Here’s a fun way for an urbanist to spend an afternoon: choose a destination somewhere out in the region along a transit line (preferably to a new development) and then simply observe what you see along the way and back.  If it’s in a fast-changing part of the region, like Burnaby along the Millennium Line, you may be surprised as I was this weekend.

In order to justify the priorized construction of two SkyTrain lines, Burnaby committed itself to extensive development in its station areas – and, boy, did they ever.  Even before construction of the Expo line to Metrotown:

However, unlike Metrotown (a linear regional centre still rooted in mid-20th century Motordom), the stations of the Millennium Line illustrate lessons of Vancouverism from the last decades of the century.  (Hey, they even have separated bike routes!)

This is where you find the Grand Bargain in its most recent and extravagant iteration: whole new districts and skylines emerging out of the suburban forest, running through the subdivisions, auto-strips and industrial parks that edge Burnaby Mountain with SFU on top.

It’s like the Burnaby planners and developers said, ‘Okay Vancouver, we’ll take the lessons from your megaprojects and one-up you (especially in height).’

And the scale has certainly changed, nowhere more than at Brentwood with its 50+-storey towers, set in pedestrian-priority spaces with high-design eye candy.



Let’s call it Burnabyism.

It’s what’s happening (with a bit too much repetition) all along the line.


Recognize any of this?


This is just along North Road / Burquitlam – eventually to have a population approaching the West End.

Check it out now if you want to see the last remnants of Motordom before it’s all unrecognizable – as Burnabyism transforms any remaining parking lots and single-storey buildings.


Then ask yourself this: is there any suburban municipality in any region in North America (or the world) that has done transit-oriented development on this scale?  (And how do you measure the return on investment of the Millennium Line as a consequence?)

It’s also another reason to watch out for the ‘Boundary Road Hang-up’ that Vancouverites have when discussing the housing crisis in their 44 square miles west of that arterial – as though the problem of supply has to be addressed all within its built-out fabric and anything to the east doesn’t really count.  Reality: the City of Vancouver cannot solve the challenge of supply without the City of Burnaby.

The station areas of the two municipalities function as one.  Gilmore is as much a Vancouver neighbourhood as Joyce/Collingwood’s centre of gravity is Metrotown. SkyTrain is what connects them with no respect to a dotted line that some 19th-century surveyor ran down the eponymously named Boundary.

Indeed, Burnabyism is just the latest upgrade of the Vancouverism software.

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  1. I remember the heated debates in Edmonton over TOD along the future West LRT at Stony Plain: would they allow 4 storeys or 5? Pearls were clutched.

  2. And Burnabyism seems to perpetuate the worst facet of Vancouverism in the denial of the middle market. Sure a few townhomes here or there are built but their relative market scarcity ensures they are 95% as bad as single family homes in terms of affordability. Burnabyism also suffers the same myopathy as Vancouverism in terms of industrial land use. Both tend to ignore industrial land use plays any sort of factor because the economy is based on residential real estate being a financial instrument for investment and not a consumable good for the masses to use. The true intrigue lies south of the Fraser where there is some attempt to accommodate the middle of the market…but more so it seems out of reluctance than any sort of enlightened vision. How far can we afford to strangle the economic vitality of Metro Vancouver on the back of the pursuit of endless economic growth based on residential real estate being an investment asset versus actually looking at the real needs of the actual people needed to make a real economy work? It seems we have embarked on a very ill advised experiment waiting to be called out only to respond with righteous indignation on the laziness of essential workers when the grand bargain is found to be the grand sham. Let them eat cake indeed.

  3. The curious thing about Burnaby and Coquitlam high rises is that they aren’t really that dense in terms of FSR. Coquitlam towers are something like 4.5 – 5.5 FSR depending on the exact zone and rental.

    Prior to the IZ requirements and additional allowable rental density, residential density in Burnaby maxed out at 5.0 FSR, so most of the built high rises you see are 5 plus whatever bit of a commercial was built. Some projects on Kingsway are a bit denser of course with more commercial density.

    Compare this to Vancouver where 6 storey buildings on arterials can hit mid- to high-3 FSR!

  4. As my home for the past 55 years, the truly progressive happenings within the City of Burnaby puts to shame the continued NONSENSE within CoV boundary. How is it possible that one of the busiest transit interchanges west of Toronto, and where the Expo and Millennium Line converge in a primarily low-density area, remains a desolate wasteland?

    I get the challenging displacement issue around all that affordable wood-frame rentals in the immediate vicinity of the Broadway-Commercial station. Yet, this could be addressed with creativity and the folks at Cambie & Broadway possibly knocking some developer heads together. But an entire generation has gone by since Millennium opened, and what CoV has accomplished here, or even put together a reasonable planning direction, is nothing short of pathetic.

    But alas, Burnaby benefits from what CoV is unable to accomplish. Moreover, few years ago at a B.C. Sustainable Energy Assoc. conference where I was the Moderator, in my opening remarks I pointed out that sprawl ONLY happens because the core parts of the region that are highly served by both rail and wheel transit FAIL to densify fast-enough. So all that squealing from the “chattering class” about those nasty suburbs demanding more roads, well, reality is that provincial politicians, including the current NDP crew, will deliver because the votes are moving in that direction. (btw…did you hear the news that by 2040 the City of Surrey will be about the size of CoV, and outpace by 2050 – maybe time we should re-consider the region’s name to Surrey-Vancouver?)

    And transportation planning demands truly long-term thinking, so Kudos to the design team that facilitated the Lougheed Station on North Road to easily connect to the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam. The Lougheed-North Road area will eventually become a key center in the region because of easy fixed rail transit connection west to Vancouver, south to New Westminster/Surrey, and east to the TRI-Cities. And who would have thought that on the eastern boundary of Burnaby, the density would reach that of CoV west-end? Maybe the Province & Feds need to put more attention into these regional centers that are actually getting built.

    Thanks Gordon for putting this piece forward, which clearly points out that good stuff is happening beyond the CoV boundary.

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