Here’s a provocative comment from a PT reader whom I’ll keep anonymous – not because he wouldn’t mind his name being printed but because he probably wouldn’t write as colourfully if I did. 

Say, have you been enjoying Michael Geller’s dispatches from abroad?
I particularly liked his latest, from Hanoi, whereby he spoke about taxation being based on property frontage rather than on assessed value.  This would have a tremendously beneficial effect on EcoDensity if adopted here, as it would reward high-density development rather than sprawling single-family homeowners.
Is it not ludicrous that someone on a 66′ lot with a 4500 sq.ft. house [including perhaps as econdary suite- all right] worth $1M is treated the same by the taxman the same as an owner of an 1100 sq.ft. condo unit, among 200 other units, in a 35 storey tower also worth $1M? Look at the disparity in terms of land and energy consumption, municipal services [e.g. personal service pruning the tree out front on the boulevard, or in back as another tree starts to conflict with hydro wires], runoff, water use, yard maintenance impacts, etc. etc. etc. It really is criminally inequitable, with the bad guys [ecologically speaking] ripping off the good guys.
We in the tower have a baby’s first bootie in contrast to the clown-shoe footprint of the single-family homeowner in the city [an oxymoron in 25 years?].
What do you think……is there a self-righteous cause here worth taking up?

Well, is it?


  1. I like the idea for commercial properties, particularly retail. Having a financial reason for narrower frontage may keep businesses within walkable distance from each other, and encourage them to put the parking in back or underneath.
    But for residential, is the author seriously considering penalizing urban dwellers for the existence of trees? I’m not sure who are the “bad guys” here, but it truns out that a 35-storey condo unit consumes a great deal more energy per person and per square foot than even the mcmansion he describes.
    While you can’t blindly call high-rise apartments good and single family houses bad, or vice-versa, it is probably true that property tax based on the value of the unit is bad environmental policy. Those who pay more for a central house, but save on cars and gas, end up paying more property tax for less service despite less pollution.

  2. I read the report, and there’s a few variables which would need further study. They mention that airconditioning could be swaying the results, something that likely would not apply here in Vancouver. And, a lot of the multis also had swimming pools.
    But, the big thing that I find missing is demographics. There’s no accounting for this. The young and the old tend to live in apartments more so than families. So, this study could actually just be measuring the CO2 emissions of the family lifestyle versus the non-family lifestyle, instead of houses vs apartments. Also, filling each house with three children under 12 would lower the per capita GHG. Similarly, filling studio apartments with 20-30 year olds with computers, stereos and iPods would increase the per capita levels. In a house, for every five people, there is one TV, one fridge, one stereo, one computer. In an apartment building, each person has their own fridge, and probably two computers.
    Human experiments are extremely misleading because there is no way to set a control group, especially for studies which look at existing data. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

  3. Regarding the original question, property taxes are not property “fees”. Equating that to income taxes, why should a millionaire pay more taxes for healthcare than a poor person?
    Perhaps, instead, an environmental/translink/road levy could be applied to single family homes.

  4. Demographics and self-selection bias are very difficult issues in comparing energy use of different housing forms. A city has people of different lifestyles and all of them must be housed. A family with children won’t move into a condo tower to get a lower tax bill, nor should they. And the evidence that it would do any good is simply not there.
    So let’s forget about policies based on that move, and instead concentrate on reducing the environmental footprint of apartments, and the environmental footprint of houses, by influencing how they are built, where, on what lot, in what location, and by laying out services, jobs, and transportation correctly.
    Among policies based on moving, moving from a house to a townhouse is still compatible with family living, and may have a small positive effect. Moving from a suburban house to a more central house has an even greater effect. The location of apartments has little effect, but moving from a high-rise to low-rise makes a minor contribution. Low-rise apartments have the added advantage of being mixable with houses and reducing the need for segregation of population by age. Mixing in apartments with the houses helps achieve “transit supporting density”, but those you really want to target for conversion to transit is the people in the houses.

  5. From the data presented in the table, it is impossible to conclude that high rises are less energy efficient than detached houses. The year of construction has a large affect on the energy usage and it could be that most of the apartment buildings are older.
    The following article might shed some light on the subject:
    Apartments ‘energy hogs’
    “Built as concrete slabs, often with single-pane windows and electric heating, these buildings waste vast amounts of heat”
    “…And because they’re often built in the middle of large, empty green lawns – the product of planning errors of 40 years ago – they force residents to take a car or bus for simple shopping errands at distant plazas, consuming even more energy.”

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