Designing Better Communities: Q&A with Matt Brown, Director - Product Development

LIVE Minto | 15 MIN READ | 2023-11-22

Have you ever wondered what goes into the design and development of a new community?

We recently sat down with Matt Brown, Director - Product Development for Minto Communities Canada, to learn more about his role and his team's approach to product design.

In this interview, he shares insights into the various components of the design and development of a new community — from the analysis of demographics and location, to staying informed of regulatory changes and keeping up with the latest sustainability and industry trends. Read on as we dive into the world of product design at Minto.

Tell us about your role in product design at Minto and what it entails?

As the Director - Product Development for Minto Communities Canada, I lead a talented team responsible for designing exceptional new communities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

My job is to direct our Product Development and Sustainability teams in transforming our community vision into reality, and overseeing the creation and execution of our diverse product offerings, including homes, condos, and purpose-built rentals.

I ensure Minto remains ahead of the curve in a constantly changing regulatory environment by crafting and implementing strategic plans for future-product competitiveness. Additionally, I lead the company's Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) related sustainability initiatives, solidifying our commitment to a better future for all.

What are some of the big considerations you take into account when you approach product design (demographics, amenities, community, sustainability)?

There are a few areas we consider, including:

  • Customer (both buyer and resident) – we analyze demographics, psychographics, and preferences of our potential customers to better understand their needs.
  • Location and surrounding context - we study the location of a potential community and its surroundings to make sure it’s a good fit for our target market.
  • Market research and competitor offering – we conduct market research and analyze our competitors' offerings to help determine typology, size, mix/distribution, attributes, amenities, parking, and other factors that will appeal to future homeowners and help set us apart.
  • Product differentiation opportunities - we look for areas to differentiate ourselves from the competition.
  • Evolving regulatory environment – we keep a close eye on the changing regulatory environment, including impending/future municipal plans, standards, bylaws, and provincial/national building code changes. There is an unprecedented amount of change that has and will continue to be made in response to housing affordability and climate change, and so it’s our responsibility to ensure our product remains compliant and up-to-date.
  • ESG sustainability and climate change mitigation – we stay current on evolving targets and ensure we maintain a leadership position within our industry.
  • Evolving customer and industry trends – we look for shifts in trends and leverage that knowledge to benefit new communities. For example, seeing recent changes in consumer food preferences (i.e. vegan, vegetarian, etc.) as a broader demand for health and well-being, and translating that into a comprehensive health and well-being program at The Saint, our condo project in downtown Toronto.

Can you share a few interesting approaches to recent projects that you think are noteworthy?

Lately, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on evaluating the comprehensive health and well-being impacts of our built environments, and adapting our design approach accordingly.

We’re also committed to reducing our environmental impact. One way we’re doing this is by evaluating options to limit fossil fuel sources and introduce renewable energy sources into our communities. We also assess embodied carbon reduction strategies to lower our carbon footprint.

As part of our sustainability efforts, we’re currently evaluating the feasibility of Minto's first NetZero Energy condominium. This project is a significant step forward in our goal to be a leader in sustainable community development.

In our condo projects, we design and allocate amenity programs to create natural and organic opportunities for residents to connect with each other. This is part of our overall resident experience strategy to maximize the quality of life for those living in a Minto condo.

What future trends do you see/look forward to working on?

I’m particularly interested in the emergence of prefabrication and modular construction, which can help us meet waste reduction targets, improve construction timelines, and address labour shortages.

Another exciting trend is the journey toward achieving anticipated NetZero ready targets by 2030 (2028 in Toronto). As a sustainability leader, Minto is actively promoting changes that will help us stay ahead of this transformation.

I’m also enthusiastic about the adoption of different financing models for sustainable projects.  The deferred capital model offered by renewable energy providers, like those we’re working with on geo exchange systems, will help us meet ambitious carbon reduction targets. This allows for the faster integration of systems and technologies that drive decarbonization without negatively impacting affordability.

Moreover, I anticipate an evolution in health and well-being offerings, which will integrate community events, services and amenity programming via smart building technology. I see this as a game-changer in terms of improving resident experience and creating a sense of belonging within the community, both of which are key drivers to happiness and well-being.

