The Town Centre Model: Part 2

As we have discovered, the concept of a regional urban containment policy of mixed-use centres existed long before the Towards an Apartment Location Policy was introduced to Burnaby in 1964. Furthermore, the very idea of regional cooperation was a challenging feat, as noticed in the various rejections of regional planning documents. This tenuous reality was no less the case in Burnaby, as we found in the prologue, where I documented the dramatic events leading to the hiring of a new Planner for the municipality. In 1964, planning prevailed, and with that, the embrace of the concepts in Towards an Apartment Location Policy. But as we find below, planners did not just apply this policy – they took ownership over it, adding a sophistication and depth that went far beyond the regional document.

A Burnaby Model

The LMPRB’s Towards an Apartment Location Policy recognized that Burnaby was already shifting from single family construction to apartment construction. However, regional planners were concerned that there was no clear municipal policy regulating the location of these developments. Given this reality, it was advised that the municipality adopt a system where different building types could be focused in similar areas. Regional planners thus recommended that the municipality adopt a tiered system, whereby certain building types and aminities would be co-located so as provide a synergy of uses. The new structure would also offer a more efficient way of utilizing municipal and regional resources. The three tiers that were recommended were:

  1. the Neighbourhood level
  2. the Community level
  3. the City level

The document distinguished between these three levels according to how frequently people would need to access basic goods and services. The Neighborhood level represented a smaller, more locally specific area that would provide only essential goods and services – think convenience stores. The Community level would cater to people’s ‘weekly needs’, containing “two or three supermarkets.” The most senior tier, the City level would represent:

the most major focus of population and activity, providing a wide range of specialty shops, one or two departments stores, and the full range of civic, recreational, cultural, and office facilities normally associated with such population of the 100,000 – 200,000 order, depending on its attractive power and the income level of its population. (LMRPB, 1964: 7)


Burnaby’s Apartment Studies took these concepts a step further, instead identifying four distinct tiers:

  1. Neighbourhood
  2. Community
  3. District
  4. Town Centre

Going beyond the hierarchical form, municipal planners also specified an interactional relationship between with each tier. Below I have provided descriptions cribbed from Apartment Studies, along with pictures demonstrating what this would look like.

A Neighbourhood was centred around an elementary school, contained a small playground, a church, and a few local stores:

A Community was composed of 3 to 4 neighborhoods, a junior high school, play areas, and a small supermarket.

The next two tiers seem to have replaced the LMRPB’s ‘City level’.

A District was composed of 2 to 3 communities, a senior high school, a district park, and play field facilities, and more extensive retail outlets.

The Town Centre was distinct from the District, but not quite a City level formation either. As the following definition states, the District and Town Centres were complimentary, yet different:

The high density “town centres” […], a major focus of population and community activity, would desirably include a complete cross section of commercial facilities as well as a full range of cultural and recreational activity expected by an urban population. In addition, an extensive range of residential accommodation would be provided with easy access to well developed industrial areas and places of employment. […] The “district centres” would supplement the major “town centres” and would provide convenience [local] shopping and a range of community facilities to meet the needs of the surrounding residential districts as well as a fairly wide variety of residential accommodation in close proximity to the centre. (Parr, 1966: 2-3)

Towards an Apartment Location Policy suggested that the levels could be achieved in certain areas throughout the municipality. Burnaby planners took this a step further – they mapped specific areas to be included within this new structure. Below for example, we see the Lyndhurst-Burquitlam (later named Lougheed) Town Centre proposal from 1966. As we move through each section, we will find that these plans were replicated for each Town Centre, along with the other tiers (neighbourhood, community, district). These maps demonstrate that these were very specific and contained areas.

As we’ll find later, these boundaries have changed over time, but ultimately, those changes were relatively minor, largely preserving the same central areas from the original plans. More importantly, the concept stuck. And, as we’ll find throughout the sections on each of the Town Centres, these clear plans offered a solid foundation on which to refine and create future plans upon. But beyond the Town Centres, the plans were really part of an over arching municipal structure that would remain as policy over time. For example, the following diagram, from the 1987 Burnaby Official Community Plan, reiterated the same hierarchy as we saw from the Apartment Studies above.

Selecting Town Centres was done by a rational process. Each Town Centre was specifically chosen for a key set of characteristics. The first and foremost of these was based  on an observation of current development trends. Knowing where an agglomeration of apartment construction was occuring helped to predict future development interest. Also, planners found that the soil morphology of various parts of the municipality lent to more development over time in areas with stable soils versus areas with poor soil stability and steep slopes. Railway and highway infrastructure was also seen as important contributing aspects. Although transit later became integral to the Town Centre concept, it was not during the incpetion, which followed the dismantling of the interurban and preceded significant rapid transit investment.

