August 14, 2015

The end of the Region as we know it – Round 2

Don’t overlook this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on August 10: the annual attack by Wendell Cox of Demographia on one of the foundations of our regional vision, and all the plans that have followed.


Affordability: If middle-income housing is not made available, prices will keep rising


The 11th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, sponsored by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, found Vancouver to be the second-least-affordable major metropolitan area of 86 in nine countries. It takes nearly 11 times the pre-tax median annual household income to buy the median priced house today. Only Hong Kong has worse housing affordability. …

The average detached house price is now more than $1.4 million in the Vancouver metropolitan area. This is more than triple the detached house price in 2000. The average apartment condominium now costs more than the average detached house in 2000. Since that time, house prices — detached, attached and apartment — have been rising at more than twice the rate of median incomes. …

At the root of Vancouver’s housing crisis is its long-standing urban containment policy, which seeks to stop urban sprawl by forbidding development on nearly all the remaining suitable land. The Economist contends, in discussing London, that it is possible to stop urban sprawl by urban containment policies, but that the consequences are severe. They are even more severe in Vancouver.

Agricultural preserves in the Lower Mainland (including the Fraser Valley) take considerable land on which urban development is prohibited. Meanwhile, as the demand for housing continues unabated, the land shortage has become even more severe and prices have skyrocketed. This is exactly what basic economics predicts. …

Policy reforms are needed, and everything must be on the table, including more land.


These are the arguments, attached to a populist sentiment, that persuade decision-makers and party strategists who have neither the time nor interest in pursuing the underlying assumptions so long as they are consistent with their ideology (categorized generally as neoliberalism, a word that is more confusing than enlightening.)

Cox, Demographia, the Frontier Centre, as mentioned, and all the related foundations, funders, think-tanks and organizations (Fraser Institute, Canadian Taxpayers Federation locally) have been effective over the last few decades at shifting the political centre to the right – but now aim for more transformative achievements: reversing a generation of public policy, institutional structures and ideas – characterized as smart growth, sustainability, transit-oriented development, complete communities, and so on.

The trashing of TransLink was one of those achievements, facilitated by the referendum that allowed the public to do what the legislators in Victoria could not: dismantling one of the foundations of the regional plan – a region in which growth would be shaped by a frequent transit network.

Regional growth cannot be shaped by transit if there is no more transit to be funded, without the reduction of service somewhere else. It is now Motordom by default.

The Province has already built much of the highway infrastructure to facilitate this, and is planning on more – notably the Massey Crossing and expansion of Highway 99, connected to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and a widened Highway 1 and Port Mann Bridge.  More, no doubt, is being considered.  (I’d guess a new crossing at Boundary Road and southern freeway to the Abbotsford Airport).

Next up: the obliteration of the urban containment pillar – in particular the paving-over of the agricultural land base in the name of affordable housing, single-family housing in particular.

Cox’s article, repeated frequently, makes the ideological case.  Policy, legislation and strategic moves (like plebiscites) follow.

Dismantling the regional vision, its foundations and reversing the direction of Metro Vancouver’s growth would be an astonishing victory for this branch of neoliberallism.  But seeing Vancouverites vote against transit funding shows it can be done.

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  1. Indeed ALL options should be on the table, which they are not today, such as:

    a) more land, now ocean (incl. ocean mudflats off Richmond, Delta, Surrey and even UBC)
    b) more land, now in ALR
    c) private car pool / quasi-mass-transit options i.e. Uber .. incl. replacing off-peak low demand bus routes with Uber-like “on demand” options
    d) taxing foreign or non-resident home ownership very heaviy
    e) higher property taxes to fund public transit
    f) outsourcing of publicly delivered services (in-sourced today due to very powerful public sector unions at 2x the market price i.e. landscaping, cleaning, building ops, ..)
    g) more efficient services delivery of bloated and often grossly overpaying crown corporations: TranslInk, BC Ferries, ICBC, BC Hydro,
    h) no more defined benefit plans for any employees [related to f) and g)]
    i) more subways or LRTs in lieu of wobbly buses, incl. to N-Van, W-Van, Langley, E-Van, UBC, Delta and S-Richmond
    j) wider bridges to North Shore (tolled, of course, say $5 and $10 during rush hour)
    k) bridge to Vancouver Island and expansion of Victoria, Nanaimo or other Vancouver Island based port cities to ease pressure on MetroVan harbors and population growth, and to spur Island growth
    l) road tolls everywhere or per km charge like Oregon
    m) higher gasoline prices

