Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Sorry suburbia, Vancouver is our true economic epicentre

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Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun

Myth-busting finding comes from a memo to Metro Vancouver’s mayors

The surprising, myth-busting finding comes from a memo that has been supplied to the mayors of Metro Vancouver from the city of Vancouver’s engineering department.

It is indeed very odd that a memo from this source would go to all the region’s Mayors. Generally speaking, this kind of information comes from Metro staff – and usually to one of Metro’s committees first. And of course it is also being publicised – presumably by the same source sending it directly to Miro. Someone, somewhere inside City Hall wants to get this shoved into people’s faces and not lost in the bureaucracy somwhere.

Not that the information is not useful – but its provenance and source material can now only be checked by some diligent digging through the StatsCan and other sources cited (but not precisely indentified) in the piece.

– According to the latest population forecasts by both B.C. Statistics and Metro Vancouver, the city of Vancouver will continue to have the largest population of all regional municipalities by 2036 and 2041.

– According to analysis by the Vancouver planning department, the city continues to have significant development capacity to accommodate future population growth (mainly outside downtown).

– Between 2001 and 2006, the city had the largest employment growth among Metro Vancouver municipalities. Vancouver counted 37,500 new jobs during this time frame (accounting for 32 per cent of regional job growth). Surrey, Delta and White Rock combined for 26,800 new jobs (or 22.6 per cent of regional job growth) during the same period.

– Vancouver’s core accounts for 60 per cent of the region’s overall office inventory (data from Colliers International).

– According to 2006 census data, Vancouver has about 400,000 jobs or 34 per cent of all jobs in the region. Surrey has the next largest number at 144,240 or a 12-per-cent share of regional jobs.

– Metro Vancouver projects that in 2031 Vancouver will still maintain a dominant share of regional jobs.

That last one in particular needs to be looked at critically. “Projects” usually means “if present trends continue”, but I would suggest that going 25 years forward at the same rate as we did overv the last 5 years is unlikely, if for no other reason than the world has changed dramatically since these stats were collected. The future, it seems to me, is now a lot more uncertain – becuase the price of oil has not only changed significantly but so has the way that we respond to it. “Present trends” are no longer present – that was then and this is now – and in between times there has been a huge shift in understanding of peak oil and climate change. The broader policy context is already different.

But secondly has the City Engineer talked about this work to the City Planner?

For years there’s been much talk about about setting up new commercial districts to encourage the construction of office towers, not simply condominiums, in Vancouver. There have been dreams of creating a high-tech cluster, too, to bring about those green, high-paying jobs that need to be part of Vancouver’s — and British Columbia’s — future industrial strategy.

But nothing much ever seems to happen. These latest statistics, however, make it crystal clear that Vancouver is — and will continue to be — our economic epicentre. We need to stop ignoring that fact.

Is this even accurate? The idea of the “high tech cluster” on Terminal Avenue did see shovels go into the ground and new streets are now visible next to the train tracks. The commerical proposal died as a result of the bust.

An office tower proposal next to BC Place also died – no tenants could be found for such an “out of the way” location.

Miro suggests this is going to be material for the municipal elections – which makes the involvement of the engineering department even more problematic. Civil servants at any level of government are not supposed to dabble in politics.

This puzzle ought to become something of an issue – but I suspect it will provoke a very strong response from politicians, not so much about the content of the message, but how it is being delivered.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 19, 2008 at 8:21 am

8 Responses

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  1. The article in the Sun smacks of the old Vancouver vs. Surrey pissing contests of old. I thought we were beginning to grow up and out of that tired and pointless debate as a region. Viewing the region as Vancouver vs. suburbia serves no legitimate purpose at all. We need to focus on sustainability issues as an entire metro region. What we need is sustainable FAMILY housing that is affordable and close to employment centres. We need this across the region. We need to reshape our concepts of what family housing is. The single family lot is no longer sustainable, but forcing a family of four into your typical condo shoebox is not all that practical either. We need to look at more low rise and rowhouse developments across the region that are practical for families and priced at a point where they are accessible average family incomes and we need to locate these developments close to centres of employment where walking/transit/cycling are reasonable options. This is where the region needs to focus…..not this silly pulling down of the shorts to compare whose municipality is more blessed “economically”. The need for these types of developments are across the region and not in just one place. Neither Vancouver or Surrey or any other suburb should rest on their laurels thinking they’ve “got it right”. Nobody has the right mix yet and it will take co-operation across the region to get there.


