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.
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.