Anne McMullin: Positive developments

Former journalist and chamber of commerce boss Anne McMullin is now at the helm of the Urban Development Institute aiming to build better neighbourhoods

Urban Development Institute CEO Anne McMullin: some single-family Metro Vancouver neighbourhoods should be opened up to higher development density

It took some convincing to get Anne McMullin to accept the job of Urban Development Institute Pacific Region (UDI) CEO.

When recruiters from the organization that lobbies on behalf of the B.C. real estate development industry came calling, McMullin was happily immersed in local issues at what she considered the "perfect job" – president and general manager of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.

The post enabled the 48-year-old, Vancouver-born and raised McMullin to work close to her West Vancouver home and her three children's schools.

She could work on issues that inspired her while interacting with a wide range of people across business sectors.

"I thought, 'Why would I want to leave?'" she said.

"But my [teenaged] kids are a bit older so I started to think, 'Here's an opportunity to go downtown.' I looked at my age and thought, 'When's the next opportunity?'"

She had spent much of her three years as head of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce focusing on a few key issues.

First there was the expected lobbying of civic governments to lower taxes and business-related fees.

Given North Vancouver's location, she also dealt with plenty of Port Metro Vancouver issues.

But housing and creating a diverse community inspired her most.

Her strategy to achieve that aim in North Vancouver was focused on urging political leaders to increase density in areas such as the Lonsdale corridor.

She argued that seniors could then leave single-family homes and stay in North Vancouver, and young people could find affordable homes without having to move to other suburbs where condos were more prevalent.

McMullin had a light-bulb moment when she realized that becoming UDI's CEO would enable her to extend across the region the work she had done in North Vancouver.

"When you're in this business, you want to be where it's most exciting," she said. "Development is about building homes, which are the most important purchase that any of us will have the chance to, hopefully, make."

McMullin knows that getting residents in Metro Vancouver's single-family neighbourhoods to accept density will be difficult.

"Change is hard for people. We've had unprecedented growth in the housing and development business.

"Largely that growth has been in areas that had not been developed. They were industrial but no longer used by industry."

Now that Coal Harbour, False Creek and Yaletown are dotted with highrises, McMullin believes the next frontier has to be areas that have historically had lower-density residential housing.

"There are areas along the old Expo SkyTrain line where we're still seeing single-family homes," she said, with a note of incredulity, between sips of her tall Starbucks non-fat latte.

People who have known McMullin for years say she's the right fit for the top job at UDI – an influential position that was created last summer when longtime UDI executive director Maureen Enser retired.

"Anne is a star and strong leader with an excellent communications ability and a genuine and sincere voice," said Gary Pooni, president of consulting firm Brook + Associates.

Pooni has known McMullin since the early part of this century, when she was director of communications at what is now PMV.

John Winter, CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, similarly praised McMullin's ability to communicate and gain consensus.

He has known McMullin since the late 1990s, when she was president of the BC Salmon Farmers' Association.

"She's going to build on all the things she's learned over time," said Winter. "Working for a diverse organization like a chamber, she had members from all sectors of the economy, some big and some not so big. Understanding their desires is a challenging job so she has the ability to juggle a lot of balls in the air."

Family is at least as important to McMullin as her day job.

She and husband Brent have three teenage children who they take skiing on weekends and on trips whenever possible.

Travel is not simply an escape for McMullin. She believes that the experience of travel changes people and that exposure to different ways people live can inspire ideas for how to improve life at home.

She backpacked around Australasia in her early 20s in between stints studying political science at the University of British Columbia.

While putting herself through university, she worked as a ski instructor, a waitress and a host at Expo 86, where she showed dignitaries such as George Bush Sr. and William F. Buckley around the site.

"Teaching skiing is a great job when you're in your 20s and your parents aren't buying your ski passes any more," she laughed.

McMullin's original career plan was to follow others in her family and pursue journalism.

Her parents met when both worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Her father evolved from being a cameraman who travelled around the world to being a producer of the local evening newscast.

So McMullin quit UBC, without getting a degree, to go to the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where she earned a journalism diploma.

That led to reporting gigs at 107.1 Mountain FM in Squamish and what is now Global TV in Vancouver.

She keeps her toes in journalism by volunteering time as a member of the board of trustees of the Jack Webster Foundation, which recognizes journalistic excellence.

Other volunteering includes coaching field hockey and volunteering as a teacher at the Disabled Skiers Association of BC.

"Last year, I helped a girl ski. She was 12 years old and couldn't see, hear or speak, but we had her skiing," McMullin said. "Volunteering is partly about finding meaning in life. It's what you contribute. It's not what you take."

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