The new Vancouver suburb as reported by Kerry Gold in the Globe and Mail last Friday is not in British Columbia, but across the Pacific in Beijing China, just thirty minutes from the airport. Prior to the Beijing Olympics, the Olympic Committee from China came to visit Vancouver. I was part of the team that was to show them the City, specifically the Greenways and work in the downtown core. But that wasn’t what the Olympic Committee wanted to see-they loved the “suburbs” and housing of Mount Pleasant, with the post Victorian housing form, spilling gardens, and sidewalked lawns. This, they said, was a paradise.
So it is no surprise that “Vancouver Forest” has been created in Beijing, an “oldey worldy” smattering of housing types with streets placed on a grid, trees and gardens. With 900 single family houses on 55 hectares, housing size varies from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet. The developer Beijing Capital Group partnered with several British Columbia based firms, including Paul Roseneau and EKISTICS. The project took 13 years to build. All the houses except the show homes are built of concrete instead of wood, and the average price is 3 million dollars.
The housing could not be built today in Beijing as the priority is for higher density units, and this type of housing is perceived as “elitist”. And a lot of Vancouver Forest is empty. Paul Rosenau says:
“A lot of our projects sit 50 per cent empty, not because they’re not sold. They are sold overnight. What’s interesting about the Chinese market is – and this is very different than here, very different than our culture – is people don’t really believe in putting their money into the bank. Anyone who has money, as soon as they have enough saved up, they buy a piece of real estate. These are middle- to upper-middle-class people. A lot of my friends in China, professional designers, someone like me, the boss of a [boutique] company like this one, they all own 15 or 20 apartments or houses. I have a friend who’s the equivalent of me in China, and he has about 20 pieces of real estate. I asked him, ‘Why do you keep buying property?’ He says, ‘how else would I invest my money?”
It is also surprising to see the form of housing that is so often demolished by newcomers replicated in this Beijing suburb. What is not surprising is how much our city spaces and housing are prized and emulated in this project and others, suggesting that Vancouver will be a source for inspiration, emulation and immigration for a long time to come.