December 29, 2017

Is the Vancouver We Know Gone?

Christopher Cheung has written an evocative piece in Metro News  that really resonates with the remarkable changes Vancouver has experienced in the past year. Noting that it is not only  housing affordability at stake, Chris states that “inequality, segregation and displacement are destroying what makes Vancouver special”.
On the heels of Dr. David Hulchanski’s Warren Gill lecture on the hollowing out of Vancouver reported here in Price Tags Vancouver Christopher observes that the City is changing in fundamental ways. Once welcoming to all socio-economic groups, the city is now giving a ‘slow goodbye to diversity and inclusivity as segregation rises”.  Christopher also keenly describes the disappearance of the blue-collar working class out of the city as described by Dr. Hulchanski’s talk.
“Rich Vancouverites settling or spending money in lower-income neighbourhoods are causing displacement, something local activists and academics have sounded alarm on.
The Downtown Eastside and Chinatown are losing businesses catered to its low-income residents as high-end retailers and restaurants move in. Around Metrotown, condo developers are destroying rental housing that single-parents and newcomers have depended on for affordability and transit-access to get to work.
In addition to segregation of the rich and poor, Hulchanski’s analysis of census data shows how extreme Metro Vancouver’s divide is. There are more rich and poor neighbourhoods, but less middle-income neighbourhoods. (A middle-income neighbourhood is a census tract of about 5,000 people with an average individual income 20 per cent above or below the local average.)
In 1980, middle-income neighbourhoods made up two-thirds of the region. In 2015, they make up half the region.”
Christopher Cheung is also absolutely right in describing that the “idea” of Vancouver’s working class neighbourhoods might still exist, but only in “the form of condo ads, businesses, products and neighbourhood rebranding efforts that commodify and glamourize their grittiness“. Even Andy Yan, the Duke of Data and Director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program perceives that a “homogeneous, dull, hostile” Vancouver without the ability to be welcoming and open could develop. As both Christopher Cheung and Andy Yan state the issues in Vancouver are not just about accessibility and affordability to housing and jobs, but also looking at  how to enhance social inclusion and accentuate economic resilience and opportunity. It was those factors that made Vancouver attractive as a city to live in the latter part of the 20th century. How can policy be shaped to ensure Vancouver is a place  that not only can adequately houses its workers, but provides economic diversity and potential? Is it too late to hold onto the Vancouver we used to know?

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  1. We tend to think of this as a phenomenon of the last few years, a big change from what had “always been.” But in reality, the seeds were always there — too few choices for housing as people’s needs changed. I had been thinking about this since the 70s but it wasn’t until 2000 that I had the epiphany that put it all into perspective.
    I was stuck in traffic on 12th Ave. On one side of the street was the main entrance to Vancouver General Hospital; on the other side, the entrance to a seniors’ highrise with three old guys sitting on a single bench, looking across at the hospital. 6 lanes of idling traffic in between. I suddenly realized it was the future of growing old in Vancouver: stuck in a kind of housing I didn’t want with nothing between me and my inevitable future except people from somewhere else going past. At that moment I knew I’d eventually be leaving Vancouver.

  2. Excessive immigration does that. Some immigration is helpful, beneficial and healthy, but too many, too fast, does change a city drastically as we have seen in Vancouver the last 30 years.
    Yet, nary a debate anywhere on what does healthy immigration look like?
    The result of this undiscussed elephant in the room is visible in Vancouver today.
    With even higher immigration targets it will not get any better.

    1. Thomas, if people thought like this 69 years ago, my family would have been stuck in the Netherlands. I am sure that you would not be here either. Most of us are immigrants or descendents of recent immigrants. You seem to be a lot like all the other hypocrites who want to shut the door now that they are here. I would rather be a little more generous and keep the door open – especially to those less fortunate than I.

      1. It’s not the less fortunate coming here that most people are worried about Arno. It’s the global monied classes descending on the city most people I know are concerned about.

        1. That’s quite the sweeping generalization. The data isn’t even in yet. Wait another year for Stats Can, the CMHC and the CRA to complete their work and for it to be fully analyzed. The developed Metro occupies 820 km2. There are thousands of housing listings that don’t attain Dunbar’s rarified price height.

    2. Immigrants and their children’s children are our future taxpayers. My European and American immigrant grandparents arrived between 1902 and 1921. Both sides together have over 400 direct descendants today. The cumulative lifetime economic activity of these generations can be measured in hundreds of millions of dollars.
      That’s only the economic side of immigration. The social and cultural aspects are just as enriching. The origins of my United Nations family cover every continent on the planet, with the possible exception of Antarctica.
      Your comments Thomas demean me, my family and every other Canadian with immigrant roots, which is basically the entire population outside of Indigenous people.

