Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for March 22nd, 2012

Affordable housing in Vancouver? Why bother?

with 4 comments

Pete McMartin had been going up in my estimation. His latest opinion piece in the Sun puts him right back where he started, as far as I am concerned. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion and he gets paid to publish it. He does not have to worry too much about facts – which are supposed to be sacred – nor does he seem to do much research. He usually relies on the old “when I were a lad” formula. One of the comments on his piece calls him on it and cites data to show he is wrong.  He dismisses current concerns about affordability in Vancouver on the basis of “’twas always thus” citing nothing more than his own experience of moving to the suburbs to buy a house.

Short commutes and easy access to an Ethiopian restaurant are not the natural order of things.

Actually short commutes were very much the order of things for nearly all of human history. Most people lived near to the fields where they worked, or over the shop. Most miners were housed a short walk from the pit head. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that zoning ordinances (here) and the Town & Country planning movement (in the UK) were successful in separating out residential areas from industrial areas. And most of that was driven by concerns about the environmental impact of factories, and the ability to move lots of people around cheaply by the new electric trains and tram(street)cars. Sprawl was already under way fifty years before cars were even beginning to appear on the roads, and they did not become widespread for another fifty years after that. But the suburbs were promising a healthier, safer place to live long before the subsidies to home ownership and car use caused the explosion of post war growth.

There will, of course, be much more on location efficiency here tomorrow – as that is the subject of tonight’s SFU lecture.

But there is also a whole raft of reasons why people would like to be able to bring up their families in Vancouver than Delta. Not the least of these is simple walkability. Where I live at the edge of the built up area in Richmond, there is now nowhere that I can buy basic daily necessities in less than a mile’s walk. Bus scheduling is such that there at least a fifteen minute gap if I miss one of two buses that are meant to run together. There is no bike lane on Steveston Highway – and no-one who drives on it observes the 50 km/hr limit – so riding on it is simply not something I am prepared to do any more. And mapping of the region shows that this is common outside of the City of Vancouver.

There are also other considerations beyond restaurant variety. One of them is family: many people would like to stay in their neighbourhood. For many young people, the only way they can do that is to live in their parent’s house – or in the granny flat. It is not simply that people with families insist on a ground oriented house, on its own lot, with a yard. There are many takers for apartments – and growing demand for schools in newly rezoned residential areas downtown. And how are day care workers, for instance (always among the lowest paid) to find somewhere to live where they can be at work before the commuters arrive to drop off their kids? Many residents of Vancouver commute to the suburbs to their jobs, which tend to be in office parks in the suburbs near the freeway exits.

Much of what happens in Vancouver is driven by the political system of “at large” councillors – which up until recently had tended to favour conservative councils. A lot more is resistance to change in established neighbourhoods, but initiatives like lane way housing are showing that increased density can be accommodated without too much angst.

Laneway house

Laneway house – my photo on flickr

But affordability is still the number one issue, and it is not a minority concern, nor one that can be quite so readily – and airily – dismissed.

I would have a to more to say about this but I have to go to SFU downtown this evening, which means I must have an early supper, before the hour long commute downtown. It would be nice if I could afford somewhere smaller, and more convenient and closer to the things I like to do. But selling a three bedroom strata titled town house in Richmond does not buy anything in the downtown core.

UPDATE November 26, 2017
More data on Laneway Houses in Vancouver from Brent Toderian via Twitter

Laneway homes from Brent Toderian

“We’ve added thousands of new homes in existing walkable neighborhoods, & we’ve given families lots of options for multi-generational living. The initial complaints have died away & now #lanewayhomes are an accepted & ubiquitous part of the urban landscape.”

Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Posted in housing, Urban Planning

Tagged with ,