A harsh critique of Vancouverism in Burgh Diaspora:

Is it density or migration? Venture capitalist Brad Feld weighs in: “The cities that have the most movement in and out of them are the most vibrant.”
The densest city in the world won’t be as vibrant as the city with the most talent churn. Yet planners and urbanists tout the former over the latter. We’ve reached the point of density for the sake of density. It is an end instead of a means to an end.
The art of the density boondoggle:
The following is the conversation held at every regional summit on Long Island:
Advocate: Let’s keep our young people from leaving! There’s a…brain drain!
Public: How do we stop it?
Developer: Build denser housing! Let’s make it…affordable! Walkable! Let’s make it…mixed-use sustainable smart growth…with a downtown, pedestrian-friendly feel.
Municipality: Development approved! …
There is a name for the Cult of Density. It now has its very own -ism. All hail Vancouverism:
Vancouverism is, at the root, a movement to go from low density, to higher density, to make Canadian and North American cities about people once again.

More here – including the too-frequent assumption that Vancouver allows densification for the young and affluent at the expense of the old and poor.  To argue that requires omitting the substantial housing investment made to ensure mixed communities.
Is it ever enough?  Nope.  But that’s not the same as:

Vancouverism is boutique urbanism, catering to a specific demographic at the exclusion of all others. People are either displaced or fall into the cracks. Bike lanes and food trucks trump the needs of seniors.

Embedded in the argument is also the assumption that not allowing densification would protect the vulnerable.   It’s all so much more complicated, dammit.


  1. There’s some truth to the argument that some are being left behind, but as you say, it’s more complicated than that, damnit.
    The City approve projects that do likely most benefit the young and affluent. However as the Mayor of Burnaby like to point out, assisting other groups like the poor and seniors is the *province’s* area of responsibility. I think the City of Vancouver goes above and beyond *it’s* duties to care for the needs of these groups through mandated social housing quotas in developments and using city land for social housing projects.
    Why are some falling through the cracks in this renewed urbanism? Don’t blame the City, blame the partner who is suppose to be there to ensure the remaining pieces of an equitable and livable city for all are part of the mix – the province.
    But again, it’s more complicated than that, damnit.

    1. Remeber the CoV and Victoria worked together to build supportive multi-unit housing on 14 sites in CoV.
      I would agree that the province (and the feds) has a role for this, but it starts and ends with your local community. Especially ironic that Derek Corrigan is used as an example.
      “The people in permanent shelters—of which Vancouver has dozens and most cities in the region have at least one—are by and large beyond hope, [Corrigan} said. They’re either addicted, seriously mentally ill, or habitual criminals. Some live in rooms crammed with junk floor-to-ceiling, and many rooms are infested with bugs. And, as he {Corrigan} told me, many are the type of folks who, if they found you dying on the sidewalk would pull out your gold fillings. Are these the kind of people Burnaby residents want living in their neighbourhood, [corrigan] asks, when the province doesn’t even assign them a social worker?
      “The people (in shelters) are the impossible to house… so addicted that all they worry about is the opportunity to feed their addiction, whether it’s alcohol, drugs or anything else.””

    2. Pete McMartin had an interesting article comparing much larger burnaby (zero emergency shelters/supportive housing) versus smaller New west (Multple shelters/multiple supportive housing units)
      IMO it starts and ends with your local community. It also be more complicated than that. 🙂
      ““We wanted (the facilities) here,” said New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright. “We went after the province to put them here. They (B.C. Housing) put together the funding and we made sure to put it through the system as fast as we could — identifying sites, zoning changes, that sort of thing.””

    3. Matt, it may be that the Mayor of Burnaby likes to point out that assisting other groups like the poor and seniors is the *province’s* area of responsibility. That has been an easy partisan move for him, as he is clearly NDP, and the provincial government since 2001 has been Liberal.
      it will be interesting to see what the Mayor of Burnaby has to say after May 14, if an NDP government comes to power provincially.

