Price Points – Visions of Metrotown

Yes, this is a vision of Burnaby’s Metrotown – from 1971.


Here’s the map of this region’s first purpose-built town centre.  And the view today:



The image at the top – so very 70s, rather like the first images of False Creek South, upscaled –  had been rendered by a Burnaby planner named Gerhard Sixta for a report he had written to the Burnaby Planning Department.  “Not a typical planning document,” says David Pereira, an SFU Urban Studies grad. “The 142 page tome, Urban Structure: A study of long range policies which affect the physical structure of an urban area, instead reads more like an instructional text book.”

That was actually an ambitious and atypical thing for a municipal planning department to do back in 1971 – but Burnaby was fully engaged in making the regional vision of town centres a local reality, and to do it first.  In the background, regional planners – Harry Lash, in particular – were fostering of a sense of regional perspective, among both politicians and public, through the mechanism of strategic planning.

David Pereira has captured a lot of this story.  And he has established a website that distills much of his academic thesis – and so it’s not light reading.  But it is fascinating look back at the last half century of planning in this region, and how events of recent memory fit in.

For those intrigued by how town centres came to be in Burnaby, this website is a gold mine, both of the planning and the politics involved.

David begins with an overview in his prologue, starting here.  And then proceeds to a three-part description of the town-centre model – starting here. 

By Part 3 he gets to the process that led to Metrotown, with a full description of Gerhard Sixta’s report, Urban Structure.

Sixta, by the way, got a lot of things right:

Throughout the text, Sixta discussed the vitality of areas and their ability to attract pedestrian activity during all times of the day… He imagined that some sort of high frequency rapid transit line would run through the core of these Metro Towns. He advocated for a high quality urban environment with strong variety and high amenity. He suggested that automobiles should be moved underground to accommodate the free-flow of pedestrians.

But he got one big thing wrong:

The most controversial locations were the southwest slope of Burnaby Mountain, and the environs around Deer Lake. The artist’s rendition below shows the Deer Lake proposal.



Citizens went ballistic at the proposal to urbanize the green heart of Burnaby.   And it didn’t make sense when considering soils and infrastructure.

But the planners moved swiftly, as David explains, to keep the idea of a densely designed and transportation-linked centre.

… planners recognized that while residents were weary of an increase in population, they were even wearier of spot-zoning, a practice that could potentially result in unwanted change within neighborhoods, such as apartments or commercial districts that could bring traffic into otherwise tranquil streets. Planners interpreted this as a victory for the Town Centre concept, citing that densities could instead be concentrated into defined areas of the municipality.

So they shifted their attention to ‘the Simpson Sears site ‘- which became the kernel of Metrotown.

 In July of 1974, Council passed two recommendations: to explore the creation of a conservation area on Burnaby Mountain, and to begin pursuing a development plan for the Simpson-Sears Town Centre, which had then been renamed the Kingsway-Sussex Town Centre.

In 1966, the Simpson-Sears Town Centre, Lougheed Town Centre and Brentwood Town Centre were all designated together. But, in 1974, Lougheed and Brentwood were dismissed as candidates:

… (they had) tended to develop into auto-oriented regional shopping centres which presently have limited capabilities to develop into a Metrotown with the aforementioned characteristics

Nonetheless, the municipality held on to Brentwood and Lougheed for consideration, waiting for the opportunity to redevelop them to more reflect the concepts floated in Urban Structure.

More on that to come.



  1. I’m unfortunately not that familiar with Burnaby. Could you post a gmaps streetview link for somewhere Jacobs-liveable? A cluster of short blocks of interesting things. Thanks.

  2. Is the first render perhaps what was intended for Kingsway and why there pedestrian bridge ramps (to nowhere til the Best Buy brdige was built) exist?
    Did the Deer Lake plan come before or after the municipal complex was built there? That would explain why Burnaby City Hall and the Law Courts are in the middle of nowhere.

  3. Hi Ron,

    To answer your first question: the rendering at the top of the page was intended to be a theoretical mock-up of all the elements that Burnaby Planners at the time believed should be placed into these Town Centres. It was never an actual blueprint. It was more of a dreamscape, if you will. To find out more about which elements were planned for Metrotown, and why they didn’t make the cut, stay tuned for a future update on the story behind Metrotown.

    To answer your second question: “Urban Structure” (from where both renderings come from) was written by a staff member in Burnaby’s Planning Department to showcase the Metrotown concept’s potential. The author had hopes of producing this Metrotown in the Deer Lake area, though my research suggests that not many others in Burnaby’s Planning Department shared this vision. Shortly after the publication was completed, the Planning Department on a whole reminded the public that the municipality was never really interested in developing Deer Lake (from my research, it appears the site was never a part of official municipal plans). So – the short answer is: one can only imagine that the plan was to always have those key facilities in the centre of the municipality, intentionally outside the Town Centres to (as I mention on the website) avoid Town Centre envy and a potential future municipal schism!

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