It’s great to see some thoughtful responses to what is now the first post on the idea of Burnabyism: how the municipality pioneered and fostered the growth in regional and municipal town centres, building on both the Livable Region Plan vision from the 1970s and the techniques and designs of Vancouverism from the 1980s and 90s, using the tower highrise as a building block of transit-oriented station-area development – a very high highrise in Burnaby’s case.
Coincidentally, the Daily Hive has just updated another example of towers on steroids:
‘Highrise tower’ is of course a trigger phrase, turning discussion of urban form into the defects of density above the tree line.
So it always has been in Vancouver, at least since the 1960s, when the concrete jungle of West End rental tower blocks (very much back in favour) was massively rejected in the early 70s, ending the construction of highrises in the city until the condo boom started in the late 80s. (Some trace the current rental housing crisis in the City of Vancouver to that decision.) But it was also in that time that Burnaby adopted the tower form for the apartment district that eventually became known as Metrotown with the arrival of SkyTrain.
Folks, this is not just about height; that’s just a question of scale. It’s primarily about density, mix and design of public space within walkable distance of rapid-transit stations. Other parts of the region make difference choices with respect to scale – like Richmond, which because of airport constraints sticks to a medium-rise flat-top form:
Or what Surrey proposes in Fleetwood with the extension of the Expo Line. The Hive again:
But the ideas behind what became known as Vancouverism in the late 20th-century was the same regardless of building form: high density, mixed use, great public spaces and transport choices set into a verdant, resilient landscape. Now we may debate the issues missed or disregarded like affordability and sustainability, but the debate over height never goes away. And it’s true, we don’t need highrises to get density or sustainability, as this study (which Sandy will love) reveals:
Researchers at CU Boulder are part of a newly published study that finds that low-rise, high-density environments like those found in Paris are the optimal urban form when looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over their whole life cycle.
Sandy and I have debated the Paris model in Chatbox – but it’s not in our tradition of the Garden City. We want our lawns! And access to those distant views that define our identity.
Secondly, if you think we have a shortage of townhouses, duplexes and small apartment blocks that look like big houses, the market and eastern municipalities agree with you.
But this is not what you would do with the land within walking distance of a SkyTrain stop. In ‘traditional’ cities like Vancouver it’s for the next ring out and beyond – but it will be incremental and too slow to provide supply on the scale needed to accommodate current demand.
Also: the Grand Bargain, which Burnaby has scrupulously maintained.
The Bargain has essentially worked so well that politicians across the spectrum have concluded that the political capital which would have to be spent to change scale and character of so-called single-family neighbourhoods wouldn’t deliver a return in the way of supply or affordability to justify the political cost. Hence even more motivation to amp up the density in the station areas.
See above. Way above.