This aerial over Burnaby was taken last Thursday, flying out of YVR.

From Collingwood Village to Royal Oak, from Gilmore to SFU, this is how Burnaby stung its apartment districts along Skytrain.

It’s a half century of shaping development according to the Grand Bargain.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, planners and councils struck a compact with their citizens – the blue-collar workers who had achieved the Canadian Dream: a single-family house in a subdivision.  The deal: City Hall won’t rezone a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  But we will pile the density up in highrises, lots of them, clustered around where we expect rapid transit to come.

This is what that looks like. A Cordillera of Highsrises and a prairie of low-scale suburbia. Little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

More here in The Grand Bargain, Illustrated.


  1. This will be FASCINATING to follow from year to year! 🙂 It’s SO different from how Europe does it. There are trade-offs, for sure. Most people probably assume that Europe does it best. Their large cities are INCREDIBLY walkable and fun (when not completely overrun by tourists). And their density is impressive! And the transit coverage is phenomenal. And are areas where you can pass by TEN produce markets in a 100-meter stretch of super vibrant streetscape!!

    But some of these cities have a VERY dark side, too: super cheaply built suburban high-rise slums, incredibly racist policies (such as in Zurich) that forbid non-pure-Swiss from buying property (at least from what I’ve been told–this might be incorrect), etc.

    Vienna seems to have the best housing model out there. And you’re SO right about how *little* the vast majority of our cities change from one decade to another. It’s annoying to see nearly all of Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, Vancouver, etc. totally unchanged (single-family housing, increasingly wealthy, increasingly NIMBY-acting, increasingly fearful of change…).

    But to me, Vancouver is doing WAY better at providing incredibly robust TOD. Taking SkyTrain out to Metropolis is literally life-changing. 🙂 Wait for *seconds* for a train, and you’re whisked unbelievably quickly out to an incredibly densely populated suburban area surrounding tons of shopping. And yet they’re still going to *massively* overhaul Metrotown.

    All these projects: Metrotown, Lougheed, Oakridge, Broadway corridor… They’re all SO fascinating to follow! They make all non-NYC cities in the U.S. feel SOOO boring and empty! 🙂


    1. Also, I MUCH prefer tall, thin buildings to mid-rise, blocky buildings that look like cinder blocks or cereal boxes. That’s ALL we build in downtown Portland, and they’re AWFUL! They block TEN TIMES the views that much taller, thinner buildings do. And I’d MUCH rather look at a thin 50-story building than a squat 15-story cinder block. 🙂

  2. OK BUT

    It is worth now contemplating that the participants of the GRAND BARGAIN no longer represent the significant cohort of people it was intended for.

    So we need to move forward, albeit gently, to a new bargain.

    The deal: City Hall will rezone but it will be modest.
    But this change needs to create a scenario where most families can have an attainable ground-oriented home that sits below the tree line in vibrant neighbourhoods.

    1. Survey after survey shows people would rather own a house than a unit in a multifamily development. Maybe we should be subdividing large SFH lots in Southeast Vancouver into smaller SFH lots. Why not give people what they want?

      1. Survey after survey shows people want a lot of things they can never afford. Owning a SFH in a large and growing city has never been affordable for most people. A lot of people grew up with them here because Vancouver was a small and growing city. Most people want to have what they know, so the transition from small town to bigger city isn’t always easy.

        Still, young people seem less inclined to desire a SFH and are more comfortable in walkable neighbourhoods closer to the city.

          1. Burnaby’s total population grew by 9,537 between 2011 and 2016.

            The number of Millennials (born between 1981 and 2001) in Burnaby increased by 9,235.

            Not a lot of fleeing going on from Burnaby, it would seem.

          2. From your article Ron:
            ..”You’ll have the 20-somethings who’ll be excited to come to what is, in many respects, a vibrant city, lots of cool things to do here, and they’ll be willing to make a go of it in a bachelor pad or a basement suite. And they do that in part by adapting starting their own homes and starting their families,” he said.

            “And then, they start running into their biological clocks.”..

            So the city doesn’t attract families because they want their own houses. We’re back to why not build smaller houses on prewar sized lots out of the suburban-sized lots in South East Vancouver?

  3. Well, with Preserving Neighbourhood Character being the Pavlovian dinner dell that it is, it’s no surprise this bargain continues to keep our area shrink-wrapped. Every time some rocket scientist asserts moral domain over development with, “gold-plated infrastructure first, then housing”, or “more appropriate over there”, or “there’s density allowance elsewhere”, they’re just using what’s always worked to forestall change.

    So long as nonsense like that continues to hold power over so many of us, this situation will also continue. It’s ultimately our own doing for being such saps.

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