The New York Times piece here has, as you’d expect, generated response. Here’s an email I got from the president of a neighbourhood group in Portland, Oregon:

At a meeting of the Northwest District Association’s land use braintrust last night the following article was brought to everyone’s attention. I said to the group—-it would be interesting what Gordon Price would have to say about this. So, there you go. I hope to hear from you.

My response:
This is not a new story. In fact, the City put a moratorium on any further conversion of commercial to residential in the core while they did a study – the one reported on. It raised some concern, but no sense of crisis.
While the vacancy rate is tight, there’s still not a lot of demand for office space from major tenants. (The concern is more about options for the future. ) There are still sites available; it’s just that they’re more complicated to assemble and more expensive. The market likes nice large, vacant open sites – and truly, those are gone.
Perhaps the days are over for corporate-style office towers. A lot of work is done at home in those condos by small businesses and single proprietors – a very large part of the labour force in a city like Vancouver without large employers.
There is a matter of equity when businesses start to use condos as the main work place. Because of differential property tax rates, residential property gets taxed at a substantially lower rate than commercial. It’s also one of the reasons why it’s hard to get an accurate count on what floorspace is being used for what purpose.
Some still argue that we should not constrain the demand for more residential development downtown – even if the priority is nore job creation. Philosophically, it comes down to whether you believe jobs follow zoning – and that if there are no opportunities for commercial space, the jobs will go elsewhere. Or whether you believe jobs follow people – and that if talented, valuable people are living downtown, that’s where businesses who need those people will locate, and will innovate to do so. We’ve seen some of that in the video-game industry.
Yes, there is reverse commuting, and it’s growing. The issue then is: where are the jobs located in the suburbs? If they locate along the rapid-transit lines, then reverse commuting is actually helpful; it fills some of the unused capacity of the transit system. If people have to drive, then it worsens congestion.
As the piece notes, we’re are victims of our own success – but as our Planning Director Brent Toderian comments, it’s a nice problem to have, and we’re hardly a victim in that sense.
Lesson: life (and planning) is messy.


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