Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taller not necessarily greener

Rick McGowan of the Burnaby Green Party recently expressed his view on the allowing of taller residential towers to be constructed in Burnaby. Although "building up" has been touted as a sustainable way to increase residential density in Burnaby, McGowan believes the heights are going too far.

Taller highrises a bad plan

Recent changes that allow developers to build taller highrises will not make Burnaby more sustainable. These bylaw amendments were introduced by city staff last November and quietly passed in December without proper public debate. One would think a change that allows developers to add 10 or 20 floors to a 30storey highrise would be worthy of a comprehensive public consultation process.

Since the adoption of the amended bylaw, a flurry of applications for significantly taller buildings have been proposed. The latest proposal for station square calls for four new towers up to 57 storeys. The new rules are unfair to residents who currently reside in Burnaby's four town centres.

As a resident of Metrotown, I am surrounded by highrise residential apartment buildings, mostly under 30 storeys, and three-storey condominiums. I live in a three-storey condo that has 26 units. My building was constructed about 20 years ago and each unit is relatively large compared to today's standard. The recently constructed condo behind us has 26 units also but is built on a smaller property assembled from three single-family lots. What is most appealing to me about my neighbourhood is the opportunity to get to know my neighbours in the building, and, to a lesser extent, a few of the people in other buildings. Another aspect of the urban lifestyle my family enjoys is the convenience of being able to walk to the grocery store or Metropolis. The opportunity to walk or take transit reduces my family's carbon footprint and makes us healthier also. Cycling could make daily errands even more convenient, but with so many cars in the area creating hazards and pollution and inconvenient storage facilities it is usually less hassle to walk.

While the benefits to living at Metrotown are great, the people who currently live there have also had to make sacrifices. We are forced to breathe the toxic pollutants emitted from commuters who travel on the streets. Also, we share our green spaces and walls with our neighbours and families, so we have to show consideration for them. SkyTrain is crowded at certain times of the day and shopping at Metropolis can be stressful. All in all the benefits outweigh the costs.

That said, Metrotown's density is well above what is considered a "compact neighbourhood" and is approaching a density close to what is called a "pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood" and this has been achieved without resorting to constructing towers above 30 storeys.

It is unfair for city hall to expect residents in the Metrotown area to absorb greater and greater numbers of people and residents, while other neighbourhoods in Burnaby continue to live at densities far below what is considered "compact."

Other parts of the city including the other town centres can absorb more people without the need to build the higher towers and without the need to encroach on existing commercial and industrial space.

Furthermore, the process and people that introduced these changes have demonstrated a lack of consideration for the residents of Burnaby.

Rick McGowan, Burnaby Municipal Green Party

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