Don’t overlook this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun on August 10: the annual attack by Wendell Cox of Demographia on one of the foundations of our regional vision, and all the plans that have followed.
The 11th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, sponsored by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, found Vancouver to be the second-least-affordable major metropolitan area of 86 in nine countries. It takes nearly 11 times the pre-tax median annual household income to buy the median priced house today. Only Hong Kong has worse housing affordability. …
The average detached house price is now more than $1.4 million in the Vancouver metropolitan area. This is more than triple the detached house price in 2000. The average apartment condominium now costs more than the average detached house in 2000. Since that time, house prices — detached, attached and apartment — have been rising at more than twice the rate of median incomes. …
At the root of Vancouver’s housing crisis is its long-standing urban containment policy, which seeks to stop urban sprawl by forbidding development on nearly all the remaining suitable land. The Economist contends, in discussing London, that it is possible to stop urban sprawl by urban containment policies, but that the consequences are severe. They are even more severe in Vancouver.
Agricultural preserves in the Lower Mainland (including the Fraser Valley) take considerable land on which urban development is prohibited. Meanwhile, as the demand for housing continues unabated, the land shortage has become even more severe and prices have skyrocketed. This is exactly what basic economics predicts. …
Policy reforms are needed, and everything must be on the table, including more land.
These are the arguments, attached to a populist sentiment, that persuade decision-makers and party strategists who have neither the time nor interest in pursuing the underlying assumptions so long as they are consistent with their ideology (categorized generally as neoliberalism, a word that is more confusing than enlightening.)
Cox, Demographia, the Frontier Centre, as mentioned, and all the related foundations, funders, think-tanks and organizations (Fraser Institute, Canadian Taxpayers Federation locally) have been effective over the last few decades at shifting the political centre to the right – but now aim for more transformative achievements: reversing a generation of public policy, institutional structures and ideas – characterized as smart growth, sustainability, transit-oriented development, complete communities, and so on.
The trashing of TransLink was one of those achievements, facilitated by the referendum that allowed the public to do what the legislators in Victoria could not: dismantling one of the foundations of the regional plan – a region in which growth would be shaped by a frequent transit network.
Regional growth cannot be shaped by transit if there is no more transit to be funded, without the reduction of service somewhere else. It is now Motordom by default.
The Province has already built much of the highway infrastructure to facilitate this, and is planning on more – notably the Massey Crossing and expansion of Highway 99, connected to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and a widened Highway 1 and Port Mann Bridge. More, no doubt, is being considered. (I’d guess a new crossing at Boundary Road and southern freeway to the Abbotsford Airport).
Next up: the obliteration of the urban containment pillar – in particular the paving-over of the agricultural land base in the name of affordable housing, single-family housing in particular.
Cox’s article, repeated frequently, makes the ideological case. Policy, legislation and strategic moves (like plebiscites) follow.
Dismantling the regional vision, its foundations and reversing the direction of Metro Vancouver’s growth would be an astonishing victory for this branch of neoliberallism. But seeing Vancouverites vote against transit funding shows it can be done.