Revisiting the Heights

Confederation Park, Burnaby Heights, Friday morning

At the suggestion of a reader, I returned to Burnaby Heights this past week, five years after my first visit to the community.

Hastings Street in northwest Burnaby is the city’s most interesting commercial strip, with an array of ethnic food outlets, cafes and specialty shops. The urban trees have grown up quickly, providing cover for architectural flaws. The border with the City of Vancouver is just blocks away, with frequent bus service to downtown. Burnaby’s city government has laid on excellent services such as playing fields, an aquatic centre and a big library. All this makes a great foundation for an urban village, if you’re prepared for the heavy traffic and noise as you shop or stroll. Continue reading


Kingsway, looking west from Nelson, Burnaby, B.C.Metrotown, a square-mile precinct in the City of Burnaby, was conceived as a zone of medium-to-high density development. It’s well-served by transit, has a huge variety of services within a walkable radius, and an ethnically diverse population of 25,000 or more. Its arterial streets and indoor shopping don’t warm my heart, but who knows what tomorrow may bring?

The city’s area plan describes Metrotown as “a town centre serving the southeast quadrant” of a municipality of 225,000. This is too modest. Metrotown’s key property, The Metropolis at Metrotown, is Canada’s second-largest enclosed shopping centre, with vast caverns of free parking and rapid transit lines stopping at the door [by 2019, Metrotown has slipped to fifth place].  The Metrotowers are home to the regional government and regional transportation authorities. Transit service and a location just outside the City of Vancouver have made the precinct a magnet for towers; it is currently booming, perhaps the most active site for property development in the Lower Mainland. Continue reading

Hoping for the best in the Heights

The Heights village in Burnaby grew up along a streetcar line that was built during the Canadian land boom and crash of 1911-1912.  Great history, and some great little shops, some dating from the Italian immigration of the 1940s and 50s.  I’m sure people have fond memories of this place; I feel regret in producing reasons why it doesn’t seem to work as well as it could.

The nature of the building fronts is patchy, with a few moderately brutal 1970s and 1980s blocks. The City of Burnaby revised and strengthened  its plan for the section of Hastings Street between Boundary to Willingdon in 1992.  The village designation was extended four blocks to the east in 2008.  The key principle is to encourage mixed-use development on Hastings, with housing up and retail down.  But one street does not a village make; Albert Street, one block north, is part of the village plan, and it offers some housing choices, and there is a fine library and recreation centre close by, but otherwise the area streets seem frozen in single-family detached mode. Continue reading