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A Look at the Evolution of Burnaby’s Four Town Centres

Metropolis at Metrotown
Metrotown, currently the biggest of the four town centres, is in the city’s southwest quadrant and home to the Burnaby Board of Trade, Hilton Vancouver Metrotown, Stantec, KPMG, Metropolis at Metrotown, Rogers Communications (call centre operations) and Taiga Building Products (head office). Also located in this quadrant is Pacific Blue Cross, one of B.C.’s leading benefits providers for over 75 years.

Brentwood Town Centre
Brentwood Town Centre is in the city’s northwest quadrant and is home to AMEC Foster Wheeler, Appia Development, Bosa Development Corporation, Brentwood Town Centre, CFT Engineering, CMW Insurance Services, Fraser Health/Vancouver Coastal Health – Collaboration Centre, Greater Vancouver Credit Union (head office), Happy Planet Foods, Rick’s Family Restaurants (headquarters), Travelers Financial Group (head office) and Whole Foods.

Lougheed Town Centre
Lougheed Town Centre, in the northeast quadrant, is home to numerous community-serving businesses as well as the Lougheed Town Centre mall.

Edmonds Town Centre
Edmonds Town Centre, in the southeast quadrant, is home to BC Hydro (head office), G&F Financial (corporate office) and numerous community-serving businesses.

Raincatcher is a water collecting public art sculpture proudly displayed at the front entrance of Edmonds Community Centre

Town Centres
Each of the four town centres has buildings, services and streetscapes that speak to the character of each respective neighbourhood

The city’s town centres—Metrotown, Brentwood, Edmonds and Lougheed—provide office, retail and professional services to Burnaby’s local businesses and residents

While it may be a stretch on some levels to compare Burnaby’s four town centres to New York City’s boroughs, they are completely alike in this regard: as with Manhattan, Brooklyn and New York’s other classic neighbourhoods, Burnaby’s Metrotown, Lougheed, Brentwood and Edmonds town centres are each destinations unto themselves, self-sustaining and independent, yet sharing common services, social policies and amenities.

It could also be argued that the town centres share at least some of the razzle-dazzle for which The Big Apple is famous. Take Metrotown, whose famous mall has redefined what a shopping/entertainment experience should be. And of course the town centres share New York’s vibrant ethnic diversity, as anyone who has wandered through the lively and colourful Brentwood town centre can attest.

Constant evolution is required for any town centre to thrive, and on this score, Edmonds (located close to the New Westminster border) recently transformed into a distinct area of residential high rises, restaurants and retail outlets, cumulatively creating a pleasing urban vibe.

Meanwhile, 72 acres of the Lougheed Town Centre is currently the subject of an ambitious redevelopment that calls for the construction of as many as 30 residential towers, and residential and commercial space mostly clustered near SkyTrain’s Lougheed Town Centre Station.

Brentwood is undergoing a massive overhaul that, when completed in the fall of 2018, will make it one of the largest urban destinations in North America, featuring a luxury retail zone, fashion anchor stores, new restaurants and a cinema—all in an indoor-outdoor configuration located around the Brentwood SkyTrain station.

As for Metrotown, it was put on the world map decades ago due to its transformation into a shopping and business mecca (the community plan for Metrotown was adopted by City Council in August of 1977), and today it is widely considered to be the crown jewel of Burnaby’s town centres. Shoppers and tourists alike regard Metrotown as a spectacular destination that would take considerable effort to improve upon; but evolution is occurring here too on a large scale, as witnessed several years ago when Sears Canada announced plans to carry out a $1 billion redevelopment project on an 8.9 acre parcel at Metropolis at Metrotown.



The project will significantly expand retail and commercial options in the immediate vicinity and add as many as seven new skyscrapers to an already glittering skyline (prior to Sears’ announcement and just a quick walk to the west, the Station Square development has already transformed a chunk of real estate into a high-density neighbourhood with five residential towers ranging from 38 to 52 storeys).

“Not only has our focus on town centre development created spaces that allow all of our citizens to live, work, learn and play close to home, very importantly, it has also enabled the continued preservation of most of our city’s treasured green spaces and historic neighbourhoods,” says Mayor Derek Corrigan. 

As defined on the City of Burnaby’s website, the town centres “offer a full range of housing and services. [They] help to provide complete communities within each quadrant of the city, providing residents with an option to walk, bike, take transit or drive to a local destination where they can access the mix of goods and services to meet their daily needs. 

“All of Burnaby’s four town centres provide office, retail and supportive professional services. All are served by rapid transit. All provide an abundance of higher density housing opportunities,” adds Mayor Corrigan.

Like so many other aspects of Burnaby’s infrastructure, the town centres are a product of painstaking design. The city worked early on to establish the four quadrants and flesh out their own identities (the construction of shopping malls were initially responsible for the rise of each centre, with businesses and new residences closely following).

