July 9, 2019

Notes from a Podcast: The North Shore’s Grand Bargain

At our live Price Talks recording on June 26th, Gord introduced the idea of a “grand bargain” having been struck on the North Shore (episode available here).

Price Tags contributor and North Vancouver writer Barry Rueger explains the theory, and gives it some shape and colour:

During the Q&A that followed the Price Tags taping at the North Vancouver District Public Library moderator Gordon Price asked Holly Back, a member of the City of North Vancouver council, how she felt about the “bargain” that had been struck between the City and the District.

The bargain is straightforward: the City will build lots of new housing, more than a thousand new rental units, and low income and supportive housing, while the District will do nothing, in order to preserve a suburban community of single family detached homes.

As the City grows, the District will remain unwelcoming—to both outsiders and population growth.

The current District council is smug in its determination to block all new development, and openly hostile to developers, but I suspect they’re fooling themselves if they think this is a triumph. By refusing to approve any development, and asking staff for help in shaming council members who accepted developer contributions, the District is trying to preserve the type of community that was popular a half-century ago; one with suburban houses, big shopping malls, and a complete dependence on cars for transportation.

Meanwhile, the City is densifying, diversifying, and creating a twenty-first century municipality that acknowledges these changing demographics, as well as the looming threat of climate change.

While the District is chasing away projects that would offer services and housing to seniors, the disabled, and the low income workers that drive the retail sector, the City is welcoming them with open arms.

Already you can see and feel the difference. The lower half of Lonsdale Street—especially near the Shipyards and Seabus terminal—is alive with new development. A new Whole Foods store has opened, and a flurry of new businesses, restaurants, and services have appeared that are supported by the rising population. Equally noteworthy is the sense that it’s a young population moving in, with different priorities and different spending patterns. Compared to Lynn Valley where we live, it’s a community—alive and vibrant. There are even people on the streets after nine o-clock on a weeknight.

The feeling that the City is younger is in fact supported by the 2016 census; the City’s population is growing at a rate several times faster than the District, and much of that growth is in people in their prime earning years. That working age population represents a bigger percentage of the City’s residents, than the District, and it skews younger too. While the District’s population currently has more children and teens, by adulthood they’ll join the “missing middle” — younger working adults who can no longer afford to live in the District. Meanwhile, the District is left with a surplus of people at or approaching retirement age.

What hasn’t been discussed by the new District council is what all of this holds for the future. As the City adds housing, and population, and density, it will also grow its tax base and its economic activity.

Building housing will allow the City to grab the lion’s share of Federal and Provincial funding that has become available. More people will mean more spending, more jobs, and more vitality and resilience. A population that is younger and more diverse will create a city that can see new opportunities, and find new solutions to the problems faced by any municipality in the Lower Mainland. And of course, more density will encourage TransLink to improve transit services.

And the District? As the population ages into retirement ,the incomes that support local businesses will decline. As council insists that they only want two million dollar single family homes, they’ll see young people and young families choosing to live in the City. Those people will be looking south, towards the galleries, and shopping, and excitement of Lower Lonsdale and Vancouver, and eventually won’t even think about the District as a place to live or visit.

While the City thrives, the District will just fade away, becoming less relevant with every year.

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  1. Makes sense in light of no new bridges, tunnels, subways or trains connecting north shore to downtown and places south. We underinvest in transportation infrastructure, both public and roads/tunnels, and then wonder why there is opposition to new housing.

    New housing aka density needs to be planned hand in glove with increased transportation infrastructure but it is not. Also see UBC line ( or lack thereof).

    Where’s the subway / LRT loop via Stanley Park, Lionsgate bridge, Marine Drive, Lonsdale Quay, Phibbs Exchange, Second Narrows via downtown east side to revitalize East Van and moderate traffic ? Where’s the train / funiculare like we see in Zurich or Lisbon up the steep hill from Lonsdale Quay?

    1. We all want more infrastructure but considering most people who work in the north shore live elsewhere because it is not affordable we should build affordable housing now. Otherwise people will use even more infrastructure, require more taxes and pollute more. So no it does not make sense.

      1. Most people who live on the north shore work elsewhere —— Morning bridge line ups are longer on the north side than south——– -New density without parking would encourage residents to work local —- Otherwise new north shore density will mostly provide housing for people driving SOV s across the bridge

    2. Let’s build everything out perfectly before letting people in? It’s not a greenfield. No people, no infrastructure. It currently works fine as it is and can accommodate many more.

  2. Kind of like the downtown peninsula versus the westside of the City of Vancouver.
    … maybe the District of Westside Vancouver?

  3. Isn’t this dichotomy a little simplistic? The District is in the process of densifying around specific areas identified in its OCP as village centres. So there is a bunch of high rise buildings going in at the foot of Capilano Road; Lynn Valley Mall is enduring a makeover that will add residential towers; Lynn Creek and Maplewood are next. And just ask anyone living around Edgemont whether there is no building going on.; the place is a constant construction site. My impression — and it is just an impression — is that the District is adding a lot of housing of the non-traditional variety.

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