icona partner series: Brian Johnston, a community services pioneer


In the second installment of an ongoing series of partner profiles, icona shines the spotlight on our strategic partnership with Brian Johnston, a recreational consulting expert who has changed the way communities across Western Canada stay healthy and connected.  

Through our partnership, we will develop the potential that exists within the natural environment of Anmore South for extensive hiking and cycling trails, accessible pathways, covered platforms for outdoor yoga and other pursuits, places to gather socially - and more.

The power of partnerships

icona was founded on a commitment to create places that matter—places that showcase world-class design, innovative materials and construction, advanced technology and engineering, and thoughtful planning and community engagement. We selected key members of the icona team not only because they are leaders in their fields, but because they share this fundamental commitment to excellence and embody our values of creativity, community, integrity, vision and tenacity.

Transformative collaboration happens when global innovation and local expertise come together. That's why, in addition to building our own talented team of experts, we make it a priority to partner with some of the most progressive placemaking experts—both locally and globally.

In this ongoing series, we showcase some of the strategic partnerships icona has forged to enhance our core team with globally recognized consultants in areas such as landscape architecture, environmental stewardship, technology, engineering, recreation, retail and more.

The power of play

When we think about what makes a community thrive, recreation might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But a community’s access to recreational activities has a profound impact on quality of life for everyone who lives within it. In other words, play is a powerful force for good.

Access to recreation creates healthy bodies and healthy minds. It helps individuals gain confidence and resilience. It creates positive connections between people of diverse backgrounds, abilities, cultures and generations. It even reduces the crime rate. Most remarkably, the positive effects improve life for everyone—even people who never use the community's recreational facilities.

No one understands the power of play better than Brian Johnston, Principal of RC Strategies. The foremost Canadian expert and a true pioneer in the field of community services, Brian's 50-year career in facilities and recreational consulting spans a staggering 1,600 recreational and cultural projects for 600 communities across Western Canada.

From the beginning, Brian has taken a different approach to recreational consulting, one that is collaborative, creative and focused on delivering the greatest good to the whole community.

After earning a master's degree in recreation management from Loughborough University in the U.K., he returned to his home province of Manitoba, and in 1975, he founded Professional Environmental Recreation Consultants Ltd. (PERC), a company that focuses on culture, social planning, recreation, park and trail projects for rural and urban municipalities of every size.

When icona began to envision a complete community in Anmore South, we knew that someone of Brian's stature and expertise could help us explore innovative ways to support the health, wellness and resilience of current and future Anmore residents.

A principled approach

Brian's approach to designing recreational facilities for a community combines creativity, best practices, community input and hard data to find solutions that meet the community's unique needs—today and for decades to come.

To evaluate the options, Brian applies the principle of the "public good," which prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the community, of its citizens and of places and spaces.

  • The health and wellbeing of the community is measured in terms of the community's connectedness, resilience and capacity to care for one another.
  • The health and wellbeing of citizens is measured in terms of every individual’s mental and physical health and their levels of confidence and competence.
  • The health and wellbeing of places and spaces is measured in terms of a facility's ability to protect the natural environment and places of historic, scenic and cultural significance.

By prioritizing the public good, Brian and his team can design spaces that support the community, the individual and the environment simultaneously.

Planning for tomorrow

The way we play has changed over the years, and it will continue to change in the future. Part of Brian's job is to recognize and anticipate those trends so that RC Strategies can develop recreational options that keep pace with evolving lifestyles. For example, recreation has seen a dramatic shift from indoor to outdoor activity as research has confirmed the superior benefits that accrue from playing in nature. People who walk, hike, bike, toss a ball or do some yoga poses outdoors are healthier, more energized and less stressed, so it makes sense to encourage outdoor activity.

Recreation has also shifted from structured to unstructured activities, with far fewer Canadians now playing team sports. More and more people are choosing to spend their free time engaging in informal activities such as walking, running or cycling on trails—rules-free activities they can do whenever they choose, with friends or on their own.

As preferences continue to evolve, forward-looking consultants like Brian are future-proofing recreational options by creating flexible spaces capable of accommodating a range of activities. A generation ago, spin classes and pickleball didn't exist. Who knows what the next 50 years will bring? By designing spaces using timeless fundamentals, recreational spaces can continue to support the way we play no matter how that evolves. Those fundamentals include ensuring a balance of multipurpose and dedicated space as well as supporting three distinct usage modes—drop-ins, programs and rentals—to support the widest range of needs for a diverse community.

Envisioning play in Anmore South

Since early 2021, icona has been immersed in the process of envisioning a bold future for Anmore South, a 150-acre parcel of land situated in the southwest corner of Anmore.

Residents of the Village of Anmore currently have few recreational and community amenities available to them. During the early stages of a consultative process that engaged residents through meetings, one-on-one discussions and co-design workshops, Anmore residents identified recreation, leisure and wellness as a top priority, envisioning trails, boardwalks, indoor and outdoor fitness facilities and social spaces that encourage healthy recreation and wellness.

As the consultation progresses, Brian will continue to engage residents to ensure their ideas are reflected in the evolving plans for the Anmore South lands along with best practices and community analysis. Early community input suggests that versatile outdoor spaces will play a focal role in supporting healthy, active, social lifestyles for residents. The area's natural environs have the potential to host many activities, with extensive hiking and cycling trails, accessible pathways, covered platforms for outdoor yoga and other fitness pursuits, and places to gather socially. To complement these considerable outdoor recreational assets, a modest, well-balanced community centre will provide indoor spaces for a variety of community activities, including cultural and wellness programs.

Local impact, global approach

icona is creating diverse and design-forward communities throughout the Lower Mainland, from Vancouver to the Tri-Cities and from the North Shore to Fraser Valley. Our impact is local, but our approach is global, bringing world-leading innovation and design to inspire and enliven the communities we create.

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