I’ll be hosting a ‘Philosopher’s Cafe’ tonight:

Burnaby Public Library  – 7 pm
Bob Prittie  Metrotown Branch, 6100 Willingdon Avenue
Free admission. Co-sponsored by the Burnaby Public Library.

Subject, appropriately, is “Does Metrotown Work?”



Does Metrotown work?

Burnaby was the first municipality to make a major commitment to increasing density. With the arrival of SkyTrain, Metrotown has grown dramatically, but does it work? What are Metrotown’s virtues and challenges, and how can it get better in the future?

Joining me will be David Pereira, an SFU Urban Studies graduate student, who has studied the background of Metrotown – and provided some helpful notes on its complicated history.

Here they are, below the break.

The Establishment of Town Centres

  • 1966 Apartment Study
    • City of Burnaby designates three town centres:
      Lougheed, Brentwood, and Kingsway Sussex/ Simpson Sears


The Recognition for one single superior Town Centre

  • 1971 Urban Structure
    • theoretical discussion on the importance of controlling sprawl
    • borrowed ideas from other New Town plans that were being discussed throughout major municipalities within the western world
      (Australia, North America, Europe)
    • suggested that the western shores of Deer Lake would be the most optimal placement for Burnaby’s Metrotown


The Designation of Kingsway-Sussex as a Metrotown

  • 1974 March The Public Meetings Phase One
    • in trying to chose between the existing Town Centres to select a Metrotown, planners conclude that the Kingsway-Sussex area held the greatest potential because it was not, like Brentwood and Lougheed, overrun by automobile traffic focused around shopping complexes.

“of these, it is considered that the Brentwood and Lougheed Town Centres have tended to develop into auto-oriented regional shopping centres which presently have limited capabilities to develop into a Metrotown  with the aforementioned characteristics. On the other hand, the Simpson-Sears town centre does exhibit those characteristics capable of forming the basis of a Metrotown. Supportive of this is the fact that the nucleus of the existing town centre is considered ripe [p25] for redevelopment. Through this impending redevelopment process, the Metrotown concept would provide the guidelines for managing growth in the desired directions. For this reason, IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT the Simpson-Sears town centre be designated as a Metrotown development area within the existing core area hierarchy and that guidelines reflecting the development of a Metrotown in this area be prepared.”

  • at the time, the most significant presence at “Kingsway Sussex” was the large Ford Motor Company assembly plant, and the Kelly Douglas manufacturing plant and warehouse, predecessor to the Loblaw’s company and where Superstore presently stands


The Regional District Jumps on Board

  • 1975 March, the GVRD passes the Livable Region Plans, concluding that Metrotown holds the greatest potential for the realization as a Town Centre because Burnaby has already begun an intensive program for that area


Differences Between the RTC and Metrotown Visions

  • Larry Beasley’s 1976 UBC Master’s Thesis discussed the distinction between the municipal designation of a ‘Metrotown’ and the regional designation of a ‘Regional Town Centre’, noting that Burnaby should reduce its strict urban quality standards for Metrotown in order to respect the GVRD’s quick paced phasing policy for Regional Town Centres
  • 1977 June Burnaby Metrotown: A Development Plan was widely distributed to stakeholders and previewed in public information sessions around the City
    • envisioned a strong focus on the pedestrian, and almost reluctantly including the car, though only on the periphery
    • cars were limited to hidden parking garages and underground infrastructure –surface parking was all but forbidden


Metrotown Getting Watered Down

  • 1979 election, the right-leaning Burnaby Voters’ Association led by later Burnaby-Edmonds SoCred MLA Dave Mercier takes Council in a landslide vote.
    Coincidentally, they were helped throughout the election by Trizec Equity Group, owners of Brentwood and Lougheed, who upon recognizing that the BVA
    Councillors were supportive of extending mall hours, endorsed the slate in mall newsletters to customers
    • appearing to be the result of a sluggish economy during this time, the Metrotown plan appears to be getting watered down
    • one of the largest developers on the site – Daon Development Corp, appears to be given increasing freedoms beyond the original intent of the 1977 Metrotown Development Plan but, by 1982, hopes to build a mall to rival the likes of Park Royal in West Vancouver appear threatened
  • 1982 Council decides it would be too costly to change the name from Metrotown to one that would have been selected through a municipal contest


Metrotown Faces a Threat

  • Between 1984 and 1985, the Triple Five Development Corp was lobbying Victoria and the City to permit the construction of a West Edmonton – type super mall at the intersection of Lougheed Highway and Boundary Road
  • The plan looked like it was going to go through, when Triple Five obtained a tentative contract from BC Hydro to buy half of a 56 acre site, and was in negotiation for an additional 30 acre site owned by BC Transit
  • The Mayor at the time, Bill Lewarne, in seeking a remediation to the Metrotown threat, suggested that  Daon and Triple Five should work together in  Metrotown, a suggestion that smacked of lack of understanding for the original Metrotown Plan. But Daon wasn’t interested in Triple Five anyhow
  • Realizing this, and the threat from Daon, Council pressed hard against Triple Five, favouring instead proposals to turn the area that Triple Five was interested in, into film studios as part of an upstart industry in the region (which is where you get Bridge Studios from)

There is strong evidence showing that Daon Development’s (the second largest real estate development firm in North America at the time) co-founder Jack Poole, was a strong ally of the Social Credit Party – so it wouldn’t be totally out of left field to suspect that the BVA, farm team for the SoCreds, would have preferred developments by Daon over a pushy Edmonton family.

