Breaking ground to transform the cities of the future

Our equitable cities of tomorrow need the brightest minds of today. Meet the alumni whose support is bringing that future closer.

A lot has changed in the last year and a half for humanity across the globe. Covid has exposed society’s fragilities and shone a light on opportunities for change and growth.

Caivan Communities Co-Founders and CEOs Frank Cairo and Troy van Haastrecht have a vision for the purpose and impact of their work. “Where we live directly affects who we are and how we live our lives,” said Frank Cairo. “I believe that future cities, if we dig deep enough, can in fact transform who we are.”

Cairo and van Haastrecht, both University of Waterloo alumni, share a philosophical, professional, and ethical passion to help build more thoughtful and purposeful cities of the future. This prompted the innovators to make a groundbreaking $1 million donation to the Faculty of Environment. This gift is the seed investment for the Future Cities Initiative Δ Program.

Frank CairoFrank Cairo

Troy van HaastrechtTroy van Haastrecht


This burgeoning program, a multidisciplinary and collaborative endeavour, aims to groom the future leaders of city-building, and harness research, knowledge and innovation across sectors to create just, healthy, and sustainable communities.

“Future leaders in city-building will need to possess an interdisciplinary understanding and awareness,” Cairo said. “This is at the core of the Future Cities program, which will cross faculty lines and bring great minds from a variety of fields of study… to build or, at minimum, facilitate cities that are resilient, adaptive, and inclusive.”

The donation proceeds will be directed towards the following key areas:

  • The Caivan Communities Professor will be an exceptional academic who will build partnerships across disciplines within, and far beyond, the University of Waterloo. They will also provide leadership towards program design and teaching, with an emphasis on interdisciplinarity and future thinking.
  • Caivan Communities Student Support will fund undergraduate and graduate scholarships for 40 future leaders, over the course of four years, rewarding those who achieve academic excellence, leadership, and perseverance.
  • The Caivan Communities Global Citizenship Internship will support one student annually over the next five years to work in collaboration with an Ottawa-based, non-profit organization. The students will learn to apply their knowledge in real-world settings, directly serving local communities while building critical leadership skills.
  • The Caivan Communities International Postdoctoral Fellowships will include top-tier postdoctoral talent who will contribute to the Δ Program through a combination of teaching and applied research.
  • Δ Program Enrichment funds will support learning enrichment within the program, through guest lectures and professional training for students, while also expanding cross-sector partnerships through public engagement opportunities, such as a speaker series, events, and webinars.

“Talent is the foundation of the Future Cities initiative and this incredible gift from Caivan Communities provides program enhancements and financial support for students at all stages through a mix of student scholarships, work-integrated learning opportunities as interns, and research fellowships,” said Jean Andrey, dean of the Faculty of Environment.

Caivan and van Haastrecht are challenging traditional academic boundaries and this is at the core of the Faculty of Environment’s mission as well as Cairo's concept of Future Cities.

“The Caivan Communities Professor will be a future studies expert who appreciates the multiple interacting changes affecting society and can bring frameworks and methods for translating these changes into possibilities for tomorrow,” said Andrey.

While Cairo is keen to equip the recipients of this gift with skills and multi-disciplinary collaboration opportunities, he envisions more far-reaching potential.

“Although it is our hope that specific skills are being developed in those individuals that participate in, and or, are supported by the program, Caivan’s funding is really a catalyst we hope will precipitate a framework for identifying the tools and techniques required to positively shape future cities,” said Cairo. “I can say, however, that recipients will need to be prepared to address the threats and opportunities associated with big data, advanced synthetic intelligence and the proliferation of automation across all sectors. These along with a changing climate are surely some of the big nuts to crack with respect to the shape of future cities.”

It is impossible to know precisely what future cities will look like, but Cairo and van Haastrecht at Caivan are certainly providing a taste of the future through their sustainable developments in such places as Ottawa, and the GTA.

To that end, Caivan’s neighborhoods are intentionally designed to make everyday life healthy, green, communal and clean. Pedestrians are prioritized over cars and amenities like schools, recreation and transit are always nearby. Natural features including trees, ponds and built-in greenspace nurture close knit, thriving neighborhoods. Building practices involve comprehensive waste diversion and energy efficient products and technologies.

“Frank’s core values drive him to create communities that are genuinely good for families and are responsive to environmental challenges,” said dean Andrey. “For him and our faculty, this initiative is about looking at the system as a whole and thinking about how the homes and communities of the future will really affect who people are. That’s why our relationship with Frank is such a magical one. The point is to focus on the possible, from imagination to impact.”