Clicking any image in the slideshow above will open an enlargement in a new tab or window. Years 1956, 1976, 1989, and 1999 are sourced from the City of Burnaby Archives’ collection of orthophotographs, and stitched to create panoramas. The present day image links to a custom Google Map I created using municipal Town Centre boundaries. From this map, you can zoom in for detail, or out to compare Burnaby Town Centres amongst each other, and to others in the region.
In The Town Centre Model: Part 2, we learned that the Town Centre concept in Burnaby was born out of a set of long range planning documents published in 1966 and 1969. We learned that three Town Centres were designated in these early documents. Those again, were Brentwood Town Centre, Lyndhurst-Burquitlam (modern day Lougheed) Town Centre, and Kingsway-Sussex (modern day Metrotown) Town Centre. Edmonds was not designated as a Town Centre until the publication of Burnaby’s first Official Community Plan in December of 1987. Prior to this, the neighbourhood area was referred to only as a District Centre. The 1966 Apartment Studies recognized the area as a busy trade route for residents travelling through Kingsway – the principal east-west corridor at the time connecting the region’s two historic commercial precincts of Vancouver and New Westminster.
For comparative context, let’s take a brief look at the 1966 Apartment Studies proposals for Lougheed, Brentwood, and Edmonds. To contrast each proposal, I have included aerial imagery for each respective study area. Because aerial imagery was not available from 1966, I have chosen to use 1976 as a compromise.
It may be easier to spot after clicking on the images to view their enlargements, but establishing a core in Edmonds would have been a conceivably difficult task. Industrial parcels here were much more numerous and much larger. The one notable exception to significant high density development in Edmonds were the Hall Towers, a large public housing development constructed in the late 1960s/ early 1970s at the corner of Edmonds Street and Kingsway. Also of note was the presence of the Middlegate Mall, a shopping centre whose less than 4 hectare footprint is a fraction of the size of either Lougheed Shopping Centre or Brentwood Shopping Centre. But on the whole, the neighbourhood was broken up by various scattered industrial properties.
From early on, public transit was recognized as a key method to enhance and better unify the Edmonds neighbourhood. In 1972, with the launch of the neighbourhood’s first significant Area Plan since the 1966/ 1969 Apartment Studies, Kingsway-Edmonds was tapped as an area for significant future apartment growth. That growth was the expected to be achieved through the future provision of a “first class transportation link to the very heart of this district centre” (Burnaby, 1972). A transit-inspired renaissance may seem reminiscent of the theme we have already observed with Brentwood and Lougheed, but with Edmonds, this was even more so the case.
Between 1979 and 1984, Burnaby Council and staff were again busily working on plans for the Edmonds area. As mentioned in previous sections, the Social Credit Government of WAC Bennett had expressed interest to begin constructing the region’s first modern rapid transit system in the early 1980s. Through 1980, Burnaby Council began collaborating with the Greater Vancouver Regional District on possible transit routes between the two destinations everyone was sure that the system would span: Vancouver and New Westminster. Another expectation was that the system would occupy the former interurban right of way, then-owned by crown utility corporation, BC Hydro. Lastly, it was expected that the system would be completed by 1986, in time for British Columbia to host the 1986 Exposition on Transportation and Communication. Below is the LRT alignment as proposed by Burnaby in 1980.
It may be a bit difficult to spot, but the station that was intended for the Kingsway-Edmonds area was Rumble, chosen for its close proximity to the heart of the neighbourhood (we’ll talk about those other stations in the section on Metrotown). The map below left shows the proposed station footprint, compared with what the site looks like today in the Google Map.
As fellow Urban Studies graduate Jessica Stutt notes in her Master’s thesis on the technology choice behind ALRT, by 1981, the pace with which SkyTrain was being planned was so rapid and the process so centralized, that local municipalities had very little time to react. Even though the technology had changed from Light Rail Transit to Advanced Light Rail Transit, planners had made the most of it, anticipating the construction of an elevated station at Rumble. According to a detailed municipal staff report however, as system planning clipped along, Provincial officials quickly pushed through station alterations. In a bid to save costs, a station was instead proposed to be at-grade, a potentially problematic scenario for through movement on either side of the alignment.
