Urban Design – Eco-Planning

SFU URBAN DESIGN 2010-2011 SPRING SEMESTER
ECO-PLANNING: SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE

BURNABY RIVER POINT

Thinking Outside the Big Box

15 JUNE 2011

“…Hey Pal! How do I get to town from here?
And he said: Well just take a right where
they’re going to build that new shopping mall,
go straight past where they’re going to put in the freeway,
take a left at what’s going to be the new sports center,
and keep going until you hit the place where
they’re thinking of building that drive-in bank.
You can’t miss it. And I said: This must be the place…”

Big Science, 1982 – Laurie Anderson

OVERVIEW

“Burnabyis a maturing, increasingly integrated community, which is centrally located within a rapidly growing metropolitan area. Burnaby’s characteristic has shifted from rural to suburban to largely urban. Still, Burnaby’s ratio of park land to residents is one of the highest in North America, and it maintains some agricultural land, particularly along the Fraser foreshore flats in the Big Bendneighbourhood along its southern perimeter.” [Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnaby%5D

As a region in the process of development (named ‘River Point’ in this paper), the Byrne Road/Marine Way intersection  provides an opportunity to assess intermediate results of the approved development plan from 2001. The Big Bend, of which this intersection is the main gateway, sits pretty much at the center of theVancouvertoNew Westminstersouthern artery. People come to work here from a variety of municipalities of the lower mainland.

In light of the mentioned plan from 2001 this study attempts to explore ideas based on existing conditions. Monitoring of long term planning and ever changing realities can be seen as a tool for the use of balanced development. Both the community and the environment benefit as a result. Challenges ahead are always an opportunity for breakthroughs.

INVENTORY

Land

“The subject mixed-use service commercial precinct is located at the Byrne Roadand Marine Wayintersection, within the Big Bend Development Plan area. This intersection is also Burnaby’s gateway to public amenities in the area including the Riverway Golf Course and the FraserForeshorePark, and to the developing business centres in the Big Bend.”

[Unless otherwise stated, quotes for the Inventory section are all taken from City of Burnaby website.

Topography: Most of the area in discussion is flat and at low elevations. A rise into the residential part ofBurnabystarts at the north tip of the neighborhood.

Soil conditions: A variety of land uses in the area results in various degrees of soil conditions. Perimeters of properties are not always clean and show evidence of dumping and neglect which might only affect visual conditions and not any deeper. The development plan from 2001 describes standards for riparian setbacks and storm water management. New constructions are required to take measures to protect ALRs from related impacts.

Infrastructure: The CN owned railway passes at the south border of River Point. Discussions are already held to assess ways of introducing a rail transit system to the region. Marine Way is a regional artery with congestion challenges. Ways to direct traffic flow into other roads and encourage transit use are considered in the palnning department ofBurnabyand neighboring municipalities.

Contamination: A large portion of the area in discussion has been used as agricultural land with little worry about contamination. Of possible concern would be the gas station on5894 Marine Drive; the Burnaby Auto Mall and the light industry section north of Marine Way, for potential flow of harmful liquids into the soil.

Views: The southern slopes of Burnaby can be seen from most locations. The views from ‘River Point’ into the flat region of the Big Bend are a combination of trees and industrial buildings. Looking into the location from Burnabyone can notice the low rising buildings nestled within a mostly rural setting of farmlands and trees.

Water
“The subject area is located in the flat low lying floodplain of theFraserRiver. Pre-development, the area was bog, covered with lowland shrubs and trees. At the turn of the 20th century, landowners dug a series of ditches to drain the land, and cleared native vegetation, to develop the land for agriculture and industrial development.”

Quality: The decline in fish as mentioned in the documents of Stream Keepers (see ‘Plants, Wildlife’, below) suggests a gradual worsening of water quality in the creek. The source of contamination is believed to be further uphill, possibly theEdmondsprecinct.

Air
‘River Point’ is windy at times. The noise from traffic onMarine WayandByrne Roadis prominent. “The proposed development in theByrne RoadandMarine Waycommercial precinct is primarily car-oriented… It is recognized, …, that automobile use is the primary source of smog and air pollution in the region.”

Plants, Wildlife
“Byrne Creek is a high value salmonid stream, supporting coho salmon, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout. The Byrne Creek watershed encompasses a significant portion ofBurnaby’s south slope area.”

The vast majority of ‘River Point’ is either paved or built. Most trees and shrubs are of recent planting as part of landscaping in the evolving development. Dense growth of trees exists to the west and north of the area.