Finally, I’m keen to see how the industry evolves to evaluate the broader carbon impacts of the home building business. Currently, the bulk of the industry is only looking at the carbon associated with the operation of new buildings but is starting to consider the embodied carbon of the materials within new buildings. At some point, however, the industry will expand to evaluate the comprehensive carbon impacts of broader business activities.

Some specific examples of our approach with different projects include:

Seniors at MartinGrove

At our Martin Grove community, accessibility and providing barrier-free paths of travel was paramount. The site, landscape, and interior design was made to accommodate different types of mobility devices and addresses the various levels of physical fitness of residents. For example, there are many benches and other opportunities to sit throughout the site.

Our interior amenity program accommodates the various preferences of our residents. For example, some people may like to play cards in an open social room and some may prefer to do so in a private or semi-private space. The communal laundry space is also designed with various uses in mind. For example, there are opportunities to read, play games, etc. while waiting for laundry to finish.

The entire amenity program is located on the ground floor for ease of navigation by guests and to act as a community hub in which seniors can spend most of their day if they choose. They can work out in the gym, watch a sporting event and socialize in the communal lounge, read, or have a private conversation in the meeting rooms.

Neighbourhood Nest at North Oak at Oakvillage

At our Oakvillage community, all amenities are purposefully organized within a centralized pavilion so they are visually, if not physically, connected. The focus here being the Grand Lounge (entry lobby) and concierge, since these are spaces and services residents interact with everyday. 

Placing amenities in a centralized location allows for spontaneous opportunities for residents to see and interact with their neighbours, helping to create a sense of community. Our commitment to creating a cohesive community has earned us the prestigious 2022 OHBA award for Room Design - Amenities.

The Grand Lounge at the Neighbourhood Nest in Oakvillage is designed to be a gathering place for the broader community should residents desire to use it for this purpose. It is designed to be a casual space to sit and relax, work or socialize and is flanked with a games room and quiet working space.  Its flexible and multipurpose design makes it the heart of the community, connecting to the outdoors, trails and pond.  Additionally, it was created to be an area of refuge during an emergency (ie. flood, prolonged power outage, etc.) and provides continuous access to power for mobile phone charging, potable water, heating, and cooling, as well as refrigeration for medications and baby formula.

Health and Well-being at The Saint

At The Saint, the health and well-being of our homeowners is a high priority. That’s why every detail of the building is designed for sustainability and longevity. We’ve placed a large focus on indoor air quality via:

  • Enhanced common element air filtration
  • Chemical-free cleaning system for the common elements
  • Compartmentalized suites with individual HRV/ERV’s (ie. fresh air machines)
  • Low VOC building materials

As mentioned previously, when it comes to trends, we’ve seen broad adoption of healthy food (ie. vegan, vegetarian, etc.), alternative physical fitness (ie. yoga, spinning, etc.) and increased importance of mental health (ie. meditation), amongst our customers. The size, shape and configuration of each space is considered to support varied resident needs and expectations.  The Saint’s location being close to the St. Lawrence market contributes to healthy food options, combined with the other trends we were seeing. 

Overall, we’ve developed a vision in which health and well-being is foundational and considered in every aspect of the design. In addition to those noted above, such features include: 

One floor of amenities dedicated to physical health

  • Gym with weights, cardio and cross fit
  • Spin studio with WELLBEATS (or similar) class content
  • Yoga studio with WELLBEATS (or similar) class content
  • Spa room with infrared sauna and soaking tub
  • Rain room with light therapy

One floor of amenities dedicated to mental health:

  • Communal salt rock (halo therapy) meditation room
  • Private meditation room
  • Star gazing, dark meditation room
  • Rooftop sunrise meditation nook

The Saint was also the first project to use Biophilic design principles to support physiological and psychological health, including:

  • Natural and textured materials (i.e. wood, stone, salt, water, etc.) throughout the building providing connection to nature
  • Biomorphic patterns in amenity spaces and common elements enhance perception of these spaces and connection to nature
  • Plants within interior amenity spaces, exterior amenities and building architecture reinforce connection to nature
  • Interior and exterior amenity spaces designed to be visually and physically interconnected
  • Abundance of natural light, maximized throughout the building

Interested in being part of a team that is committed to building better, stronger, and healthier communities? Visit our Careers page to learn more and browse our current career opportunities.