Falling densities in rising cities
Felix Salmon explores a phenomenon noted by Paul Krugman: why are urban population densities dropping in the States, even though cities are increasingly attractive and expensive places to live?
Salmon’s observations speak to some current Vancouver issues:
These rich and powerful have two important effects on urban density. Firstly, they decrease density just by moving to the city: they do that by dint of the fact that they live in larger homes with smaller families. …
Rich people like to maximize the amount of space they live in, whether they’re buying suburban McMansions or downtown lofts. As a result, higher property prices in dense urban areas are prone to making those areas less dense — at least until the developers come along.
This is where the second important effect of the rich-and-powerful comes into play. These people tend to fall on the spectrum somewhere between NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). Just look at the vitriol hurled by carless Soho residents, for instance, at New York’s new bike-sharing stations.
As urban areas become increasingly affluent, filled with wealthy politicians and their wealthier donors, it becomes harder and harder for developers to procure the zoning changes and construction permits they need in order to keep on producing new residential inventory.
The result is that the normal state of affairs — where powerful individuals get trumped by even more powerful construction-industry inevitabilities — is turned on its head, to the point at which new construction can no longer keep up with the de-densification endemic to gentrification.
UPDATE: Urban Futures does some of its own sleuthing in the Canadian census in order to address “concerns about the prevalence of both unoccupied dwellings and foreign investment, specifically as they pertain to the apartment stock in the metropolitan Vancouver region.”
There is nothing in the most recent Census data that provides evidence that the Vancouver region has any abnormal or excessive level of occupancy by foreign and/or temporary residents when compared to other major metropolitan regions in Canada. These data also do not provide any basis for concluding that there is an excess of units in the region that are unoccupied.
UPDATE: While we’re on the discussion of housing, occupancy and affordability, here’s a link to Lee Haber’s blog, who has just posted a summary of his work:
For the past few months, I’ve been working with a group on a study that examines affordability in Greater Vancouver when looking at both housing and transportation costs. It is based on the work done by the Center for Neighbourhood Technology.
Our research seems to support the notion that urban areas are generally more affordable than suburban ones. We calculated the housing and transportation costs using 2006 Census data and 2011 Translink Trip Diary data. The most affordable areas in the region were found to be the West End and Metrotown, whereas the least weren’t found at the periphery in Surrey, Coquitlam, Port Moody and West Vancouver.
So, the truth is Vancouver (proper) is more affordable than we think, but the region is much less affordable than we think.