  3. Post
    1. I have the benefit of reading ‘Maximum Canada’ and have written about it here in previous comments. This is a good interview’
      What’s missing are the actual investments Saunders listed. The big ones include urbanizing the suburbs using high-capacity rail transit powered by clean electricity as a catalyst to diversify the housing supply and stimulate mixed use centres, rewriting the building code to foster better energy conservation and to move away from fossil fuels, to increase family reunification immigration programs (it’s always the children of immigrants who power the economy with better earnings and education), to fund better education and establish more immigrant business opportunities, and to build more daycare to allow both parents to participate in the workforce more.
      One of the key takeaways of the book was that a population of 100 million will become more self-sustaining than our current over-reliance on trade with partners who cannot be guaranteed to remain stable forever, and to diversify away from extractive economics toward a knowledge economy. Making and selling products and building on patents on intellectual property within Canada is far more workable with a larger population.

      1. We are far away from that. Where are the subway lines in crowded MetroVan and GTA? Where are the limits on foreign immigration or the monetization of immigrants who participate little here, yet own big houses or condos almost tax free while sucking up ESL, education, police services and healthcare for free ?
        The Canada I immigrated to 30+ years ago has disappeared in MetroVan. It still exists elsewhere.

  4. Anybody who loves the West End should be very concerned by what is happening there. What was a fairly unique and egalitarian neighbourhood for average people is well on its way to becoming yet another luxury high rise zone with token tiny , new rental units that are not truly affordable.

    1. Imagine what they were saying in the 40s when apartments started replacing those nice old houses. Imagine how horrified in the 60s when skyscrapers started appearing. But now that it is predominantly apartments and significantly highrise we should worry again, because – surprise – it continues to evolve. (And, if we’re honest, pretty slowly.)
      Vancouver isn’t the place for people who fear change. But fear not, there are plenty of places that barely do.

  5. I agree with Christopher Cheung, especially about displacement.
    I was Vancouver (lower) middle class. I hesitate to reveal where I am displaced to because I don’t want the wave of displaced Vancouver people to flood into my refugee camp, er… I mean new city but I sold my sea kayak and crossed the treacherous mountains (in winter) to Edmonton. I don’t think there will be anyone to displace anyone from Edmonton.
    Vancouver was once the gumboot paradise by the sea. I felt I belonged in Vancouver. I thought we were made for each other. Vancouver is still so pretty, but these days pretty in the way that a classy prostitute is pretty.

    1. How sad that 5 people see fit to give someone’s honest opinion a thumbs down. That type of story is being played out everywhere in Vancouver. And for the younger generation it’s commonplace. For those of you who rent and poohpoohed it, enjoy the sanctimony until the issue lands on your doorstep and the landlord you thought would never removing you does, or whoever owns that condo you rent decides to sell.

      1. I downvoted David’s comment on the unnecessary and self-indulgent prostitute reference. There are 21 municipalities in the Metro and many more up the Valley, on the Mainland coast, Gulf Islands and on Vancouver Island that are affordable and “gumboot and sea kayak” worthy. He chose Edmonton
        I suspect he is not relaying all the facts that drew him there, and chose to indulge in the fallen angel rhetoric about Vancouver. Perhaps it wasn’t a lack of employment and housing opportunity, but more about life choices, poor timing or better romantic or employment situation that made him leave Vancouver.

        1. Alex, in my defense, I called Vancouver a “classy prostitute” (not just any prostitute).
          I had a small manufacturing business in Vancouver. I needed to move into larger industrial space. Of course the price of industrial space in Vancouver is tied to the price of residential real estate in Vancouver. That’s why business is fleeing Vancouver.
          Re: Vancouver Island
          The Vancouver bubble is also affecting Vancouver Island. People are cashing in their Vancouver houses and buying houses on Vancouver Island. The lucky new millionaires can buy a house in Oak Bay and a castle in France with the money from the sale of their Point Grey crack shack. Never mind the transportation costs on Vancouver Island, it’s off limits to most types of business, due to bubbly real estate. Ditto for every other place in BC within the 1500 kilometer bubble-blast radius of Vancouver.
          Re: Gulf Islands
          If you are independently wealthy and you don’t have to work I’m sure the Gulf Islands would be awesome.
          Is the Vancouver we know gone? In the Vancouver I knew houses were a place to live. Now they are a commodity to be traded. Vancouver is now a tense atmosphere where the unlucky can be turfed from the city and the lucky can become stinking rich.