According to the 1996 Greater Vancouver Regional district’s Livable Region Strategic Plan, the intent of each centre was to have a core surrounded by residential areas easily accessible by transit, predominantly the Expo and Millennium Line SkyTrains. That concept is more closely adhered to than ever today because it has proven to foster the vibrancy every city most desires, and discourage urban sprawl and decay.

“With the Livable Region Strategic Plan in place, we knew that we could count on rapid transit coming to key locations in our city,” says Mayor Corrigan. “That enabled us to focus on creatively working with the community to develop the Burnaby town centres that we see today—town centres that thrive because of their proximity to rapid transit. We took full advantage of the development opportunities presented by SkyTrain.”

What is especially impressive about the spectacular evolution of Burnaby’s town centres is that it has happened in a relatively short span of time, at least in terms of formally recognizing these regions as urban cores. The origin of their design standards (which took into account everything from buildings and services to streetscapes) was Council’s adoption of the Supplementary Community Benefit Bonus Density Policy in November of 2010, with the intent being to enhance the livability of the city and make each centre environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

More recently, in 2015, new design standards approved by city council “ensure that development in all town centres incorporates attractive and sustainable street and sidewalk design, and that they are built in consideration of people of all ages and abilities,” describes Mayor Corrigan.

But just as New York has consistently reinvented itself throughout the decades to emerge as fresher and more appealing than ever in the 21st century, Burnaby’s town centres in 2016 are poised to achieve new heights of desirability.

The Lougheed Town Centre Core Area Master Plan covers a 72-acre area. The Master Plan calls for 30 towers that are relatively tall for regional standards (heights could reach up to 65 storeys) and will have over 11.1 million square feet of floor area. Tower podiums and commercial-only buildings will hold at least 3.1 million square feet of retail, commercial, office and entertainment space. Most will be developed by Shape Properties on the Lougheed Mall site. These will be complemented by new facilities: a library, pool and recreation centre.

Many of the redevelopment’s retail shops and restaurants will be located along a 320-metre covered outdoor pedestrian-only galleria, lined by a wall of podium buildings; this “spine” will directly connect to a SkyTrain and bus Transit Plaza. There will also be a strong retail presence along the north-south Grand Promenade, which also starts at the Transit Plaza and will be designated as the neighbourhood’s main “festival street.”

With other retail components, a 1.6-acre Central Open Space, a linear waterway and greenway, and pedestrian-only and cycling pathways, the redeveloped Lougheed Town Centre is expected to employ at least 5,200 people and provide living spaces for up to 20,000 people.

Recognizing the plans for Lougheed, the City of Burnaby and Shape Properties have just won a significant award from the Planning Institute of British Columbia, the Award for Excellence in Planning.

As locals anticipate these spectacular new elements, construction is well underway on the first phase of the Brentwood Town Centre redevelopment, another Shape Properties project. The 28-acre shopping mall site will accommodate 6,000 residential units within 11 residential towers, and 250 stores and restaurants in over 1.1 million square feet of retail space.

Shape Properties’ executive vice president Darren Kwiatkowski promises that Brentwood will feature considerably more restaurants than are typically found in shopping centres in Canada, to acknowledge that malls are increasingly becoming social and entertainment destinations. And because Brentwood is easily accessible by car, this development is expected to attract shoppers from Vancouver, Coquitlam, New Westminster and even North Vancouver via the Second Narrows Bridge.

The city has also announced plans for construction of a new recreation centre for Brentwood.

In addition to the ongoing high-density development in Metrotown, the fifth city-owned, non-profit office space, the Pioneer Community Resource Centre was recently opened. This facility was obtained through Burnaby’s Community Benefit Bonus Policy that gives developers the opportunity to add density to a building site, in exchange for contributions toward valuable community amenities such as child care centres, affordable housing units and non-profit spaces. The city also plans to construct a Performing Arts Centre in the near future, further enhancing entertainment and cultural opportunities.

As for Edmonds, it “is also thriving, with a mixed-use community proposed for the Edmonds and Kingsway area,” says Mayor Corrigan. “Complementing this, the first phase of the Southgate Neighbourhood will move forward in 2016. Ultimately, this 48-acre neighbourhood will include a new five-acre park and will reflect the citizen input that is shaping its character and design. We’re also planning to construct two ice skating rinks in the Edmonds area.

“After so many years of planning and envisioning Burnaby’s natural role as the vibrant centre of Metro Vancouver, it is gratifying to see it all coming together,” says Mayor Corrigan. “Our enviable natural attributes are now complemented by thriving town centres that are becoming more attractive, people-friendly, economically diverse and culturally dynamic with each passing day. Our city’s great past has set the stage for a promising future!”