Flashback 2003: Attending the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in New Orleans, I caught the keynote from a planning official for Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, under normal circumstances, I don’t suppose I’d remember much of what he said but, at the time, my daughter was just over three years old and something he used as the overall framing for his making Smart Growth work presentation really resonated with me.
“If it works for kids,” he said, “it works for everyone.”
I remember that keynote too. I gave it.
Scott goes on:
Now jump ahead to 2011. Just last week, in fact. Doing some work in Canada, I stumbled into a conversation on “the Vancouver model” — typically characterized by the pencil-thin towers that brought new density, and new life, to Vancouver’s revitalizing streetscapes — when something funny happened. “If you were to ask Larry Beasley (the city’s former planning director) today, in retrospect, what he sees as the biggest shortcoming of his legacy there,” someone said, “he would say it was the failure to bring kids downtown.” …
The ultimate culprit, it was suggested, was that the model of development defining Vancouver in that era was most conducive to smaller unit types that were most appealing to the young, the single, the childless. Not families.
I can’t speak to whether or not that’s accurate but it really doesn’t matter. The larger point is this: Even in a place where attracting families was supported, even championed, by local leadership, it may have been easier said than done.
In fact, Larry did make an attempt to evaluate whether the Vancouver megaprojects succeeded in attracting families with kids. In 2007, in conjunction with Dr. Wendy Sarkission and a class of graduate planning students at UBC’sSchool of Regional and Community Planning, a post-occupancy study of the Concord Pacific development on the North Shore of False Creek was undertaken.
With respect to children:
The presence of young families with children is an identifying characteristic of the community. … The density of children has created new problems: the elementary and daycare centres cannot meet demand and this lack has emerged as an important challenge for raising a family.
There’s also a chart on page 19 that compares the number of children and youth in downtown with other inner-ring neighbourhoods. Example: 4,350 in downtown, 4,590 in Kitsilano.
The report goes on to target the deficiencies, to some extent a problem of the success (and expense) of downtown development. Scott likewise identifies the problems facing families with children in American cities.
While I doubt there’s agreement on whether Vancouver achieved its goal of building family-friendly neighbourhoods in high-density form, it’s hardly fair to dismiss them as a failure. Which I doubt Larry Beasley intended, though his full statement is not referenced.
Nonetheless, there’s not going to be any disagreement on Scott’s conclusion:
Talk of how it takes a village to raise a child sounds — and feels — good but, to make it work, you need a village to start with. Which means you need politicos willing to push it, and developers willing to build it.
UPDATE: Larry Beasley also responds –
Whomever you were talking too completely misquoted me. In fact, while there may be a lot to be critical about the “living first” strategy for Downtown Vancouver that I led to fruition in the 90′s, the policy to entice families with children is NOT a place for criticism. In fact, it was one of our most successful policies and it shows that a solid and well articulated policy commitment by local government can work, even at very high densities.
Just recently the City (I am now retired from government there), did a survey that revealed that fully 25% of Downtown households have children, and also revealed that they are of all ages. Interestingly enough, that was exactly our target in the 1991 Downtown Plan. …