Friday, June 1, 2012

Burnaby's future growth well thought out

I  came across the Burnaby Economic Development Strategy 2020 which was drafted and adopted by the City of Burnaby in 2007.  The plan provides a framework for the City to guide Burnaby into 2020 and beyond.  I have taken some of the highlights of the plan as they relate to this blog.  For the full document in PDF format click here.

NOTE: Although it is a well-thought-out plan that clearly articulates the reasoning behind Burnaby's blueprint for the future, I do believe that it is important to consider the background of "experts" that contributed to the plan.  This is not a judgement of the "experts" consulted for this plan but merely a statement of the fact that everyone (myself included) has a bias or agenda when expressing our views and "expertise" in matters of both public and private concern.  It is also important to hold our public servants to account to ensure that previously adopted plans are not only adhered to but to also ensure that the plans remain relevant as time goes on.

(From the Economic Development Strategy 2020)

Changes in Burnaby’s Economy from 1991 to 2006

Burnaby's economy has changed from 1990 to 2006, as have many of the factors that influence and reflect the performance of the economy. The following is a small sample of change from the time since the 1990 Burnaby EDS was adopted.
  • About 35,000 (or 22%) more people lived in Burnaby, 11,000 (or 12%) more people were in the work force in Burnaby, and 14,000 (or 15%) more people worked in Burnaby 10 years later in 2001 compared to 1991.1
  • About 43,500 (or 27%) more people lived in Burnaby 15 years later in 2005 compared to 1990 2.
  • The unemployment rate in Burnaby declined from 9.0 % in 1993 to 8.3% in 2003, a decrease of 0.7% (or 8%) over 10 years.3
  • There continued to be more jobs than people in the labour force and jobs increased at a faster rate - the adjusted ratio was 1.2 in 2001 compared to 1.0 in 1991, 10 years earlier.4
  • Average household income in Burnaby has remained at similar levels (expressed in 1997 dollars) - $48,300 in 2001, was slightly lower compared to $48,700 for 1991, 10 years earlier5.
  • Vancouver's annual inflation rate fell from 3.6% in 1993 to 2.1% in 2003, a net decrease of 1.5% (or 42%) over 10 years6.

The Vision for Burnaby

Throughout Burnaby’s Official Community Plan and the 1990 Economic Development Strategy there is a consistent message about the kind of community Burnaby should be:
  • A healthy, safe, diverse, livable community that is welcoming to new residents.
  • A clean natural environment. 
  • A vibrant urban place.
  • A sustainable, inclusive, prosperous economy that is welcoming to new businesses. 
  • A fiscally sound local government.

The Official Community Plan calls for “...a more complete community, an environmentally aware community, a community of economic opportunity, a community with increased transportation choice, an involved community, and a community within a livable region”.

Vanilla urban character

Burnaby is eminently livable, with attractive neighbourhoods, many parks, great community amenities, tidy business parks, and good infrastructure. However, Burnaby does not have pockets of diverse urban character that match districts such as Yaletown or Kitsilano in Vancouver.
Over the last 20 years or so, Burnaby’s main draw for some sectors (such as technology) has been readily available vacant land (and low occupancy costs) with high vehicular accessibility and regional centrality. Now, some of the lustre is off these assets and Burnaby finds itself having to compete more to attract some kinds of businesses, which themselves are becoming more mature in their site selection process.
Many firms now consider new criteria including housing within walking distance, high quality amenities, lively commercial space, and all-day urban character. Burnaby has tended to develop large concentrations of employment in areas that are functional, but perhaps dull. Even Metrotown does not yet have the sort of urban character that pulls firms looking for diversity, and provides a hotbed for small retailers, restaurants, or start- ups.

A more complete community

The City will pursue the development of a more complete community that brings people, jobs, services and amenities together in more accessible ways.

  • Continue to invest in parks, community facilities, recreation facilities, and arts/culture.
  • Continue planning for high density neighbourhoods in appropriate locations, as higher density housing tends to be more affordable and more likely to appeal to a wide variety of target markets.

Walkable neighbourhoods

  • Consider introducing residential and local serving commercial into areas of concentrated employment (e.g., Canada Way/Willingdon and/or Big Bend), so that there is more mixed use and vitality in employment areas.
  • Continue locating high density housing at transit stations (On the Expo SkyTrain line the Edmonds Town Centre, Lougheed Town Centre, Metrotown (including Patterson Station), Royal Oak Community Plans are all in place. On the Millennium SkyTrain line Brentwood Town Centre, Holdom Station Area, Lake City Guide, Lougheed Town Centre Plans are all in place, while the Sperling/Bainbridge and Brighton Urban Village Plans are pending).
  • Examine whether Burnaby should consider increasing its maximum residential densities in some locations to allow for more intensive development and increases to the supply of housing.

Urban Character

Urban character means more than high density and tall buildings; it also means a high quality pedestrian realm, a lively mix of uses, a diversity of architectural styles, an active street life, bustle, entertainment, and even some grit.

