Thursday, February 9, 2012

Debate over heights; Grant Granger

Burnaby NewsLeader writer Grant Granger has delved into the debate over density and heights with the following piece on February 2.  He echoes my argument that the city must take a longterm approach to development where 10 years should be considered short-term.  Future need for community amenities in the form of community centres, park space and schools needs to be factored in today before massive developments in the town centres price them out by taking up valuable land space.  Reacting to growth after the fact will be more costly and potentially prohibitive in the future.

Burnaby NewsLeader - Opinion

COLUMN: Building high, dense and vibrant in Burnaby

Burnaby is reaching for new heights. Some say that’s not a good thing, but it is.

Recently revealed plans call for tall towers at and around Brentwood Town Centre that will rise 30, 40 and 50 storeys, or more. Building such monstrosities is already underway in the Metrotown area.
Some say that’s too high because it blocks views, and decreases property values. The suggestion has been made that it would be better to spread the density throughout the city.
It’s going exactly where it needs to be.
Building near SkyTrain stations, where the town centres are, is a natural. Ever since the Expo Line first rolled into town in 1986, it has been a natural draw for residential buyers. They want to be close so they can get around the city quickly. Fast access to city hot spots is right out their door. They’ll be delivered to their destinations quicker than by vehicle, without having to fork over large chunks of their paycheque for gas, insurance and monthly payments.
The trendy term is eco-density, and it should be good for the city and the region in a couple of ways. First, it would mean fewer cars on the road. Second, if more people used SkyTrain that should be an economic justification for TransLink to put more trains in service. (The operative word in that sentence being “should.”)
Building density should be welcomed by business because it would drive the need for more retail and service outlets in the immediate area.
More people, more retail, more entertainment venues also mean more dynamic neighbourhoods. The city’s four town centres are slowly getting to the point where they are desirable places to be—especially Metrotown—for everyone, not just shoppers.
However, suburban-urbanites need more—much more—people and activity to even come close to rivaling the hip density neighbourhoods like Vancouver’s Yaletown, Coal Harbour and West End. However, building towers to the sky has other consequences for the city. They put pressure on planners to make sure there are enough city services to cope with the density. Sewer and waste capacity have to be taken into consideration. Community centres and parks have to be capable of handling mega-leaps in usage.
There also have to be enough schools to handle the increase in students. That can be a real doozy for the school district to deal with.
A few years back, with Maywood, Marlborough and many other elementary schools on the south side busting at the seams, the district actually got approval from the province to build a new school in the Metrotown area. One problem. They couldn’t find any land to put it on.
Plan B was to increase the capacity of other schools in the Kingsway corridor. Now that some projects have been completed some strain has been reduced.
Burnaby planners have always gone about their business slowly and methodically. Plans and visions have been on the books for years, even decades. The method to their madness has usually worked out. Their motto seems to be ‘Do it right, or not at all.’
Although increasing the density in Burnaby’s town centres is a good thing, it is still important the city stick to its modus operandi. Going too fast, and bowing to every developer’s whims, has proven costly to many a municipal politician in the past. In their haste to increase the tax base, city councils have actually made it worse on the community because consequences haven’t been taken into consideration.
Good planners think 50 years down the road. To them, 10 years is considered short term.
Everyone else should take the same approach.
• Grant Granger is a NewsLeader reporter

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