    A combination of all these can make a difference, but as long as any one of them is opposed congestion will continue and house prices will continue to climb due to supply/demand imbalance ! Car use is far too cheap still in MetroVan and and as long as that is not addressed at all why use more inconvenient and far slower public transit ?

    1. By “more efficient” ferries do you mean “more efficient at transferring BC taxpayer wealth into the hands of coastal commuters?” something different?

      BC Ferries loses money where the BC govt says “you must run routes even if they are unprofitable”. Every route should cover it’s costs and then some, no exceptions. Anything else is just a cross subsidy and encouraging people to become more dependant on subsidy.

      1. just like buildings highways. And roads. And schools. And hospitals. Or should all of those things “cover it’s (sic) costs and then some, no exceptions” too?

      2. Thomas you make some good points but “k) bridge to Vancouver Island” may indeed be a bridge too far.

        Yes pop is projected to grow . . .

        . . . +4.3% city, +9.3% Metro but it isn’t exactly breaking eggs with sticks!

        The Globe and Mail’s exposé of the, meticulously unacknowledged Chinese off-shore growth, that country’s slow-down, and its even less acknowledged wanted list, local growth may taper.

        Over thirty years ago I offered a different point-of-view to PEI for their Northumberland Crossing, that indeed you and I are still paying for, that it may not bring the bonanza they expected and indeed today that bonanza has yet to materialize! Tourism is doing okay but the ferries are still an essential connection.

        The Island’s mainstay of small proprietor owned store have all but vanished replaced by the two mega-stores that must be very inconvenient for those living out side Charlottetown.

    2. I’m curious why loosening or removing zoning restrictions on single family homes is not in your list of options that aren’t on the table?

      1. You said it! Why not allow the front/back subdivision of sf houses on lanes in Vancouver? Because of the crazy notion that houses should front only on wide streets with buckets of available on street parking? Please.

        See Tokyo and pretty much every other Japanese city for houses that front on to 5 metre wide streets. It’s actually a better environment to live in, as cars speeds and volumes are reduced significantly.

        Think larger laneway houses, but on fee-simple lots. It takes smart design and the acceptance of the idea that streets are not only for cars, but it can be done.

      2. It should be. The reason is that I can’t edit posts once they are online. I added that critical requirement in the online commentary below the article.

        Indeed re-zoning, especially along arterial roads like Hastings, Commercial, 70th, 16th Ave, 41st Ave or Granville is THE key requirement to provide more affordable housing

        However, let’s keep in mind that not everyone wants to live in a condo, or a 6 to 22 storey building, and that we need to look at all options, too. As such, one needs to look at more land, both from the shallow ocean areas as well as ALR. But, since this is unlikely, we need to accept higher condo & house prices as land prices (pus associated levies and regulations) are a key driver of prices. I rather opt for more expensive blueberries and as such would prefer more housing in Richmond, Surrey or Delta rather than more locally grown blueberries in the ALR.

        Boundary Bay could be several sq km of parks, medium density residential housing & some commercial with beautiful new beaches, neighborhoods and canals, connected to an extended Canadaline, bike and ped friendly.

        This link shows about 30+ areas of the world where land was re-claimed for housing or other purposes: Personally I have seen, walked and experienced: Venice, Miami South beach area, New York, Dubai, SF Bay Area and Holland and they all make sense to me. Why not in MetroVan on a larger scale ?

        Is that not worthy a few articles by Mr. Price, rather than densification only ?

  2. Ignoring for the moment the ridiculousness of A and B for that matter, how can you possibly think ‘I’ would be successful given A, B, & J?

