The great BurnaBOOM! took off in the ‘50s, as Willingdon Heights came to model the suburban ideal: a neatly gridded neighborhood of wide streets, tidy flower gardens, and modest single-family bungalows. To some extent, it is still that—but so much more.
Lee-Ann Garnett, Burnaby’s Deputy Director of Planning and Building, tells the evolving story of Burnaby housing through the eyes of Albert and Clara: an archetypal blue-collar couple who leave the prairies after the war to settle in Burnaby and live the Canadian dream. Eventually they are joined by Gord from Grand Forks and Sue at SFU, who settle into affordable three-storey walkups. Then comes SkyTrain and skyscrapers; immigrant families and tech entrepreneurs; condos, and a real town centre. And yet the single-family paradigm still maintains a tight grip, with density (‘compaction’) a dirty word capable of inciting City Hall protests to this day.
How will Burnaby strike it’s Grand Bargain: providing housing for all, while keeping Albert and Clara—and their recently returned grandchildren—happy?
Spoiler alert: by legislating 20% of all new development as rental units and 20% of those units below median market rental rates, plus introducing some of the most stringent rental assistance and tenant protection schemes in Canada, Burnaby has managed to double its rental housing supply since 2018. Clearly, the BurnaBOOM is just beginning.
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