I have the privilege of living in a lovely downtown Vancouver neighbourhood. The late-fall mornings are crisp and fresh and, even in a light drizzle, it’s a pleasant place to live, work and walk. But here’s something that makes me reject any claim that Vancouver is one of the world’s most “liveable” cities: On one recent early morning coffee run, I counted 13 homeless people sleeping in nooks and doorways — slumped in the shadows of the million-dollar condos that rise in every direction.
Cities can improve housing affordability but they need help
“Time is money” – it’s a phrase you might hear when the boss is complaining about your productivity (or the lack of it). In that instance, you might understand it to mean: “Let’s not be standing around when we could be doing something productive.”
But in economic theory, the same aphorism might be a reminder that it’s just as expensive to let your money stand around when it could be out earning a return. In that sense, people talk about the “time value of money” – and it’s a factor that is making Metro Vancouver’s housing affordability crisis a great deal worse.
Canada’s most livable city is perfectly able to make room for newcomers
Even amid the flurry of headlines about Vancouver’s prohibitive housing prices , it would be fantastically incorrect to claim there is no room left in Canada’s most livable city.
Yet, that’s just what Grant E. Moore, the former Manager of Planning for the Halton District School Board, argued in the spring 2017 Plan Canada, the journal of the planning profession in Canada. In a polemic that was both unsupported by any selection of data and tinged with xenophobia, Moore began by suggesting that we should all be living in fear of because other people are anti-immigration. (“One clear lesson of the American election is that opposition to multiculturalism has become an extraordinarily powerful organizing tool for the political right.”) Then, he gave that anti-immigration bandwagon a nice push, saying, flatly, that we have come to a time “when the easy ability to accommodate large immigrant populations is at an end.” He goes on: “Vancouver has run out of developable land, hemmed in as it is by mountains, agricultural reserves and the Pacific Ocean. Opportunities for low-density development now exist only in the Lower Mainland’s distant suburbs. Similar conditions prevail in Greater Toronto and environs …”
The single-family housing shortage is a problem of physics, not politics
In light of the proven popularity of Stradivarius violins, it is an outrage – an OUTRAGE! – that the government allows mass production and/or import of high-quality alternatives to fill market demand.
I hope we all can agree that sentence is ludicrous. Antonio Stradivari died in 1737, having crafted 960 of the finest violins in history. No amount of fancy tax policy is going to inflate that number. So, given continuing demand, if you want a Stradivarius, you are going to have to pay an exorbitant amount of money. Most people seem to understand this.
We will regret selling infrastructure that Canadians still need
The Canadian government is pursuing a policy that could leave us all, as citizens and taxpayers, tenants in our own house. It’s a risky, unnecessary direction that we all will come to regret.
The government unveiled the new policy last year, moving to sell off two portfolios of critical national infrastructure — Canada’s eight largest airports and 18 major ports.
To be fair, Transportation Minister Marc Garneau has said this is not “a done deal.” The government has merely engaged two investment banks, Credit Suisse AG and Morgan Stanley, to “investigate options” for selling the airports and ports.
But the direction is clear. Investment banks make money by arranging and managing actual transactions. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which either would call Garneau to say, “We couldn’t find any options.”
The recent unanimous vote by the Mayor’s Council to fund the first phase of their ambitious and essential Vision Plan for the region’s transit and transportation system reminds us yet again that we are living in a dynamic place that welcomes 35,000 new people every year. It also reminds us that we need to keep meeting the needs of our expanding population and economy.
Yet we always seem to be looking for new ways to slam the door on the million new residents who are expected to join us in Metro Vancouver in the next 25 years. Would we even want to? Doing so isn’t very practical and it isn’t very ethical. What we do need to do is to make sure that their arrival improves, rather than diminishes, our collective quality of life.
For his 2015 book The Stackable Boomer, David Allison asked me to look at how we can make suburban baby boomers feel at home in a more urban mid- or high-rise dwelling.
As a boomer, one of nearly 10 million Canadians born between 1946 and 1965, I offered my perspective by saying that the world is awash in experts who can define and design great living spaces for people of every age and almost any budget.
What we need is more attention to the spaces in between. That’s where we find community. That’s where we establish safety and livability. Not in cramped condos or spacious penthouses, but in the high streets and local parks – the places where people actually commune.
By: Gordon Harris
Special to The Vancouver Sun
A quiet neighbourhood: the phrase evokes leafy streets, tidy gardens and carefree children, quietly at play. But in the image painted on this page by Gordon Gibson, the quiet neighbourhood was further freighted by the presumption it could not also be a densely populated one.
With respect, this is just wrong. The Metro Vancouver region is now full of quiet neighbourhoods that are bustling with well-behaved people and yet devoid of the dangers and disturbances that certain suburbanites associate — inevitably — with any housing form besides the single-family dwelling.