    You want to build sprawl, literally into the ocean with highways to match, but think the region could then support more transit?

    I would ask more about your delusions but it seems silly…

    1. “useless” is a relative term. I consider needs of humans more important than that of birds or snails, for example.

      As stated (now removed as my commentary is apparently too non-socialist) Richmond was a mud flat, as was E-Van (now Hastings area) or what is now Coal Harbor. 1/3 of Holland is below sea level, dyked and useful farmland, commercial or residential land. SF bay area has reclaimed many sq km of tidal mudflats in eco-California. Why not in MetroVan ?

      A wider bridge to N-Van and W-Van could accommodate bikes, pedestrian, subway/LRT and 5-7 car lanes as we need all modes.

  3. Gordon is probably right regarding a new crossing of the Fraser river at Boundary Road. This might follow a decision to remove land from the ALR in east Richmond and assist those needing shelter. A massive building boom could start that would reduce the need for young people that want to start a family in having to go all the way out to Langley. A convenient link and extension to the SkyTrain could also be anticipated, since this area is only 3km from Metrotown (less than half this distance from Main Street to UBC).

  4. The area mentioned is massive. It’s just about equivalent to what is now the waterfront at Gastown south to 41st Avenue and from Dunbar Street to Nanaimo Street. All this without touching any ALR land in Delta, Surrey or Langley just Richmond. It’s inevitable.

  5. There is insufficient appreciation of how much the disconnect between BC government and Metro policies, most especially transport policy, have already contributed to the demise of regional planning and the achievement of regional objectives in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. While transit plans are subjected to new taxation measures, the provincial government builds roads – and bridges – when, where and as it pleases without regard to regional planning making use of its general revenues. The current BC government obviously feels no more limited by local (regional) planning than earlier Social Credit governments that suspended regional planning.

    That being said, I’m not arguing that the more must be done to provide affordable housing for the region. Perhaps single family zoning – at least some of it – should be on the table.

    1. Indeed, 70 km/h is far too slow. Should be higher for a major highway. It could be lowered 1.5m to 2m into the ground and the earth used to build a berm beside it for noise protection and a bike / ped path on top plus many at grade crossings to not slow the east-west traffic down. That was my feedback.

  6. There is no such thing as “middle income housing”, “low income housing” or subsidized housing. Somebody is paying in the end. The solution to the housing crisis is deregulation of land laws, removing zoning from areas which simply are disgustingly out of place. North Mount pleasant is one area, Southeast marine drive is another. You have to increase housing supply. That is the only solution.

  7. The Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation might technically be “local” but many suspect that they take their orders from elsewhere.

    1. Could it be that there are any MANY tax payers who actually support them, fed up with the waste of the public system, grossly overpaid civil servants and inefficiencies on all levels of government ? People who support small government, low taxes & privatization or less public involvement in healthcare, education or transportation ?

      1. It could be, but note that only 18% of the funds they receive come from people who may be in that category you describe. The rest comes from groups and industry, who are supporting a particular viewpoint. Groups like Exxon Mobile, who funding the climate change denial research that the Fraser Institute is publishing. Groups like the Koch brothers, who would like to see more oil sands development and pipeline construction. There are taxpayers who do not support these positions, and so the Fraser Institute is not speaking for them, at least not on these issues.

  8. The NDP canvassers tell me that Thomas Mulcair supports the Energy East Pipeline that would run oil from Alberta to the Montreal refineries. Does anyone expect otherwise from a Montreal lawyer? Funny how Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin and now Mulcair are all Montreal lawyers.

  9. 300 years ago, every city in the world had a de facto urban containment boundary – our own two legs. However the consequences of this were not severe (discussions of living conditions aside), because in absence of laws that arbitrarily require an extremely inefficient use of land (hello sf residential in the city centre), the market was permitted to build enough housing. Releasing land from the ALR and allowing car-oriented development isn’t the way to do it, it’s only an easy out that allows us to not face the realities of our situation: a constrained housing supply due to zoning, NIMBYs and other restrictive bylaws, and foreign money in search of an investment.

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