Learning from UniverCity

March 4, 2008

univercity-unsharp.jpg‘UniverCity’ might sound like an imaginary place, a conceptual model confined to the framework of academia. It is, however, the name of a very real community located in Burnaby, British Columbia. UniverCity came into being through a 1995 agreement between Simon Fraser University and the Province of British Columbia, in which forested land owned by the university was exchanged for the right to build new housing near the University campus. The 820 acres transferred from the University to the City of Burnaby became part of the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.

UniverCity recently received the 2008 National Planning Excellence Award for Innovation in Green Community Planning from the American Planning Association (APA). Utilizing mixed-use planning principles, the finished project will consist of several neighborhoods, each with its own town square, as well as its own school, community and childcare center, and parks. Once completed, UniverCity is expected to house 10,000 people on 200 acres.

Several features make it an innovative project:

  • Although mixed use, UniverCity is urban in character — there are no single family homes in the development.
  • Its shopping district leases only to locally based shops; no national chain stores are permitted.
  • The community is laid out around transit corridors and pathways. To further decrease dependency upon automobiles, it offers subsidized transit passes to residents, and has a cooperatively owned automobile program. Additionally, of course, UniverCity provides easy access to Simon Fraser University and the expansive conservation lands.
  • Like other projects recently constructed in the northwest, UniverCity is implementing state-of-the-art stormwater systems. (See my January 29 post, Global Recognition for High Point)

The project is overseen by The Simon Fraser University Community Corporation (UCC) and the SFU Community Trust, but these entities work closely with the City of Burnaby. In the APA News Release, Dale Mikkelsen, Manager of Planning and Sustainability for the Simon Fraser University Community Trust, states, “Our approach is to make sure that every innovation and sustainable design solution at UniverCity is developed in consultation with and approved by the City of Burnaby to ensure that lessons learned here are fully transferable to other places and do not remain as one-off’s or demonstrations existing in isolation.”

The APA award ceremony will occur April 30th at the association’s National Planning Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photo Credit: UniverCity