By 1984, Rumble Station was abandoned entirely. In 1985, a municipal staff report appeared to indirectly suggest that planners had continued to play catch-up with on-the-fly ALRT construction plans. It appeared that in a further bid to achieve cost reductions, a straight stretch of track was selected as opposed to the Rumble curve. The Google Map below shows the present location of the SkyTrain Station, contrasted with the intended location, centre top.
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The technology change and resulting station location had posed a regrettable challenge for the Kingsway-Edmonds Area Plan. Planners had initially hoped that a transit alignment would serve as a catalyst to redevelop the auto-oriented Middlegate Shopping Centre and bring a modal shift towards transit. However, the location of a station at its present location required the need to revisit the Kingsway-Edmonds Plan quicker than staff had preferred.
Through their analysis, we also get a good sense of the relationship between Edmonds and the municipality’s established Town Centres:
[…] Council outlined the designated role of Middlegate as a Municipal sector centre (rather than as a regional sub centre as is the case with the Brentwood and Lougheed Mall Centres). This designation in part recognized the proximity of the Middlegate Centre to Metrotown and a sensitivity not to create a competitive climate between these two areas. As a result the Middlegate centre is the lowest order of the designated major Town Centres with its intended scale and nature of development relating to the needs of its particular sector of the Municipality (Burnaby, 1984).
So, we find that planners are interested in seeing the growth of Edmonds, but in so far as it would not stunt the development of Burnaby’s other Town Centres, and in particular, Metrotown. The relationship between Edmonds and Metrotown is significant, which we will revisit further below.
In addition to Middlegate, in early 1986, Dominion Glass, a large industrial tenant located on 4.2 hectares adjacent to the Edmonds SkyTrain Station vacated a site it had been held for the many decades. The image below is from 1989 aerial photography taken of the former Dominion Glass site. Note the Edmonds SkyTrain Station and bus loop.
This opportunity created the impetus for Council to examine opportunities to maximize densities within the Edmonds Town Centre area, launching the Edmonds Station Area Plan in 1987. The plan, however, faced surprise dramatic opposition by local residents.
In an area referred to as the Edmonds Triangle, established residents began to rally against Council’s seeming fixation with tall apartment buildings. In particular, a group of residents were concerned that proposed residential towers in the Edmonds Station Area Plan would create shadowing over their low-rise apartment buildings.
Despite resident opposition and Council’s attempts to appease residents by demonstrating that building shadows would not create significant shadowing, residents remained dissatisfied. Capitalizing on the opportunity to gather resident support during an election season, the Council opposition Burnaby Citizens’ Association, stood for residents’ rights to open consultation on such significant community plans. The headline below may have related to other sites around Burnaby, but it was typical of the kinds of stories that were covered around that year’s election campaign: the highlighting of differences in approach to highrises between the governing Burnaby Voters’ Association, and the opposition Burnaby Citizens’ Association (BCA).
As we’ll find in the next section, fractures in the governing Burnaby Voters’ Association contributed to their election loss, but the support of residents from Edmonds certainly also contributed to the BCA’s victory as well. The BCA won a comfortable majority within that election year. In early 1988, the new Council fulfilled their promise to residents, ensuring that highrise proposals within the Edmonds Station Area and particularly the Edmonds Triangle would be reviewed. Within months, the BCA majority Council stated that highrises within the Triangle would be banned entirely. That move though, did not necessarily mean that Council was prepared to dismiss the high density form entirely.
A new Town Centre for Burnaby & a new approach
In late 1987, one of the first order of business the new Council was the passage of the municipality’s first Official Community Plan, a recent Provincial requirement under the Municipal Act. For many municipalities within BC, the requirement may have seemed onerous, but for Burnaby, the process was a welcome opportunity for Burnaby planners to restate long-rang objectives that had been established many years earlier. As we saw earlier in the section on The Town Centre Model, the 1987 Official Community Plan (OCP) continued to crystallize the municipal vision for the Town Centre concept. At this time, given the potential opportunities within the neighbourhood, the Kingsway-Edmonds District Centre was brought into the fold, completing an urban structure comprised of four quadrants.
