of commercial districts and transit lines.

Penn West Plaza in 1988

The tallest building in Calgary at that time was the Petro-Canada Centre (now known as Suncor Energy Centre), which stood as a testament to the city’s aspirations and economic potential. The downtown core was marked by a mix of modern skyscrapers and older historic buildings, reflecting a city in transition.

Calgary was a city on the brink of transformation. Emerging from a severe economic downturn, the city was slowly regaining its footing. The environment was one of cautious optimism, with signs of recovery beginning to appear.

“By 1989, there were green shoots coming out, and the city had hope,” Greg recalled. This optimism was mirrored in the evolving planning landscape, where community associations began to play a more significant role in shaping urban development.

The Early Team

B&A started with a tight-knit team of three planners, quickly growing to five within a year. The small team faced numerous challenges, from time management to meeting deadlines. However, they quickly fostered a strong sense of camaraderie and collective achievement.

“The biggest challenge was time management and product management. But there was also a sense of satisfaction when we got something approved by the council,” Greg noted, emphasizing the joys and challenges of working with a small but highly dedicated team.

Arbour Lake Community in 1988

The First Project: Arbour Lake

One of B&A’s first significant projects was with Melcor Developments on the Arbour Lake project, a large-scale suburban development in northwest Calgary. The project involved planning a community with diverse topography, including ravines and other natural features.

“Our focus was on developing large-scale new suburban communities. Arbour Lake was one of our first and remains a testament to our long-standing relationship with Melcor,” Greg explained. Overcoming challenges such as complex topography, the project set the stage for future successes.

Arbour Lake Community in 2024

Lessons Learned

Reflecting on the early days, Greg emphasized

the importance of perseverance, flexibility, meeting deadlines, and effective teamwork to be successful in the planning industry. He highlighted that achieving an 85% completion and meeting a deadline is often more important than striving for a perfect product initially.

“Get it down fast. You’re an intelligent person, so just do it and produce it. Then let other people edit it and modify it, particularly the client,” Greg stated.

From its modest beginnings, B&A evolved into a leading firm in the urban planning industry. And with growth came a new set of challenges, but B&A retained its core values of teamwork, dedication, and client-focused service that defined its early days to ensure future success.

“We’ve evolved significantly, but the essence of those early days—collaboration and commitment—still defines our culture,” Greg reflected, illustrating the company’s journey from a small startup to an industry leader.

Final Thoughts from Greg Brown

“To aspiring entrepreneurs and city planners, my advice is simple: Stay flexible, communicate well, and always meet your deadlines. The journey will be challenging, but the rewards are worth it,” Greg concluded.

B&A’s 35th anniversary is not just a celebration of longevity but a testament to the vision, dedication, and resilience that have driven its success. From humble beginnings to industry leadership, B&A’s story continues to inspire the next generation of urban planners and entrepreneurs.

City of Calgary Skyline in 1986

Calgary in 1986 by SurrealPlaces on Flickr.

Calgary in 1989.

Calgary in 1989 by SurrealPlaces on Flickr.

View from Nose Hill Park in Calgary in 1987

View from Nose Hill Park in Calgary in 1987 by SurrealPlaces on Flickr.

City of Calgary Ward Boundaries in 1989.

1989 City of Calgary Ward Boundaries - Livewire Calgary

City of Calgary Ward Boundaries in 2019 - Livewire Calgary.

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