    July 19, 2008 at 11:42 am

  2. Provence please! What a planner (which will remain nameless) said to me was that Greater Vancouver’s job creation was in the service sectors and their is great problems associated with that.

    Vancouver likes to pretend it’s the centre of the world, a world class city of great renown, but the truth is no one cares. Far being “The best place in the world”, Vancouver get international recognition when a decayed foot washes up on an island and the island isn’t in Vancouver at all!

    There are going to be great economic changes in the near future ans it doesn’t bode at all well for Vancouver and the region.

    Malcolm J.

    July 19, 2008 at 1:08 pm

  3. I was pretty shocked at some of the points in the article. It seemed clear recently that Surrey’s population would surpass that of Vancouver, and of course, the main transportation method in Surrey is the personal car. With an already maxed-out bus service people are going to be wishing they lived closer to work or worked closer to home. I’d like to see a shift in attitude that encourages more offices in other regional centres (and not just Surrey of course). Most jobs in Surrey/Langley, I’ve heard, are retail which is pretty pathetic. There’s just not that much else out there. Not enough diversity. I would laugh at people who suggested I try to work closer to home because my industry is virtually nonexistent outside of Vancouver, and most of it is in the downtown core. When you’re a business serving businesses and relying on services like print shops, why would you be anywhere else? I’ve only had two design jobs so far but most everyone lived in Vancouver, followed by North Van and Richmond, all of which are closer and more accessible than Cloverdale. What are Valley residents going to do when driving just becomes too expensive and/or time-consuming? Is Vancouver going to bully them into submission?

    Erika Rathje

    July 20, 2008 at 11:51 pm

  4. Most jobs in Surrey/Langley, I’ve heard, are retail which is pretty pathetic.

    I would think that a good number of jobs in Surrey, the Tri-Cities and the Langleys are in industrial operations that have fled Vancouver.

    Ron C.

    July 21, 2008 at 11:16 am

  5. Stats Canada 2006 Census community profiles:

    Enter the name of the City, click on the “Labour” box, then scroll down for “Occupation”.

    Both Vancouver and Surrey have about 25% in “Sales and service occupations” which is the biggest sector in each city.

    In Surrey, top 4 are:

    Total jobs: 207,565
    Sales and service occupations: 53,100
    Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations: 39,595
    Business, finance and administration occupations: 37,960
    Management occupations: 19,760

    In Vancouver, top 4 are:

    Total jobs: 324,655
    Sales and service occupations: 83,075
    Business, finance and administration occupations: 58,355
    Management occupations: 35,850
    Occupations in social science, education, government service and religion: 34,835

    Ron C.

    July 21, 2008 at 11:43 am

  6. It is obvious that the old 19th Century streetcar suburbs are the very communitiies that still work best in terms of proximity to transit, shopping, sustainable density, services, jobs, lower rate of car dependency, and urban infrastructure efficiency. These are typically today’s inner city neighbourhoods.

    The lessons learned in the late 20th Century in that regard are now starting to be realized in newer communities like UniverCity. But whole new layers of alternative energy and conservation are still needed to counter climate change. The loss of Vancouver’s 26 salmon-bearing steams is lamentable (however, next door in Burnaby for one example there are several major streams under enforced protection), and that lesson — coupled with the encouraging envrinonmental-based planning today — is a powerful aid for planning new communities.


    July 22, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  7. And I would add for rehabilitating existing communities.


    July 22, 2008 at 1:46 pm

  8. Now if Vancouver would allow transit-oriented neighbourhoods around Skytrain stations, rather than the historic ones that are now largely served by cars (i.e. Cambie Village and other highly car dependent “neighburhood” centres)), that would be a step forward.

    Ron C.

    July 22, 2008 at 2:56 pm

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