Shape Report

Beyond Mixed-Use: Walkable Complete Neighbourhoods on Transit

May 19, 2017

Mixed-Use Development

“Mixed-use” is one of today’s most common real estate industry buzzwords, and is used to describe a wide range of projects. While the planning principles behind it are admirable, the true benefits are not always that impactful on a single building by building basis. For example, having a drug store and a fast food outlet on the ground floor of your condominium building doesn’t really change your life.

But on a larger scale, mixed-use developments can be extremely impactful. SHAPE was fortunate to purchase Brentwood Town Centre and Lougheed Town centre malls shortly after the recession hit in 2008. The redevelopment of these traditional regional shopping centres has given us a firsthand opportunity to plan and develop mixed-use developments on a much larger scale, creating walkable, complete neighbourhoods on rapid transit. This mixed-use model is massively convenient, radically sustainable, socially engaging and culturally relevant – and we believe this is a game changer in today’s real estate industry.

Complete Neighbourhoods

Developing a neighbourhood that is walkable and truly complete – meaning it has all of the shops, services and community facilities that satisfy today’s need for variety, is very difficult.

The typical person in 2017 shops at large discount and department stores, but they also shop at small local shops and boutiques. They dine at a range of restaurants, from chef driven fine dining to fast food and everywhere in between. They exercise at the national fitness chains, but also meet their friends for a game of basketball at the local community centre. The idea of achieving variety sounds simple, but a neighbourhood where you can live and work that truly has all of the shops, restaurants, services, community facilities and variety demanded by a modern lifestyle, all within an easily walkable distance and connected to rapid transit is extraordinarily rare. But when this is achieved, the result is a very compelling urban lifestyle.

Rethinking the Regional Shopping Centre 

The main reason this form of development is rare is that typical neighbourhoods consist of many small lots with different land owners. In this case it’s extremely difficult, even over generations for a truly complete neighbourhood to evolve or for developers to assemble the scale of land required.

But at the heart of a number of Metro Vancouver’s urban neighbourhoods, there are large regional shopping centres that create a significant opportunity. These centres provide the scale and co-tenancy demanded to attract and accommodate a truly complete community of shops, services and community facilities, as well as the developable land for a meaningful supply of residential homes and employment offices. Plus, they’re located right on rapid transit.

These opportune sites, including Brentwood Town Centre and Lougheed Town Centre, are designated for high density, mixed-use development and surrounded by vast surface parking lots. This allows for a master planned urban core to be developed within our lifetimes – not over the course of 100s of years.

The unique opportunity that these shopping centres create is turning the world of land use planners upside down. The regional shopping mall – much maligned for the last 40 years as the cause of urban sprawl and the death of inner urban neighbourhoods has become the catalyst and the critical ingredient for obtaining a truly complete and truly walkable mixed-use urban neighbourhood on rapid transit.


The fundamentals behind a walkable, complete community provide not only the ultimate in convenience. They’re also an ideal palette for creating the dynamic social experiences demanded in today’s world. We’ve all read the headlines and know that experience is a vital ingredient for retail success in 2017. With their urban locations, high density, and mix of residences, offices, shopping and restaurants directly connected to Skytrain, walkable complete neighbourhoods are the energetic urban backdrop for a vibrant and dynamic social experience.
How this Changes the Game

Once achieved, a complete, walkable neighbourhood represents an extremely compelling urban lifestyle. It makes the automobile an option, not a necessity. The combination of convenience and experience appeals to residents, workers, visitors and tourists, making these neighbourhoods natural social gathering places. And with thousands of people living, working, shopping and commuting through daily, they will attract the top calibre retailers and restaurants to make them global destinations.

The Takeaway

The concept of a complete, walkable neighbourhood sounds simple. But when thousands of people can live and work in a place with a complete variety of shops, restaurants, services and community facilities where rapid transit is connected, it changes the way we live, commute, shop and socialize. This is a culturally relevant, sustainable model for density and a formula for the future of urban living – a true game changer for our cities, lifestyles and our industry.