The 1987 OCP went into greater discussion on the Town Centre concept, commenting on how it was primarily a concept of nodal development, relying on varying hierarchies within a larger municipal urban structure. The document also reiterated earlier commitments to establishing a strong transit orientation within the four cores. But, the document did not go into specifics regarding the composition of each Town Centre – it left this heavy lifting to community consultations.
In previous sections on Lougheed and Brentwood, we saw that the most recent comprehensive plans in those Town Centres were created following a period of extensive public consultation. Through the documentation of those Town Centre plans, various credit is given to the Edmonds Town Centre process as providing the gold standard for community consultation. This was perhaps not surprising, given that Council had worked closely with residents prior to the 1987 election to ensure that their voices would be heard on major area plans.
In the interim between 1987 and 1993, planning staff had made several recommendations on enhancing lands within the Edmonds Town Centre area to deal with significant land opportunities as large, strategic properties came up for redevelopment within the neighbourhood. In 1993, one large property left vacant from the relocation of the South Burnaby High School resulted in a recommendation of increased residential density. That rezoning led to the demolition of the majority of the school buildings and construction of apartment high rise buildings. The two images below offer a comparison of this site using 1989 aerial photography and Google Maps.
Through the rezoning process, one school house building was preserved and renovated. The image below left shows how the South Burnaby Secondary School appeared shortly after its construction in around 1930. The image to the right is the modern Alan Emmott Centre: a re-purposing of the former school house into a multi-use community space.
While the rezoning of the old Burnaby South High School site was taking place, residents, Councillors, and planners were eyeing the Dominion Glass site as it sat vacant and waiting for a redevelopment of the Edmonds SkyTrain Station area. Through a 17-month long process spanning from 1993 to 1994, Council made every effort to engage with local residents on the future of the Edmonds Town Centre. A fourteen member Advisory Committee was struck in 1993. It was comprised of two Councillors, one School Trustee, and various local residents. After pouring over various concepts and visions, the Advisory Committee produced a brochure to help solicit public comments on proposed plan elements. In the end, the Committee touched over 200 local residents through facilitated forums and comments received from mail outs. Local media described the process as “an experiment intended to allow citizens to plan their own neighbourhood.” The first of its kind in the City, the process was lauded as a successful model for future citizen engagement.
Mayor Bill Copeland says the Edmonds plan “has turned out so well we see it as a launching pad for a city-wide program. It is truly democracy at work.
The citizens were architects of their own destiny.”
In September of 1994, resulting recommendations made by the Edmonds Advisory Committee, Council adopted the Edmonds Town Centre Plan. The plan outlined the comprehensive vision for how the Town Centre would develop into the future. It recognized two cores: one located around the Edmonds SkyTrain Station, and the other located at the intersection of Edmonds and Kingsway.
Departing from the rhetoric of the 1987 election, the Plan called for significant mixed-use high rise, high density development within these two cores. It was hoped that a mixture of retail, residential, and office would replace the outgoing industrial lands in each respective core and contribute towards making Edmonds a self-sufficient community. North of Kingsway, Edmonds Street was expected to become a secondary core, catering to more ‘funky’ locally-oriented shops.
The plan also placed a lot of emphasis on developing natural and pedestrian amenities. Because medium and low-rise residential multi-family units were also a part of the Edmonds Town Centre plan, family-supporting amenities were also considered an important aspect.
There were also various allowances for pedestrian connections and bicycle paths.
There was also a strong intent to preserve and enhance forested habitats and natural ravines. There were also statements to enhance social cohesion in the Town Centre by providing a mix of housing options, ensuring the creation of public spaces in new developments, and provisions to actively engage youth within the community.
In total, the plan called for an increase of 14,830 residential units over 7.08 hectares. It called for significant high rise office construction at Edmonds SkyTrain Station, accompanied by “restaurants, a medical clinic, stores, and other local services.” The Town Centre core at Kingsway and Edmonds was expected to be anchored by the redevelopment of the Middlegate Shopping Centre, future intended home of “a significant anchor store and major food store, as well as street-oriented retail shops as part of mixed-use redevelopments.”
