August 18, 2021

Vancouver Versus Burnaby: Selling Place & Context, Or Towers Above Clouds?

Gordon Price  has been writing about Burnabyism and how the Grand Bargain is being enacted, with point towers on podiums providing accommodation close to shopping, buses and rapid transit. Burnaby has towers that are higher, shinier, and more glossy than Vancouver’s, and some would argue much more accessible to consumers.

To quote Gordon: “Indeed, Burnabyism is just the latest upgrade of the Vancouverism software”. He’s talking about the point tower on podium model, but also how there’s an embrace of towers and form near rapid transit that is different from Vancouver’s. Of course many of Vancouver’s towers are in areas that are already built out, and like a brand new dental implant designed to be more contextual and in situ.

Burnaby took a different approach: the municipality did not plunder single-family areas, but plucked industrial and three storey walk up apartment areas  situated near rapid transit stations

Evocative journalist and photo documenting Christopher Cheung at The Tyee  recently produced this fascinating array of photos showing the juxtaposition of Vancouver and Burnaby towers with the single family residences that surround them.

Image by Christopher Cheung


Chris says it best:  “Burnaby’s growth strategy is to channel density around its four town centres, leaving single-family neighbourhoods virtually untouched. It means those homeowners won’t be pissed off, but industrial land and cheap rental apartments are lost in the process.”

If it looks like there is no context, that is partially right, as Burnaby developers are creating their own.

That shows  in the marketing too when you look at the ads for places in Vancouver and the new brochures coming out for Burnaby’s Concord Metrotown’s Sky House.

Here is what Vancouver developers are highlighting. It’s all about the location and the view, access to mountains and the city featuring very prominently in the background.

There’s Coal Harbour’s Fifteen Fifteen, which is selling the idea of “three dimensional living”. It features views of the city, gives a sense of location, and entices you to sign up for “exclusive updates”. A photo is below.

Here’s the one for Block Residences in Vancouver below, and you can take a look at the little video for it here. What are they featuring in the video? There’s a glass of liquor, glimpses of the city, two smiling people, a couple in the alley, a candy apple red older Alfa Romeo, and a guy walking his dog.

And then we get to the new advertisements coming out for Burnaby’s Concord Metrotown and we get this:


As part of Sky Park  this “Grand Tower” will be the tallest building in the Province and be “an iconic addition to Burnaby’s skyline”.  It is close to Metrotown and to transit. It should have fabulous views. But that is not what they are selling.  In the “taller, bigger, better” department at 755 feet in height and 65 stories, this is nearly 100 feet taller than Vancouver’s Shangri-La building in Vancouver.

Tall is in.

If you take a look at the image above and on their website the developer is selling “living above the clouds”. Sadly in this very hot summer with wildfires that have devastated communities and forests, the image is not one of ethereal “other place” but more evocative of the climate emergency being surrounded by wood smoke. It makes you kind of nervous.

Concord has already sold out the West and Central Towers in this Sky Park and are now selling more in this Grand Tower. But access to shops, services, transit should be just as important as selling the biggest and tallest moniker.

You can get a better feel for the views and context of the Grand Tower in the YouTube video below produced by Concord that does a fly through in one of the two bedroom units.


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  1. The views of the clouds may also be a consequence of Burnaby not having the water views that Vancouver does.
    If you look at the marketing materials for the crop of shorter, 40-50-ish storey Vancouver towers around Hornby & Pacific (Burrard Place, Vancouver House, Grosvenor Pacific, 1335 Howe) they also have the [lower] sky-high views, but have the benefit of the water views.
    It may be a marketing ploy to remove geographic context rather than showing the water (or downtown Vancouver) being in the far off distance.

  2. There is a certain fear conjured by the image ‘living above the clouds’ because scientists know such a life style also comes at extreme environmental expense in terms of carbon emissions to construct, to operate, to maintain, and then to commute to employment somewhere else. Every large city on the planet is building a similar development model in spite of warnings to the contrary by the UN Panel on Climate Change. We all need to stop and consider better ways of employing ourselves, feeding, clothing and housing ourselves, other than what we are doing today, better ways meaning ways that do not produce carbon emissions.

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