  2. On the face of it and as a quick reaction I consider Vancouver’s transformation has largely benefited ONLY the old. This has been a boomer profit paradise. Benefits for the young are mostly imagined. School systems in decline, day care expensive and hard to obtain, high unemployment for those under 30, extreme housing unaffordability without prior and well-timed equity, and the icing on the cake is that a good proportion of positions are simply deleted once the incumbent retires – never to be replaced with a younger worker.
    “Bike lanes and food trucks trump the needs of seniors.”
    Really? From where I stand I see a society that is almost entirely dedicated to spending a nation’s total accumulated wealth on the final 30 years’ care of a single generation.
    The idea that we’re leaving seniors behind as a group simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. There are more children going hungry than seniors going hungry – we have a poverty problem, not a seniors problem. If we were actually concerned as a nation about seniors in poverty we would be having a serious discussion about reforming the OAS to ensure that its meant truly for those in need. As it is it doesn’t begin to be clawed back until you’re earning $68k each year in retirement! That money would go so much farther to reduce crippling poverty if the clawback threshold was something more reasonable like $30-45k.

    1. Absolutely!
      “Won’t somebody think of the seniors” was a reasonable rallying cry until history’s largest work force, rich from the spoils of history’s largest consumption of resources, started retiring.

    2. Yep. I agree with Andrew. Seniors had great, safe lifetime jobs at high wages and company pensions with low taxes and user fees during a time of a much lower cost of living. That wasn’t enough for them, so they wrote themselves massive cheques from the next generations in form of the national debt too. Now they scoff at young people who get none of that but are simply asking them to try and keep the environment in somewhat decent shape before they leave.
      But, back on topic… What’s the definition of “vibrant”? If it means the city isn’t boring, then yeah, I agree with the original argument. We’ve got a ways to go — a lot farther then I would think we should have, given the amount of density here. Maybe he’s onto something. But, was that ever the goal?

  3. I see no mention of how much movement there is in and out of Vancouver. From what I hear, there’s quite a lot: people are sold on the Greenest City propaganda, come, fail to get jobs or afford rent or find VC funding or a sizeable market, and leave again. Does that make us vibrant?
    Also Amen to Andrew Browne’s comment.

  4. I don’t know, that article didn’t seem coherent enough to argue with really.
    Although, as Andrew says, the notion that Vancouver is catering to the young at the expense of the old would be funny if it wasn’t for the sad fact that most of the young people I know have left town because the high housing prices and depressed economy designed by and for the older generation* drove them away.
    * Reviving the economy and reducing the mountain of private and public debt would require printing money, but that would dilute the holding of creditors (99% old people) so instead governments only response to economic stagnation is ever more desperate measures to force/lure young people into debt (lower and lower interest rates, lower and lower wages at the bottom of the scale, higher tuition, higher education requirements for jobs etc.) so that the savings expectations of the older generation of creditors can be met.

  5. Also, any argument that bemoans the paltry millions of dollars spent on bike lanes while cheerfully ignoring the billions spent on highways is pretty much dismissed as nonsense from the start by me, anyways.

  6. The Mayor of Burnaby was in the local Burnaby press a few months ago crowing that Burnaby would never allow laneway housing. As well, it’s the only municipality in all of Metro Vancouver that did not legalize secondary suites. His views on homeless people in general…..well…. how anyone in this day and age would utter them is beyond belief. (Check this out in the Burnaby weeklys).
    They do get a few units of rental a year for people with disabilities from developers as a density bonus. But a lot of their rental stock around the Metrotown area is not in good condition.
    I think we’re being a bit delusional if we believe that sound transportation policies, sustainable development practices, affordable housing can be attained under the current form of Metro Government.
    To be a bit fair, they do allow great density around ‘town centres’. But who is the housing for?

  7. Traditionally city centres like Vancouver’s were places for pre-family (generally twenty-somethings), post-family (empty nesters, etc.) and never-family households. I think “Vancouverism”, whatever other flaws you may find with it, has been extremely successful in attracting and retaining a much broader range of demographic groups, including the previously excluded families.
    Further, as you well know, densification in existing communities is usually resisted by rather than actively supported by older folks who don’t like or see the need for change (change which is usually implicitly or explicitly aimed at broadening the housing choices for a wider range of folks, especially younger and less well-off ones.) So blaming the change on the elderly is rather seriously off-target, in my opinion.
    So, Andrew and others, sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications about densification and its beneficiaries are hard to hold onto in light of the actual facts. The original article is rife with such errors of fact as well.

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