Within a few short years of the Edmonds Town Centre Plan, a number of keynote developments kicked off. In 2003, the Middlegate Shopping Centre was demolished and re-branded as the Highgate Vilage. The redevelopment featured a major retail grocer tenant, and although earlier artistic renditions appeared to house some sort of high tech office firm, the space was occupied by a bingo hall for a number of years, and later by a fitness centre. One of the more unique aspects of Highgate Village is that its is an open space market. There is one retail corridor within the centre of the plaza, focused on a pedestrian-friendly open space, and one located on the development’s Kingsway face. In the rear of the development is a mixture of very high density residential developments and public parks. The image below left is from aerial photography of the Middlegate Shopping Centre taken in 1989, and is contrasted by current Google Map aerial photography.
Earlier, we looked at the former Dominion Glass lands, pictured below again for quick reference.
This site also became the subject of considerable redevelopment following adoption of the Edmonds Town Centre Plan. By 2006, a single development firm had acquired the site, and redeveloped it into a series of residential towers (see Google Map below). BC Hydro is the chief tenant surrounding the Edmond SkyTrain Station. In the early 1990s, BC Hydro constructed a major office tower at the station, located at the bottom right of the frame below. There has, however, been little activity on the remaining BC Hydro lands surrounding the SkyTrain Station.
As of the 2006 Census, residential development on the 4.2 hectare Dominion Glass site has become home to 1,150 residents. The development is connected by generous natural pathways and accessible to SkyTrain.
However, with the exception of one grocery store, there is very little other retail to speak of within the Edmonds SkyTrain Station area. Although this market appears to be currently under-served by local amenities, there is a good explanation for this evident lack of amenity.
In 1995, Burnaby’s Assistant Direct of Planning, Kenji Ito wrote a chapter in an anthology edited by long time Simon Fraser University Professor Leonard Evenden. Ito’s Chapter was titled, “Metrotown: A Time and a Place.” In that chapter, Ito discusses the unique relationship between Edmonds and Metrotown. Edmonds was historically a vibrant neighbourhood, but the relocation of Burnaby’s first municipal hall in 1953 and the termination of interurban service along the BC Parkway eventually kept development in Edmonds somewhat neutered. Another major factor behind the lacklustre development in Edmonds was related to the development of another Town Centre: Metrotown, situated over seven kilometres due west from the heart of Edmonds.
In the years since the adoption of the Edmonds Town Centre Plan, there has been considerable multifamily residential development, redevelopment, and infilling. In his chapter, Ito makes a rather interesting revelation for a City Staff member He states that Edmond Town Centre’s
recent growth in apartment development and by the establishment of the BC Hydro Headquarters complex, are partly attributable to its proximity to Metrotown.
There is no doubt that the development within Edmonds has been astounding. High rise residential towers have continued to sprout up in recent years, both in the Kingsway-Edmonds core, and within close proximity to the SkyTrain Station area. Through my thesis, I did a quantitative analysis of transit ridership within Edmonds Town Centre, and found that there was an extremely high prevalence of transit use for journey to work trips. However, there is a definite absence of significant or otherwise sufficient retail amenities for this massive population. More so, aside from the BC Hydro complex, there are very few high quality employment opportunities within Edmonds, creating a rather imbalanced jobs to residents ratio. This may all change in the future – there are very clear potential land opportunities both within the Edmonds SkyTrain Station area within the Kingsway-Edmonds corridor. So, can we say that Edmonds is an example of Town Centre policy failure, marked by residents who have very little option but to go outside of their immediate neighbourhood for daily needs? Althought there is obviously some truth to this, I would caution against such a broad assessment.
As we’ll find in the next section, the development of Metrotown is actually quite a complex story. As (now-retired) Kenji Ito noted, there is a very strong, even perhaps interdependent, relationship between Metrotown and Edmonds. Recall from above, that in 1984, planners indicated that they wanted to see the development of Kingsway-Edmonds, but there was a certain cautiousness about their wording. They wanted Middlegate to develop, but they also didn’t want it to develop too aggressively.
In the next section, we will find out how Metrotown came to be, and in the process, find out why planners were, at least at first, comfortable with permitting far more multifamily residential than any other zoning category within Edmonds.
>> Continue reading onto the next section: Metrotown>>