“When you get a nice, clear day…when you get the cold weather and a bit of snow […] it’s very picturesque,” he said.
McDonell is a city councillor in Burnaby, British Columbia: a city known for its scenery, left-leaning politics, and energy, technology, and film industries. Housing density, “demovictions,” high volumes of traffic, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and homelessness continue to be controversial issues in the city.
But before we explore these issues, we need context.
I’m Lauren Boothby, and I will be reporting in Burnaby for the next couple months for a civic reporting course at Langara College.
Knowing my beat and connecting with locals will help me produce better quality news. Here is what I have learned so far:
Burnaby is located in the geographic centre of Metro Vancouver.
Burnaby is home to 223, 218 residents of diverse backgrounds. It sits between the Burrard Inlet to the north and Fraser River to the south, and between Vancouver to the east, and Coquitlam, New Westminster and Port Moody to the west.
There are many “green spaces” in the city.
About 25 per cent of Burnaby’s 98.6 square kilometres are parks and green spaces.
Eric Young, president of Burnaby Rotaract, likes visiting Central Park when he’s not busy volunteering with the organization.
“There’s this great trail around there. You can walk around, get away from the city’s noise,” he said.
Burnaby is home to a diverse group of people
Burnaby Rotaract recently hosted a “community dinner” at the Burnaby Neighbourhood House near Metrotown.
“One unique thing coming from Victoria: there are lots of Asian populations […] all sorts of cultures represented,” Young said. “Because of our connection with the neighbourhood house, we do see a lot of families that are new to the community.”
East Burnaby is Metro Vancouver’s “most multi-ethnic hood.” More than half of Burnaby residents are immigrants. Over 50 per cent of the immigrant population is of East Asian descent, as are many recent immigrants.
Political scientist Eric Kaufmann told the Vancouver Sun that mixed ethnicity neighbourhoods often occur when migrants cannot afford to live in areas with people of their own ethnicity.
Burnaby has a relatively high rate of poverty.
The 2011 National Household Survey found that 21 per cent of Burnaby households had incomes below $20 thousand.
More recently, the B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition found that Burnaby’s child poverty rate was 22 per cent in a report released last November. Langley is tied with Burnaby for the second highest rate of child poverty in Metro Vancouver.
The City acknowledged the need to address homelessness in a 2011 report and has since joined with other Metro Vancouver municipalities in creating a homelessness task force following recommendations from a 2014 plan.
Burnaby is one of the only municipalities in Metro Vancouver without a permanent homeless shelter. Extreme cold weather this winter has seen the opening of emergency shelters for homeless people in Burnaby.
Housing, density and “demovictions” are a challenge.
Burnaby has been seeing an increase in density as the city expanded from a suburb to an urban area. Several high-rise apartments are currently being built in Metrotown.
Citizen groups protested “demovictions” last year where older apartment buildings were demolished, evicting many low-income renters from their homes. The “Stop Demovictions” campaign had groups call for a moratorium on demovictions, but the City has not considered this option.
Traffic is a problem in the “flow-through” city.
Marine Way sees over 300,000 vehicle trips per day, according to Councillor McDonell.
“We have a problem with traffic. Every city does, but one of the unique things about Burnaby is it’s a “flow-through” city. We have five different routes going through our city and it’s heavily used,” he said.
Jobs in information and culture industries are the most common.
More than 70 per cent of the working age population has post-secondary education, many with degrees from Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University built in 1965.
Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is heavily contested, especially by area’s First Nations.
Opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in Burnaby is widespread, even by City Council and the mayor.
Several aboriginal groups have traditional lands located within the municipality, such as Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations, and some have launched legal challenges to the pipeline’s approval.
Burnaby in 2017: Expect more opposition to the contested Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and tension surrounding housing.