Bias alert: I think PT commenters offers some of the best-quality observations and critiques of any urban blog I read.  Some are especially worthy of reprint here – the foreground – so they don’t get lost in the streams of comments to previous posts.
Like this one from Vanessa Catalano who commented on Civic Election: Issues that Matter Most:

First, local government policy and procedures severely constrain supply of housing, and what does get through pays dearly when they take their financial cut. Many studies (here in B.C. and elsewhere in North America), have demonstrated that local government clearly has the ability to maintain negative impacts in the housing market.
Secondly, these are contradictory terms when the latter creates a veto:
“…. accommodate growth … while maintaining … character …”
The freezing of perpetual character is the cliché that prevents vast areas of centrally-located, over-serviced, environmentally-unsustainable, low-density, single-family-dwelling neighborhoods from evolving.
Character is just a state; it can be good or bad, and for many people, the actual characteristic with which critically-needed infill is measured is PAST character; “how things used to be,” or “how I rosily imagine the past.”
The essential problem with this region is that its ‘character’ needs to evolve. And because that natural change has been artificially suppressed, it now needs to do that in significant steps. That’s the only way the carefree adolescence of Vancouver can face some of the harsh realities of adulthood.

Almost every candidate for council in the current election has promised that neighbourhood consultation will be a priority (and the main charge against the incumbents is their failure to do so).  The contenders come very close to promising ‘the community’ a veto over change.
Yet they imply or state that issues related to growth can be resolved through consultation – as though the process itself, properly conducted, generates consensus.  But if Vanessa is right, the only consensus, at least among property owners, that reasonably has a chance of agreement is that the character of the community will be retained and the status quo preserved, with only change allowed that matches the scale of the existing fabric. The problem of affordability is left hanging or, depending on the candidate, expected to be addressed through drastically increased regulation and taxation.
How can growth and character be reconciled, when the rate of change extrapolated from past experience and projected into the future is “a million new people in the region in the next 30 years” – roughly the same number of people that New York City, a metropolis of eight million, anticipates over the same time period?


  1. Ms. Catalano states the planning dichotomy extremely well. The basic question is, for the sake of aesthetics and even nostalgia are we as a society going to freeze-dry single family residential areas at the relatively same scale, density and detached form and character forever, or are we as a society going to look at (some of) these areas as good candidates for other forms of housing – e.g., townhouses and lowrise apartments?
    In my view, Vancouver is just now leaving its “first growth” phase where the first building built on a piece of land is still there in much of the city, and entering its more painful second growth phase. Older cities have gone through many more permutations to achieve their current condition. As GP has noted often, it is the rate of change that is the most challenging aspect of all this.

    1. Also, we are doing it as a democracy. (In contrast to many older cities, which “grew up” under monarchies or similar systems.)

  2. Yes, rate of change is the interesting thing here. Can our culture adapt and shift fast enough for the pace of physical change required to house so many more people?
    Can we blame others for hanging on to the status quo “character” given how great Vancouver currently is for so many?

  3. Excellent analysis. I’ve had a half-baked cloudy glimmer of this floating around in my head for a while, but could never have stated it so well and so clearly.

  4. Excellent post. This discussion needs to be elevated. Bob Rennie put it very eloquently today in his talk at the CMHC Housing Outlook Conference where he said, (I paraphrase), that there are “non-negotiables” in the housing discussion, and wouldn’t it be great if community meetings could begin with the “non-negotiables”, that is, the City of Vancouver will continue to absorb 5,000 new households per year and the region will absorb 16,000 new households per year, and the only way to deal with affordability is through the creation of supply.
    He also raised a great idea, which is that a representative from CMHC should attend public open houses and public hearings, to help bring some broader context to the discussion. I think he will post his speaking notes on the website, and they would be worthwhile reading as his talk was fairly data-based and (in my opinion) relatively spin-free.

    1. Why on Earth would those be considered non-negotiable? Those “non-negotiable” numbers certainly not from the local population reproducing or even interprovincial immigration. Therefore it is a whim of government decree which is open to change.

      1. Household creation isn’t exactly non-negotiable, but it isn’t a government decree either. If housing is made more affordable, the number will go up. In order to keep the numbers down, the prices have to go up. So, yes, it’s negotiable but you can’t have both of “affordable housing” and “no/limited increased density.”
        Obviously, the number of households absorbed has to be matched by the number of housing units created, the variable that changes to make the two match is price.

    1. By-right growth to the next stage (average of your neighbors, plus one) and a land value tax that encourages that growth (instead of a rezoning lottery that encourages hoarding and lobbying).

      1. Yes! Gentle residential upzoning with maintenance of good architectural and planning principles. Vancouver already has the latter, it just needs to develop a consensus on the former. We should be insisting on a broad, gradualist approach to densification.

  5. Lots of people seem to harbor magical thinking about the housing market. That housing affordability and “neighborhood character” are somehow not at odds. That developers jointly destroy character while decreasing affordability with their glassy towers.
    From the Greens’ website:
    “[Adriane] Carr says that in her second term, with the help of a Green caucus, she will continue to work hard on the issues she has fought for in her current term, including genuinely affordable housing, alleviating homelessness and poverty, and a smarter, more sustainable and balanced approach to development that doesn’t undermine the character of the neighbourhoods that make Vancouver so special.”
    I think affordability and “character” are fundamentally at odds. In order to preserve the character neighborhood groups cherish, we will need to prevent the market from building the housing supply needed to keep prices down.
    And, for people who claim to have the interests of the poor or the environment in mind, to oppose dense development to preserve a neighborhood aesthetic cherished by rich landowners is nothing short of cognitive dissonance, and at worst intellectually dishonest hypocrisy.
    The statement on the Greens’ website is wealthy, west-coast-liberal populism, and an idealist fantasy of the most pernicious variety.

    1. The only truly affordable market housing in this city are either dumpy three story woodframe walkups or the basement suites in character (pre-1970) homes. $2,000 a month laneway houses are not affordable, except perhaps to Councillor (affordable is what people can afford) Jang.

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