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Falling densities in rising cities

May 7, 2013

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.

Article here.


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.”

They conclude:

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.

Report here.


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.

Lee lets his Final Presentation to do the talking. If you are a super geek, have a look at the Final Report.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam Fitch permalink
    May 7, 2013 11:51 am

    Felix Salmon’s observation that “These people (rich people) tend to fall on the spectrum somewhere between NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything)” reminds me of the protests from residents of the Jameson House condo tower in Vancouver to SwissReal’s proposed office project for the old stock exchange building site across the alley. The Jameson House was recently completed on Hastings Street in Vancouver> Designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster, the development was started by local developer Tony Pappajohn and completed by Bosa. Here is a little piece on it:

    Anyway, purchasers of multi-million dollar condos were not pleased to learn that there could be an office tower 80 feet away from their windows. Well, if they looked out their windows and noticed the practically abandoned old 3 storey building acrss the alley, that might have been a hint that something was planned for the site. The chutzpah of some people.

  2. May 7, 2013 1:31 pm

    I think the Stock Exchange tower actually will be less than 30 feet away from Jameson House.

    • Adam Fitch permalink
      May 7, 2013 6:18 pm

      well, I believe that the lane is about 20 or 25 feet wide, but both buildings have setbacks above the pdium. I think I read 80 feet in a Vancouver Sun article.

  3. May 8, 2013 10:43 am

    Adam – the Exchange tower is built to its rear property line and the Jameson across the lane to the north has a modest rear setback, around 10 feet or so. Plus there is an overlap between the two buildings. So given the 20′ lane, the distance between opposite windows will be about 30′ or so, as I said previously. (there may have been a very modest adjustment to reduce privacy impacts where the overlap occurs.)

    All such facts can be verfied under rezoning applications on in the future.

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