UniverCity at Burnaby Mountain is a self-sustaining community with an elementary school, childcare facilities, an urban park, weekly pocket farmers’ market, shops, cafés, restaurants, a supermarket, hiking and biking trails, all a 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver.
I took a midweek afternoon to tour the area, starting off at Club Ilia Eatery and Lounge, located on University High Street, in the heart of the community. Fresh soups, salads, homemade pasta dishes, burgers, appetizers, and all-around comfort food fill the menu.
A Saturday brunch runs from 11 am to 3 pm. I walked by the bar, where several rows of wines were stacked as well as Granville Island Lager and Honey Lager, Sapporo, Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, Phillips Blue Buck, and Fat Tug IPA all on tap. Bottles are also on offer, as well as red wine sangria, cocktails, and an international wine selection.
My half order of Ilia’s salad (full order, $12) was tastefully presented and very fresh. It nicely complimented the baked chicken penne with sun-dried tomato, basil, parsley and Alfredo sauce ($12). A couple of dessert choices, Chocolate Mousse Cake and Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake ($7 each), were featured on the menu on the day of my visit.
UniverCity is a model for sustainability. Simon Fraser University’s Community Trust is responsible for developing this surplus land for a mixed-use residential community. SFU was designed by Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey in the 1960’s; both had envisioned a residential component to the university.
All of the services and amenities add up to creating endowment wealth for SFU teaching and research, to the tune of nearly $30 million to date. The target goal is $175 million in combined funds and infrastructure, something that the Community Trust hopes to realize in 2025 with current plans in place.
Their biggest goal is to create a sustainable community combining economic, environmental, social, and educational facets. At UniverCity, new homes are at least 30% more energy efficient and 40% more water efficient than conventional buildings. The organization’s biggest source of pride is having donated 320 hectares of land to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. Saving that land was their top priority.
Most of the families that come to live on the mountain are first-time home owners and new families, with roughly 40% having some association with SFU. Over 3,000 residents live here at the moment; the projection and planning is set to accommodate 10,000 over the course of the next several years.
This is a transit-oriented community with several bus lines headed to downtown Vancouver, SkyTrain stations, and several points in the area, with a dedicated bus hub.
The UniverCity Childcare Centre is a “living building”, and recognized as the world’s greenest childcare facility. It produces more energy than it consumes and recycles/collects more water than it uses.
The difference between a living building and LEED certification is that a living building is a performance-based requirement that has to arrive at net zero environmental footprint in order to qualify, while LEED is based on a series of points. Over the years, UniverCity has received numerous awards for its approach to sustainable living.
Walking paths lead to various hiking trails around Burnaby Mountain. There’s also a huge mountain biking contingency here, second only to the North Shore.
Salmon in neighbouring streams don’t have to know that there’s a residential community above, as roadways and sidewalks have infiltration galleries, capturing and releasing runoff water at a speed and quantity that mimics nature. Walking through the paths and under the trees, I felt at times transported to Whistler. The beautiful views of the mountains and surrounding space are remarkable given a hub of this size.
Additionally, the SFU Theatre has been newly renovated, making it easy to stay on the mountain to catch a dose of culture.
My tour and lunch at Ilia were compliments of UniverCity and Club Ilia Eatery and Lounge, for the purpose of writing this article.