Planners eventually settled on three Town Centres. Brentwood in the northwest of the municipality was already a focal point of some apartment construction and the region’s first large shopping centre. In the vicinity of the Lyndhurst-Burquitlam Districts in the northeast, investors were keen to begin subdividing lots in what would later be referred to as Lougheed. In the southwest on a stable plateau with unencumbered views, the Simpson-Sears area (which would eventually become Metrotown) was also beginning to attract attention as apartment complexes were being constructed in an area where large industrial tenants were slowly vacating. The map below left, from the 1966 Apartment Study, shows the proposed apartment areas, and the map below right shows the intended designation of these respective areas. In the southwest, the Edmonds area received District status owing to the large presence of industrial tenants, though the area was recognized as a likely future development candidate, owing to it’s location as a gateway into New Westminster.

While designating th Town Centres, planners voiced concerns that these distinct Town Centres may, one day, lead to a schism in the municipality. For example, the northeast sector may more closely relate to its local environs rather than the whole of Burnaby – leading to the threat of a new municipality centered around the Lougheed Town Centre. Conversely, placing much needed civic amenities in one Town Centre over one the others could lead to amenity envy. To avoid these issues, planners recommended focussing investments into a grand civic complex in the centre of the municipality and well outside of the Town Centres. Today, this complex contains numerous considerable natural park assets, heritage facilities including the region’s largest Heritage Village Museum, an Arts and Entertainment Venue, and the City Hall. The municipality is also very active in purchasing additional private lands to absorb into the area’s public space inventory.
View Larger Map

Within the Apartment Studies, the various hierarchies of development also required densities specific to their intended designation. And so, during this time, municipal planners also updated the municipality’s zoning regulations.

These FARs were determined by surveying zoning regulations in other municipalities, though the task surely proved difficult as many municipalities still lacked these types of zoning guidelines. For each zoning category, planners also discussed typical types of residents in each zone. In the high density zoning category, they envisioned bachelor and one bedroom apartments. For medium densities, they imagined occupants to be single people, couples, and very young families. For RM1, garden apartments designed for family living were recommended, as this type relates well to parks, schools, and local shopping facilities. For the high density category, it was intended that high rise apartments would be located closer to the Town Centre core, providing a

necessary population to support a concentration of higher density commercial development and make feasible the location of other facilities that will be frequented by large numbers of people (Parr, 1966: 3).

Medium densities conversely, would typically be located near district or community centres, while garden apartments would be permissible at the neighbourhood level. We can see this typology, at least between high density and medium density in the Lyndhurst-Burquitlam (Lougheed) Town Centre plan above. Below is an image of the guidelines proposed for one particular Community Centre on Hastings Street in the northern area of the municipality.

And here is what that area looks like today:
View Larger Map

Upzoning sections of the municipality however, was not enough to entice development. In 1969, upon reflecting on the lack of sufficient private market uptake from the 1966 plans, planners noted the following:

The absence of high rise (RM5) developments in Burnaby in the past has been apparently largely due to the reluctance of mortgage companies to move from the established areas where high rise apartments have been successfully located. Apartment developers are generally more interested in central areas that can provide a full range of services, as well as many other advantages that would ensure high rent levels (e.g. proximity to places of employment, entertainment, shopping and cultural facilities, etc.)
These are the factors which have encouraged higher density apartments to concentrate in such areas as the West End and Kerrisdale in Vancouver, and in portions of New Westminster and West Vancouver. (Parr, 1969: 8)

But, how could Council increase the attractiveness of these areas that had no previous private market interest? – by enhancing controls and increasing design standards:

[…] governing of usable pedestrian open space, landscaping and screening, building design and off-street parking. These are the elements which determine, to a large extent, the success or failure of a particular development in relation to the surrounding area, as well as to the environmental needs of the people who occupy it. (Parr, 1969: 10)

In order to obtain greater control over the urban realm, the Planning Department pressed Council to establish design panels, and insisted that developers produce scale models of proposals to assist Council and observers to make better informed decisions around neighborhood character and complement.

The Apartment Studies of 1966 and 1969 kicked off a planning legacy that guided planning policy and development in the municipality. Over the following decades, these documents informed what the municipality termed ‘Community Plans’: documents that provided official guideline statements for various neighbourhoods, well before Official Community Plans were made mandatory by provincial legislation in 1987. Prior to that time however, two other important documents would be produced that would continue to refine the Town Centre model.

>>Continue reading, The Town Centre Model ~ Part 3>>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *