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Locals envision city’s future at Burnaby 2050 event

The goal of the exercise was to get participants to share their thoughts and ideas for Burnaby’s future

Some of the brainstorming done by attendees at the Burnaby 2050 event. Lubna El-Elaimy.

For those invested in Burnaby’s future, you could say it was their time to shine.

On Sept. 21, upwards of 60 residents showed up to the City of Lougheed to participate in the Burnaby 2050 event, a workshop allowing folks to share how they’d like to see the city evolve.

Vegetarian food and water were arranged on a table, where participants could grab a snack before the event started. In one corner of the room, a makeshift daycare area where children could be supervised as parents engaged in the evening’s activities. There were children’s books, toys and games to entertain them.

Organizers had placed a large sheet of paper on top of each round table with intersecting circles printed on them. Facilitators handed out post-its, pens, markers and sheets of dot-shaped fluorescent coloured stickers to each participant.

To kick things off, Indigenous elders Sam and Les George welcomed the participants, adding that this event resembles the way the ancestors gathered and planned for the future of their communities–where they would democratically share their thoughts, ideas and dreams of the future.

Mayor Mike Hurley said this was “an opportunity to create something outstanding, but also made note of the challenges Burnaby will face in the future.” Some of the challenges mentioned included climate change and affordability. He asked attendees to think 30 years ahead, not about today or tomorrow, adding that “the city will continue to change in ways we have a hard time envisioning.”

This night’s gathering was the fifth meeting out of six held in different areas in Burnaby; other similar events had taken place throughout the summer.

With new residents moving here every year, the organizers said it is imperative to think of a plan that protects Burnaby’s unique character while making space and welcoming future residents.

There were three main parts to the night’s exercise. The first part was the “NOW” where each person had to think about the things that they love about Burnaby, along with what they would like to preserve for future generations. For the “WOW,” participants imagined Burnaby’s future, everything they wanted to improve in their current city, as well as what they would like to preserve. The third task was the “HOW” where participants had to think creatively about the steps the city can take to move from the NOW to the WOW.

The facilitators encouraged participants to think creatively, come up with ideas no matter how outlandish or unusual, and do their best to imagine how things might change in 25 years. While everyone acknowledged that it is possible that Burnaby, society and technology might change in ways we cannot even imagine today, they tried their best to visualize the ideal future for themselves and the generations that come after.

Lee-Ann Garnett (left) and Erin Rennie (right) are the two city staffers who helped facilitate the discussion. Lubna El-Elaimy.

At the end of the exercise, there were several recurring themes: climate change, preserving green spaces, and affordable housing for all. Attendees imagined more walkable cities with better transit networks that reach currently underserved communities in Burnaby. They worried about preserving the ethnic and economic diversity of residents of Burnaby, hoping that future generations would not be pushed out of their city due to unaffordability. Some hoped for a future with less reliance on fossil fuels and more renewable energy sources, reducing pollution, as well as better access to healthcare, healthy food, exercise and recreation for all.

In terms of methods for achieving this, many of the ideas that came out included rezoning parts of Burnaby, especially areas of low density, and the densification of Burnaby. Coupled with this densification is the necessity of services to expand throughout the city, such as recreation, schools, elder care, transportation and healthcare, to name a few examples. The final part of the exercise was to use the provided colourful stickers to indicate areas where medium densification should occur, others for higher density, small to medium commercial areas, and industrial areas.

Despite each individual having their own unique perspective and opinions on how to improve the future of Burnaby, as Lee-Ann Garnett, deputy general manager of planning and development, told the Beacon, “one thing that has really impressed me is the love that the people of Burnaby have for their city. It really comes through loud and clear. They really love their neighbourhoods, they love their [recreational] facilities, they love their local places to shop, and that’s come through loud and clear and that was really wonderful, that’s one of my biggest impressions.”

“People are excited for the future of Burnaby, they have lots of good ideas from the places that they’ve travelled to and the places that they’ve lived, and they’re not afraid of change. They also love a lot of things about Burnaby and want to protect those things. We’ve heard a lot about parks and green spaces. We’ve heard a lot about diversity and inclusion,” Senior Planner Erin Rennie told The Beacon.

In the coming weeks, the organizers will collate the results from all six meetings and surveys and create a report about their findings. They will present their report to Burnaby City Council in November of this year. According to Garnett, creating the plan is a major endeavour. “Every department is involved to some extent. Public safety people, engineers, fire, finance, parks, [recreation], everyone. We’re also talking to other stakeholders like community groups, groups that provide social services in the city, the business community,” Garnett said.

Rennie added, “We’re also working hard to engage with First Nations communities. Something we’re very excited about is the youth advisory council. We'll bring together some students from grades 9 through 12 to go through the same exercises we did today.”

Garnett said that they are working with SFU to create a citizens’ assembly to complement their work. If you are interested in learning more about the citizens’ assembly, make sure to check out our coverage of the Sept. 25 council meeting. 

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