UniverCity, the Sustainable Community at the top of Burnaby Mountain


UniverCity - goals


Implementing the vision, objectives and guiding principles of the Brunette River and Stoney Creek watershed plans

Simon Fraser University (SFU) at the top of Burnaby Mountain is sometimes described as a city within a city. The campus is bounded by a Ring Road.

In 1995, SFU transferred 773 acres below the Ring Road to the City of Burnaby to create the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. The City and SFU then agreed to an Official Community Plan that also established high-density zoning within the Ring Road for a new community of approximately 10,000 people on the remaining 160 acres.

To learn more about UniverCity – the Community at Simon Fraser, in particular the plan for rainwater/stormwater management, please click here


Environmental Achievements

The land exchange created, in effect, a density transfer. Instead of creating the possibility of a single family housing development that would cover a large area of Burnaby Mountain, the density transfer accommodates about the same number of units on 20% of the land area, saving 80% of the land for conservation purposes.

The density transfer was the first environmental achievement of the project – rather than creating single-family housing development that would cover the entire hillside, the density transfer accommodates about the same number of units on 20% of the land area, saving 80% of the land for conservation purposes.

Commencing in 2000 with the planning phase, the project’s second environmental achievement was to create a compact and complete community, integrated with the university campus, that is walking and transit oriented

The project’s third environmental achievement was the plan for performance monitoring and adaptive management. UniverCity – the Community at Simon Fraser is being implemented in stages over about a 25-year period. This is creating opportunities for constant improvement in successive phases of the rainwater and watercourse management plan.

UniverCIty aerial



Implementation of the UniverCity project provided an opportunity to demonstrate how a new, sustainable community can integrate rainwater/stormwater and watercourse management with urban design, starting where the rainfall lands.

The high expectations for the project are not just held by the university community. The lands fall within the area of two watershed management pilot projects – the Brunette Basin Plan and the Stoney Creek Watershed Plan:

  • The Brunette Planwas the result of an inter-agency and inter-municipal pilot process for consensus-based watershed planning in the Greater Vancouver Region.
  • The Stoney Creek sub-watershed strategy was then the ‘pilot within a pilot’. Its purpose was to test the principles of a watershed-based approach to integrating rainwater/stormwater and riparian corridor management. The Stoney Creek process resulted in a philosophy and in hydrologic criteria for watershed restoration over a 50-year timeline. The same philosophy and criteria are being applied to all Burnaby Mountain sub-watersheds.

These plans established demanding objectives for integrated RAINwater management – requiring a level of protection far more demanding than that of prevailing standards, and requiring that the performance of this high-density community mimic that of the existing site, which is more than 75% forested.  These high expectations were supported by senior government agencies and local streamkeeper groups.

UniverCity applies the vision, objectives and guiding principles of the Brunette and Stoney plans. For additional context, please click on the following link to download Still Creek-Brunette River Information Sheet #1 – Stormwater Management at a Watershed Scale , published in Summer-Fall 2001.

UniverCity - brunette & stoney context


Solving Challenges by Starting at the Source

Traditional stormwater management approaches treats runoff once it has accumulated – at the end of the pipe. For the Burnaby Mountain project, rainwater/stormwater management starts at the source – where rainfall lands.


Water Balance Approach to RAINwater Management

In view of the consequences of changes to the water balance, the strategy for UniverCity is to maintain as close as possible the water balance for existing land uses within the Ring Road. The key objectives of this strategy are:

  • Flow Volume  – Reduce surface runoff volume to prevent erosion and support seasonal baseflow
  • Flow Rate – Slow down the rate of surface runoff to prevent erosion and flooding

These volume and rate objectives form the basis for a water balance approach to RAINwater management. The approach has two distinct components:

  • Rainfall Capture– Capture the low intensity, frequent rainfall events (small storms) at the source and return volumes to more natural hydrologic pathways (i.e. volume reduction). This means that the small events would be infiltrated into the ground.
  • Runoff Control – Detain surface runoff from higher intensity, infrequent events (large storms) and release it under controlled conditions (i.e. rate control). The rate of release must meet the criteria established for the Stoney Creek watershed.

Runoff control without rainfall capture is the conventional detention-based approach to stormwater management.  Evidence shows that this approach does not protect downstream fish habitat which are sustained under natural levels of erosion, sedimentation, and baseflows in watercourses.


The Integrated Strategy

The trail-blazing UniverCity process resulted in what is called the integrated strategy for managing the complete spectrum of rainfall events. This strategy is at the heart of Stormwater Planning: A Guidebook for British Columbia, published by the Province in 2002.

For the complete story on the thinking behind the strategy that is being implemented at UniverCity, please click on this link to Burnaby Mountain Sustainable Community: Overcoming Fear and Doubt, and Managing Stormwater at the Source to download a copy of the paper that was presented at the Watershed 2002 Conference. Organized by the Water Environment Federation, the 2002 conference was held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Water balance methodology & rainfall spectrum


Innovation on Burnaby Mountain

The Watershed 2002 paper compared traditional rainwater/stormwater management approaches to urban development with the approach applied at Burnaby Mountain. It discussed how project planning included science-based rainfall capture criteria that clarified rainwater/stormwater objectives for the development.

The paper showed how the UniverCity system balances storage on private development parcels, on-street storage and downstream detention using a full range of best management practices, ranging from in-building cisterns, to absorptive landscape soils, to constructed wetlands.

UniverCity - a community by design

Posted October 2007