  • Despite all apparent odds, the Fantasy Land plan was turned down after Triple Five’s lobbying efforts in Victoria went unanswered. Coquitlam offered to take the supermall, but Triple Five wasn’t interested in the offer, and instead took the proposal over the east coast .


Metrotown Changes Course

  • by around this time however, early 1985, it was becoming widely apparent that Daon’s looming credit issues were quickly sinking the company
  • unable to continue on the Metrotown project, Daon pulled out by 1985 October, with their interests eventually replaced by Cambridge Shopping Centres, who
    would go on to build Eaton Centre
  • at the same time, Cal Investments, who previously was a smaller player at Metrotown, begins touting ambitious development plans for a Metrotown Centre, with an exclusive focus on retail anchored by the Bay.


Phasing Policy

  • 1986 September 8 Council recommends phasing policy on Metrotown to slow down growth
    • prevent phase 2 of mall development plans from moving forward until 1989, or until desired occupancy is achieved, to slow down the pace of development and allow provision for public amenities
    • Opposed: Drummond; Stusiak
  • 1986 September 15Alderman Nikolai seconded by Stusiak brought back the phasing motion for reconsideration to allow delegations during the next Council meeting to speak, tabling the motion
    • Opposed: Lewarne, Begin, Rankin
  • 1986 September 27 Council listens to several delegations, of which Cambridge states that they agree with the phasing plan; Council keeps phasing motion on the table to continue listening to delegations
  • 1986 December 8 Council listens to more delegations, keeping the phasing motion tabled
  • 1987 January 19 Council lifts the phasing motion from the table to proceed with a vote
    • For:  Lewarne, Begin, Drummond, Rankin
    • Opposed: Alderman, McLean, Nikolai, Stusiak, Veitch
  • 1987 January 26 Council reconsiders phasing that was previously rejected;
    Recommends phasing

    • For: Lewarne, Begin, Drummond, Rankin, Emmott
    • Opposed: McLean, Nikolai, Veitch


Courts Intervene

  • 1987 February Cal Investments files in BC Supreme Court against City for enacting phasing
  • 1987 April Justice John E. Spencer renders judgement in favour of Cal Investments, arguing that

to permit repeated reconsiderations… would both impede the business and bring uncertainty to the affairs of the assembly. No one could rely upon its declared policy from day to day on a closely contested matter

  • Rankin protests the ruling, arguing that Council should go ahead with phasing anyways
  • 1987 May to June Cal amends their proposal to rectify their bruised relationship between Council
    • during this time, councillors agree that proposals look better, with inclusion of apartment and office components
  • 1987 late June its becoming apparent that Cal is reneging on their compromise proposal
    • Lewarne: “We just don’t want to cover the whole area with a shopping centre. We don’t want just the engine, we want some of the train as well.”


Council Continues to Argue over Metrotown

  • 1987 July 13 Meeting goes on to midnight; recessed until July 21, when Lewarne is expected to be away
  • 1987 July 21 Council resumes. Led by Stusiak, Emmott switches his vote, removing all references to phasing               
    • Opposed: Rankin, Drummond, Begin
  • 1987 August 10 Alderman Drummond requests Lewarne to exercise certain powers under the Municipal Act to reconsider options to phase Metrotown; item was tabled to allow for all members of Council to be present (2 missing members were Emmott & McLean, who would have voted against phasing)
  • 1987 August 24 Cambridge appears before Council to reaffirm support for phasing, noting that it will be just as bad for them as it will be for Cal Investments
  • 1987 September 21 Council rejects proposed amendments by the planning department to resurrect some form of phasing, approves rezonings for phase 2 of Cambridge and Cal Investments, and drops the motion on the table for phasing, once again on defined lines:
    • Lewarne, Begin, Drummond, Rankin vs. Emmott, McLean, Nikolai, Stusiak, Veitch


Burnaby Voters Association is crushed

  • The Burnaby Voters Association is trounced in the polls, going from 7 seats to 2.
  • The Burnaby Citizens’ Association, led by Copeland, comes under a vision to give serious consideration to the composition of Burnaby’s Town Centres, conveying a respect for citizen input and concern for the environment. In 1992, the Director of Planning since 1964, Tony Parr, is made City Manager
  • The BVA continued to implode in the following election. By the 1999 election, they changed their name to the BVNPA, and in 2002, the opposition became Team Burnaby


  1. Thanks for posting this Gordon!
    I tried to be as thorough as possible with the research, so if any of your readers have a question or comment, please feel free to reply here and I’ll do my best to address it.

  2. Metrotown is an example of what works at the scale of regional policy, fails at the level of urbanism.

  3. The overall message of the piece posted here begs these questions for me:

    1. what was the crux of the internecene political stuggle of 1987? Was it: big bad developler vs more considered, planned and controlled growth?

    2. is that the way that the electorate saw it? was that the crux of the electoral turnaround in November 19

  4. November 1987? And, did the group that got elected in 1987 take that message to heart and implement anything to address those concerns?

    3. looking back on it now, 24 years later, have lessons been learned, and is the planning and development in metrotown and elsewhere in burnaby different because of the experience of Metrotown in the late 1970s and early 80s?

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