        2. David, thank you for filling in the details missing in your prostitute commentary. There still remains a lot of dishonest rhetorical bombast in your original post about Vancouver, a city which is filled with millions of honest people getting by who are just as subject as you were to the difficulties of an overheated real estate market. Not all of them had to move away, obviously.
          My paternal grandparents worked two homesteads 120 km northeast of Edmonton pre WWI, and had seven kids. Now six generations later most have prospered, and Edmonton is home to the majority. It is a very decent city that shares a liberal arts culture with the oil industry, government admin and a healthy small business climate.
          BTW, Edmonton is also subject to speculation, but not to the same level as Vancouver or the GTA. The majority of the oil industry is also owned by US and offshore interests, including a significant stake by wealthy Chinese corporations.
          What this means is that talk of foreign wealth needs to be taken with more perspective and less slagging.

        3. Alex, indeed in some ways Edmonton is the Vancouver we once new. The Edmonton planning leaves something to be desired though. Edmonton seems to be in a time warp where increasing the amount of car traffic is the number one priority.
          Anyway, I’m not finished with the rhetorical bombast. I don’t want to compare BC to Syria but the BC real estate bubble does remind me of Bashar al-Assad. They have both caused a wave of refugees, misery and despair. You can see it here outside the BC border. The BC refugees (and there are a lot of them) have that thousand-yard stare. They have seen the horror of the BC bubble. They have been betrayed by their own government.
          The people who are speculating on Vancouver real estate should be forced to pay the moving expenses of their victims. Perhaps the politicians responsible for aiding and abetting the bubble (and subsequent displacements) should be charged with treason.

        4. How else would you refer to Christy Clark and the BC Liberals pimping out Vancouver to offshore money? Want to buy a place in our education system, step right up and bring the bucks! Want junior or his mother the homemaker to own a luxury condo to ease student life – the Condo King has just the thing for the right price! Maybe Mom the Homemaker would like a million dollar mansion to watch over him while in Vancouver – just smuggle the right amount of money out and we’ll get it for you. And don’t worry about tearing down that old house, we don’t have that pesky heritage protection other cities do! Want to be high roller, our casinos are the best in town, with lax oversight nobody will question that bag of $20s you bring!
          Sorry you’re offended by David’s prostitution reference but it is extremely apt.

        5. Vancouver …. Syria? That’s just way over the top. There is no comparison whatsoever. It’s interesting that this rhetoric could only get published on a blog commentary and never in a respected publication outside of tabloid haven.

        6. Crazy idea here, but what if we pretended we’ve actually been listening to what women have been saying for lo these past 2000 years or so (about how society treats them and their choices) and find a different word than ‘prostitute’ to describe our opinions on Vancouver’s appeal to the world.
          Men sell their bodies and are lauded for it as ‘blue-collar’ workers. There’s a huge double standard inflicted by people who wish to control women and their bodies. Do we want to help them?
          Seriously. Aim higher.

        7. I have met and got to know a Syrian refugee family. All three men were thrown in prison for years, the father because he was a member of the political opposition to al Assad. It took years of lobbying by Amnesty International and several democratic governments to have him released. He doesn’t speak much about the torture he endured. He escaped to a refugee camp in Jordan the moment he was released, only to hear that both of his sons were arrested and jailed as the result of his escape. It took another three years of lobbying to have them released. In all, he hadn’t seen his sons for 21 years but were reunited at YVR two years ago. It was national news. His application to Canada over all other nations was due to our refugee family reunification policy.
          When you see the near-absolute destruction of Syria and five million refugees steaming across the winter landscape, it begs comparison to anything but other wars. It’s quite another thing to meet some of them and hear it directly.
          Your Vancouver = Syria comment was completely unacceptable, a product of your swollen hubris. You are pissed that you couldn’t stay in Vancouver, therefore you chose to express your anger using one of the world’s current tragedies, something you obviously know little about beyond tabloid headlines. That says more about you than anything else.
          Honestly, you don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about, but you’ll say it anyway won’t you?

  6. I knew Vancouver was a goner with the forced expansion caused by EXPO 86 and encased in concrete by the 2010 Olympics. We wanted to be a “world-class city” and we got what we paid for. Vancouver used to be a small town for those of us who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and live by the sea. Those days are gone forever.

    1. The ones who mewled most about being “world class” were the developers and their various hangers-on who have funded the Socreds/BC Liberals, NPA and more recently Vision Vancouver.