Burnaby must continue to evolve into a mature, lively, post-suburban city if it wants to maximize its ability to attract a diverse, well- educated, skilled population and attract the kinds of firms that hire these people.

Much of Burnaby’s urban development over the last decade or so could be described as having rigid separation of land uses, a kind of suburban campus flavour even in town centre locations, and a fairly narrow palette of architectural styles. And, while Burnaby has invested heavily in parks and recreation facilities, it has not put a priority on creating attractive streetscapes in all areas.
A good example of both points is the area around Willingdon and Canada Way. This location is at the centre of an enormous concentration of employment (and students), has a high level of bus service14, and has very high vehicle volumes. It could be an exciting, mixed use urban node and it could make a highly visible statement about Burnaby’s pride in the public realm.

Burnaby is at a pivotal point in its development with substantial development occurring in all of the town centres. Developments are achieving a high level of design and landscaping. In contrast, some public frontages have suffered.

The beautification strategy now being developed for the City includes a review of how landscaped areas are designed, built, and maintained. The output from this review should help determine how we can ensure that their value to the community increases over time.

Shopping Districts
Continue to work with local merchant groups, property owners, and developers to maintain and enhance the character of existing interesting shopping districts such as The Heights and Edmonds. This could include using ethnic themes as a means of creating diversity.

Urban Villages
Ensure that the OCP update explores opportunities to find ways to transform large, single-use employment districts (business centres) into more lively urban places by adding housing, retail, restaurants, entertainment, and community amenities (e.g., Canada Way/Willingdon area).

Outstanding Urban Places
Consider whether there are one or two locations in Burnaby with the potential to become outstanding urban places that accommodate clusters of technology.

Continue to add to the amenity base so that Burnaby continues to be an attractive place to live and an attractive place to locate a business.

Consider putting a higher priority on beautification of the public realm, especially on major roads, and through high density residential and employment districts.

Design Guidelines
  • Stronger relationships between new buildings and the street, instead of large front setbacks which produce a campus image.
  • Greater variety in architectural character.
  • Less (or at least less prominent) surface car parking.
Work on what is missing
Explore working policies and programs into Burnaby’s “way of doing business” to begin to make its mixed use neighbourhoods more competitive as locations to live and locations to do business.

Decreased ecological footprint
Consider adopting aggressive targets to further reduce Burnaby’s total ecological footprint, such as reductions in total solid waste (with corresponding increases in recycling), increased transit ridership and reduced private automobile trips, and reductions in total carbon dioxide emissions.

Gathering Places
Explore supporting the mixing of arts/culture (e.g., art galleries, street parties, plaza gathering places) with retail areas to further humanize these places (i.e., introduce more opportunities for intimate situations).


Burnaby has a large and diverse retail base that could be used more as an attraction for visitors from inside the region and elsewhere. There are opportunities to use ethnic and cultural diversity as themes for food, art, fashion, markets. Burnaby’s position on two rapid transit lines provides a high level of access to Burnaby’s retail

High Streets
  • Consider promoting the variety and different character of all of the Town Centres and retail villages within Burnaby (e.g., The Heights, North Road, UniverCity, Edmonds, Brentwood, Lougheed, and Metrotown).
  • Explore working with local merchants and business associations on plans to strengthen commercial districts through marketing, streetscape improvements, design guidelines, and the development of more interesting, distinct character.
  • Look for opportunities to work with the ethnic communities on ideas for more ethnic-themes unique to each area.
Streetscape/Quality of Experience
  • Continue to reinforce Burnaby’s town centres as region-serving lively retail centres. More attention needs to be focused on streetscape and quality of experience. See General Strategy G3 – Creating Urban Character for more detail.
  • Look for opportunities to locate cultural, civic, and educational uses in town centres.
This entire document can be read in full here.

Although some may argue that the onslaught of new developments in Brentwood is ad-hoc and uncontrolled, the documentary evidence proves that what we see today is the result of planning that occurred decades ago in response to new economic and ecological realities.  The unfolding of the pending Solo District, Aviara, and the Brentwood Mall developments can be attributed to the City of Burnaby having created the conditions to develop areas like Brentwood into multipurpose urban cores in oncoming years and the result has been evident with the prior construction of 20 plus residential and commercial towers over the past decade.  How the City develops pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in Brentwood is something that the locals must influence with participation in public hearings and council meetings.


  1. You must be a friend of the Mayor and his "team" (or maybe you are the Mayor?).

    Eliminate the political organizations within municipal and provincial politics and allow individuals to run for office and speak to items that reflect the public's wants and desires, not for political brownie points. Mayor Corrigan has had his day. He needs to get out of the way and let fresh eyes and perspective take the lead.

    1. No, I'm neither the mayor nor his friend and this is not a political blog. Perhaps you are a member of Team Burnaby that doesn't like the mayor? Please remember that although your comments on this blog are welcome, this is not a blog about Burnaby politics.