Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Debate over density and height

The debates over easing height limits for new high-rise towers in both Chinatown and at Broadway / Kingsway intersection in Vancouver have begun to heat up. The issue of greater density and greater heights has brought out both proponents and opponents with both sides making valid arguments about whether or not increased density and taller buildings should be permitted.

Proponents of density are arguing that the increased numbers of people concentrated in smaller areas create a better environment for businesses there as locals would make up a larger portion of their customer base.  Allowing local businesses a greater opportunity to succeed with areas of increased density would also allow neighbourhoods to maintain and increase their vibrance as daily activities from shopping to entertainment can be had locally.  Opponents are arguing that truly local businesses (mom-and-pop shops) will be forced out of neighbourhoods due to the replacement of older buildings with more expensive new ones.  The newer residential and commercial space will only be affordable for wealthy residents and larger chain stores.  The issue of affordability is more immediate when it involves development in existing neighbourhoods such as historic Chinatown and neighbouring Strathcona where communities of residents and businesses have existed for generations.

As the density debate continues in Vancouver, the issue will surely bring out opposing sides in Burnaby as its citizens begin to think about what kinds of neighbourhoods they want have in the future.  The case should certainly be true for residents of the Brentwood area as it begins to develop its own unique character over the next decade and beyond.  When it comes to the core area along Lougheed Hwy and Dawson Ave, the difference with the Brentwood neighbourhood is that residents are not being displaced so much as certain types of businesses are to make way for the transformation of the area from primarily industrial to a mixed-use area that integrates residential with commercial space.   That doesn't mean that there are no concerns for residents in the area.  The areas to the north of Lougheed Hwy between Gilmore and Holdom Avenues primarily have single family neighbourhoods that are beginning to be affected by densification in the area.  A prime example is the proposed development by Ledingham McAllister at Gilmore Ave and Douglas Rd which proposes an expansion of Willingdon Heights Park and it community centre,  and the construction of a high-rise tower with townhouses.  Issues such as traffic pattern changes, rat racing through residential streets and of the prospect of a high-rise tower looming over people's homes have been raised and discussed at a public hearing for the project.

Rather than being an issue of trying to protect the historical feel of the neighbourhood, as is one of the issues with Chinatown, it will be an issue of what kind of historical feel can be created as Brentwood develops into the town centre envisioned by the City of Burnaby's development plan.  What kind of town centre do the people that live in and around Brentwood in North Burnaby want to see?  What kinds of amenities are needed as the population of the area increases?  Will the community centres at Confederation and Willingdon Heights parks be sufficient to meet the recreational needs of this growing area?  What about the environmental impact of development on the Still Creek system to the immediate south of the area?  These and other issues will be considered and discussed over the next decade as Brentwood's character and identity are formed.

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