    1. Michael, I enjoyed your gentrification talk. Thanks for posting that video.
      It appears that in the last 100 years Vancouver gentrification has progressed in a somewhat orderly fashion with a couple of bouts of moderate absurdity. Lately, however, Vancouver has gone completely bonkers due to runaway speculation fueled by crazy low interest rates and catalyzed by flight money from China. I think it may have reached the point where quality of life has been displaced right out of Vancouver and perhaps all of British Columbia.
      The fearsome, Godzilla-sized BC real estate bubble is hostile to economic activity unrelated to real estate. Industrial activity has been fleeing Vancouver for some time. The other Vancouver refugees and myself are secretly hoping to move back to our beloved Vancouver when the inevitable crash happens but I think it will be different this time. The jobs are gone and the industrial network is gone.

      1. Vancouver it’s a resort city now for the affluent. Tough for locals to make a living. Very tough. A great place to wok from though, ie derive money from elsewhere. Oceans, beaches, mountains, skiing nearby, opera, Theaters, world class dining. That’s what world citizens that can live almost anywhere love. So they come here.
        Where in the world can you go skiing in the morning, windsurfing in the afternoon and go to the opera at night ?
        Middle and lower class are being squeezed out indeed due to excessive immigration, under taxation of real estate, lack of enforcement on real estate gains (incl condo flipping ) and lack of new affordable rentals. The new 25% forced rental program will help renters but was implemented far too late. And no rapid transit in sight anytime soon to live further out on N Shore or S Richmond or South or East Vancouver, and commute in. Burnaby, New West, Surrey now the heaven of middle class growth, thus Surrey will surpass Vancouver as BC’s largest city.

      2. Re: The “inevitable crash.”
        I think you’ll have a long wait. A big earthquake might do it temporarily. Sea level rise is too far away. A couple of corrections? Maybe. But there are too many forces acting on land values outside of foreign money and speculation to account for more than a dip or two, perhaps even at par the 15% we saw with the world’s deepest recession since the Great Depression nine years ago.
        One thing to watch for is what happens to the nation’s and the world’s high levels of debt if another big recession hits without the subsequent bailouts. But even that may cause overseas millionaires to flock to Canadian property in an even bigger rush to convert their insecure cash to solid assets. Even Edmonton real estate could come to their attention.

  7. I grew up in Vancouver, a sleepy town with little going for it except beautiful scenery and a mild climate. There was almost zero culture, few restaurants, not a single neighbourhood pub and nightclubs were rare. The sidewalks were rolled up by 9:00.
    Local neighbourhood commercial streets were in decline as families moved to the suburbs and shoppers drove great distances to shiny new suburban malls. Everybody drove everywhere. We came dangerously close to wiping out the only character neighbourhoods with an urban freeway. We had recently lost out streetcar and interurban network.
    There was no Seabus or SkyTrain or express buses. Cycling was for children.
    Hastings Street began a decline that has only recently halted. Downtown consisted of Granville and Robson Streets – and Burrard if you worked in an office.
    The Seawall had barely begun.
    First Nations were “Injuns” and were disrespected if they weren’t invisible. We had little to no idea they were still being treated like barbarians to be broken. Racial tension and stereotyping was persistent. We didn’t all welcome “new” newcomers like East Indians any better than some do today. There was always a reason to dislike or feel threatened by immigrants even though we almost all are.
    Skid row already existed.
    False Creek was a stinking, smoky, polluted cesspool. Smoggy fog was much more common and people burned garden waste along with old tires in their back yards.
    Has everything gone perfectly since? Why would we expect it to? Are there serious problems, not least of which is a housing crisis that we share with many desirable places? We can at least be thankful it is a desirable place. It is so much better a place than the one in which I was born.
    Is the Vancouver we knew gone? Thankfully yes. The problems we have also have solutions. I’m sure as we get our problems under control others will arise. But looking backward for solutions is a tricky business. We can learn from the past, but we can’t turn back the clock or even stop it. Many of our problems are a direct result of trying to do just that.
    In my lifetime we have transitioned from being a small town to being a decent sized, internationally recognized city. Holding on to small town attitudes doesn’t solve anything. If you really want to cling to living in a small town there are plenty in BC that resemble in cultural experience, cost of living and ease of parking what Vancouver was like half a century ago. You have choices.

    1. Such a biased pile of nonsense it’s hard to know where to begin. The densification of the West End took place long before anyone had even heard of globalization. As did TEAM’s decision to remake SW False Creek and the Feds decision to create Granville Usland. Those actions were all well underway before the first developer had condo towers as a gleam in their eye. Indeed we were probably better off as a city in 1985 before people began uttering this “world class city” drivel.