On an evening walk a couple of coyotes were seen sneaking around in the built area while various birds were busy jumping and flying between trees and shrubs.

Stream Keepers are a group of volunteers that help maintain the creek through community projects and public education.They also monitor its rejuvenated populations of native fish. From their 2010 report: “Byrne Creek has suffered badly over the last few years. Fish kills due to toxins entering the creek through street drains have been occurring year after year. Numbers of salmon returning to spawn have been steadily declining for five years…. In light of this disturbing, ongoing downward trend in the health of Byrne Creek, we assign a new icon to its overall status.”[Full report can be seen in the StreamKeepers‘ website.]

ANALYSIS

Characteristics

The designation of this neighbourhood as mixed-use service commercial precinct works well for this busy intersection. Located on land that is mainly composed of highly compressible peat, high density residential development might seem premature considering other residential developments close by to the west. However, it is never too early to plan great cities: the living component of this area needs to be addressed.

Of note should be considered the boundaries of the place: predominantly triangular, it is framed with a creek on one edge, small scale farming on another and agricultural land on the third.

Visits to the site in different times of the day allowed for a growing feeling for its character. These observations form the base for the notes that follow on the way to generating my evaluation.

At its current state, the site possesses some characteristics that point to challenges and opportunities:

  • Massive paved surfaces are prevalent throughout the site. Drainage, vegetation and quality of life could benefit form more permeability at strategic locations.
  • There is no denying that the use of motorized vehicles is likely to continue into the future. This should not contradict an investment in healthy and economical alternatives. The fossil fuel technology could very well be replaced by others. The need to move around outside of the vehicle will still be part of our lives.
  • The requirement from the development plan to maintain or improve fish habitat seems unfulfilled. The causes for habitat conditions though, might be traced elsewhere. ‘River Point’ could show the way to the developments upstream.
  • The large volume of vehicles passing through is an opportunity to turn the site into a destination for more than one activity, be it shopping or business/commerce.
  • Most sites of the region are made of large parking lots, dispersed and single story massive buildings. An alarming small number of benches and other pedestrian oriented features make pedestrian movement feel almost unacceptable.
  • Although the buildings of recent construction look and feel of high quality for their purpose, a strong sense of uniformity exists, resulting in a lackluster sense of place.
  • Marine way practically dissects the area for pedestrians and cyclists into a north region and a south region.
  • The vast majority of the area is flat. Finding the way requires either being familiar with destinations or conducting active searching.
  • Three points form gateways for this location: The most prominent is the crossing of Marine Way and Byrne Road; Next, Marine Drive and Byrne Road; The railway crossing on Byrne Road to the south is the third gateway that leads into the agricultural land and the water edge industrial region of the Big Bend.

EVALUATION

Vision
Through our commitment to earth, water and air our transactions balance between responsibility to our environment, growth in business and the experience of life. Each day is an opportunity to give back to the land we use while nurturing the ties we have to one another.

‘River Point’ is a community dedicated to the promotion of farming in urban settings

We integrate agriculture with the fabric of urban living

This community maintains a unique local texture to the public realm

Our facilities are laid out to enhance walkability and usability for the sake of wholesome, healthy living

Principles
When asked about the working environment, a local employee expressed contentment with the facilities available on site. This is good news to build upon when trying to make the place even better.

The boundaries of ‘River Point’ possess positive grounds for development as a green belt to serve employees of the area as well as visitors. The Fraser river water edge is a great reference. A quick talk with two frequent visitors, Chrystel Bordas and Jill Godfrey suggests an honest need for pedestrian and cycling improvements.[Refer to Walking and biking for details at ‘Stories of interest’ below.]

Integration of facilities in the form of densification and programming can achieve a significant improvement of the outdoors experience: the need to use cars locally could be reduced; the interaction between people would benefit; more green and revitalization of wildlife habitat will soften the impact of traffic.

Investment in the public realm would address the sense of place. For employees and visitors alike, this is beneficial in generating feelings of ownership and engagement. In turn this can improve commerce as well as safety and maintenance.[Refer to Residents for details at ‘Stories of interest’ below.]

The mass of vehicle traffic is catered for by the existing road infrastructure. Improving movability for pedestrians and cyclists could add volume to the economy of ‘River Point’.

Densification of residential areas opens up urban space for better use and preservation of the outdoors. The same applies for the ‘big box’ concept and parking facilities.

In the long term a residential component within ‘River Point’ will be natural to its business stability and prosperity. Addressing its planning should not be left out of the process.

Targets
Balancing life work and play is an effort most people struggle to achieve. ‘River Point’, as a neighbourhood whose residents are primarily employees of its businesses, will make a positive impact by addressing this quest. This can be the P.A.C.E of commerce.

Programming: a good balance in variety of businesses enables clients to have in one visit more than one activity accomplished. In a single trip they consolidate their expenses and the economy of ‘River Point’ improves.

Amenities: time visitors stay in the region is an opportunity for services to address a variety of clients’ needs. For each vehicle that arrives in the region more than one person can support many businesses.

Coordination: communications between establishments will nurture a network of business making that informs all parties involved with available services.

Education: the ability to take home more than what you came for will drive people to come back more often. This in turn can increase the interest of all to take ownership in the health of habitat, quality of life and strength of businesses.

CONCLUSIONS
Scorecard: existing development
Only a quick browse of the ‘sustainability scorecard’ is required to summarize its topics. Existing conditions of the site, old and new development demonstrate lack of regard to pedestrian utility and integration into the natural environment. Some notes to demonstrate the statement above:

The vast majority of buildings are big box, single storey spaces.

Distances between buildings are big and crossing the parking lots is an unfriendly affair.

The development plan from 2001 describes this precinct as car oriented.

No public realm of note can be described. Beside the creek there is a paved path though.

Landscaping, although has been applied to the development seems more decorative than part of a layout of public realm.

The north edge of the area has a number of pre-dev single family dwellings. Other than that no residential properties are planned for this region.

Proposal: upgrades and improvements
The recently developed sections of ‘River Point’ were built applying high grade materials, proper drainage, and access for motor vehicles. The single most prominent feature of the site that requires attention is the one that should be easiest to address: the human being. By addressing these needs with attention to the environment a welcome boost to well being as well as business strength is bound to occur. Below are points that this proposal covers.

Movement

Pedestrian bridges over strategic points alongMarine Way

Integrate Marine Way into its urban context while taking care of traffic flow

Green walking belt around the site

Use of existing rail tracks for inter urban transit

Outdoors well being

More planting of trees and other plants along sidewalks and buildings

Integrated resting areas and drainage swales in parking lots and other open spaces

Parks with playgrounds and fitness structures

Integrated bike racks and green-scape

Green roofs/planters

Intervention

Explore options for integrating living space into the various sections of ‘River Point’

Develop a comprehensive signage system to address drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

Integrate additional businesses into big box structures to complement their business

Green roofs and or planters on roofs

Programming

Provide a day care facility or facilities dependant on potential needs among employees and future residents.

Setting up of a ‘River Point’ BIA whose roles could include coordination with adjacent farmlands of market fairs, organizing sports activities and collaborations with theBig Bendbusiness district.

Creek Days: activities coordinated with businesses to guide school students around the green belt with focus on revitalization of the creek wildlife habitat and agriculture in urban settings. This could be an opportunity for balanced promotion of the businesses in the area.

Contests and festivals. Many events can have planting and cooking as their focus. Contests bring people together, exchanges of info and commodities facilitate interaction. Bike races.

Phasing

Phasing of the proposal can be seen in the Phasing Plan in the appendix. About two thirds of the site has already gone through development following the plan from 2001. The last third to be redeveloped should be the new showcase for future updates. The Implementation file discusses this phase in more detail. However, parts of the proposal could be implemented in other locations of the whole site as soon as funding is available.

SUMMARY
The Big Bend Crossing as it is currently referred to is pedestrian unfriendly. As a response to the plan from 2001 it has accomplished the execution of car oriented development. Planning urban space is influenced by ever changing circumstances that result in varied levels of success. The first decade of the 21st century has seen a global shift in focus. An urgent need for sensitive use of resources is an opportunity for all to re-think planning as well as ways of living. In this paper I am hoping to point to this direction in my proposals for a revised vision based on the Eco-Planning principles learned in class.

The marine Way andByrne Road intersection is located roughly at the center of the half circle that is theBig Bend. This is the source for the name ‘River Point’. It symbolizes a turning point in the development of the region on its way to a balanced outcome. We have an opportunity to lead the way in urban use of and connection to agriculture. Based on the local heritage and existing working farmlands a wealth of knowledge and expertise can be tapped. The interaction between urban dwellers and the farming community is utilized in exploring new types of agricultural production without loosing sight of progress in technologies.

This is a proposal for a shift from the Big Box concept to functional densification. It comes to demonstrate the potential of collaboration and integration in the framework of a sustainable living city. What used to be a remote and underused region ofBurnabyhas potential to become the forefront of urban development.

In ‘River Point’ the margins can show the way to the center.

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