      1. Bob, did you build your own place of residence or was it built by a *shudder* “developer”? I get the sense that you think that everything that has gone wrong is wholly the fault of developers who build condos. I can’t tell if you think the densification of the West End is a good thing or a bad thing or what you would have thought of it when it began long long ago. Or what you would have thought if you were here minding your own business when a tidal wave of European immigrants destroyed your way of life but created the city you now have come to defend.

    2. Thank you for your great commentary, Ron. There is obviously too little acceptance of change and almost nothing said about solutions to our challenges by those who banter about all-encompassing words like “gentrification”, which has now lost its original meaning because it is so broadly cast onto all development.
      I think there is too much regret, nostalgia and navel-gazing expressed in pieces like the main post and some of the comments. Preserving heritage doesn’t have to mean preserving vast neighbourhoods under a glass bubble. There are many, many ways that change and heritage can coexist. Pining for the view from Kits Beach doesn’t mean you need to call Vancouver a “prostitute” when you cannot afford to join the crème living in Kits and move to the frigid Arctic by choice, while blaming Vancouver for that choice.
      Some of us spent decades in poverty starting in cockroach-infested rooming houses in Strathcona and rentals filled with party animals, and more decades building, renovating, bleeding and going broke over former crack or junker houses, bringing back a semblance of habitability and lost architecture. That is now insultingly called “gentrification” by a some who have not paid any dues and who have no scars or understanding what owning an old house really entails. What is the alternative? Leave the crack houses in place, call them “affordable” and let them continue to rot into the ground?
      The picture in the main post with the Boomers owning a palace is so far off base with Boomers like me that it’s both infuriating and comical. The reality with every Boomer I know is fixing up the tiny, broken Gen X house at great cost, buying condos or living in rentals for the rest of time.
      After climbing out of a deep hole of debt, injury and the aggravation of bad tenants, we will never sell out and give up on Vancouver. Our house is not a commodity. Moreover, my family recognizes Vancouver for what it is: a city very susceptible to the ravages of envy for being in such a beautiful location, for constantly changing largely for the better given our local increasingly diverse and walkable commercial retail streetscapes, and for a small populace of critics who don’t really understand their own city’s history when bleating on and on about the Devil Developers and the dirty, filthy stinking rich, many of whom they don’t care to admit also gave the city its history and a deeply meaningful architectural legacy for all incomes, rich (Shaughnessy) and working class (Strathcona, parts of Kits, Mount Pleasant, Grandview …). Developers and builders all.
      I completely agree with the premise that looking backward with lament, envy and regret will not supply the solutions to our unique housing and economic challenges. There are answers, but many of them require us to give up on the shibboleths we have held dear for so long. One of them is the large lot, especially with a detached house on it. Move to subdividing these obsolete constructs, and to infilling with a much more diverse choice in housing. Another is to consider public rental housing in market, break-even and non-market (subsidized) forms. By the thousands all over the Metro. And still another would be to open up the exceedingly myopic view that Vancouver is the centre of the known universe, and start exploring the world of the Metro.

  8. Well, the thing to remember isn’t that Vancouver is an attractive place but that other places are less attractive than they once were. People that in the past would have stayed happily in their cities are now seeing their quality of life reduced and are moving to Vancouver where it’s still nice.
    The answer to slow it down is not to make Vancouver less nice but to help other cities become nicer as well.

    1. I don’t know if the actual people are moving to Vancouver but their money is certainly moving to Vancouver because Vancouver is a nicer place for money than China. Perhaps we could help China be a nicer place for money. We could certainly give China some helpful advice on how to be nice to money. Vancouver could also be less nice to money by not being such a world class place for laundering Chinese money.

      1. Apparently tens of thousands have moved to Vancouver in the past decade, just as the price arc in housing got very steep. Even more tens of thousands moved to the Metro in the same period and live in rapid-transit linked town centres. And still many thousands more are born in Vancouver and stay for their family and jobs despite the economic challenges. Some of these youth are getting early inheritances for a down payment, help with the rent, or work at two jobs / share space, or live in subsidized housing. There are options.
        The only ones I’ve heard call Vancouver a “prostitute” are the ones who have moved far, far away but still seem green with envy and regret enough to name-call from Oil Country. One commenter who still lives here once called the city a “blonde bimbo”. I’d actually agree with that during the unfortunate Disco Decade.

  9. Many successful hard working and honest business people in China are justifiably concerned that their assets could be taken away by a government that has done it before.
    Therefore, they naturally move assets abroad for safety.

  10. So many of us love living in the Resort crafted by Vision™.
    Vancouver at the Seashore. Americanos and Brioche and all the boys and girls so fit and trim. Yoga and sushi too.
    Let’s play!

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