Urbanists from the City of Vancouver love telling others about the accomplishments of their city. Usually after telling everyone about the awesomeness that is the City of Vancouver (which does world-leading things), they proceed to question why every other municipality in the region doesn’t copy exactly what Vancouver does. I’ll tell you why.


Surrey City Hall. Source: reflections

One of the big differences between the City of Vancouver and every other municipality in Metro Vancouver is the legal frameworks. The City of Vancouver gets its authority from the Vancouver Charter. Other municipalities in the region have to work under the framework of the Local Government Act and Community Charter.
This impacts all sorts of things from Vancouver’s unique Parks Board, to how developers contribute to the betterment on the community.
While several lengthy posts could be dedicated to explaining why the Vancouver Charter is special, the short of it is that the City of Vancouver can do a lot more than other municipalities in BC.
One of the other big differences between the City of Vancouver and other municipalities is its tax base. The City of Vancouver had an estimated population of 640,469 in 2014. It collected $1.56 billion in revenue. That is a per capita revenue rate of $2,435.
The City of Surrey had a population of 513,322 in 2014, and collected $844 million in revenue. That is a per capita revenue rate of $1,644.
The City of Langley, where I live, had a population of 26,652 and $43.3 million in municipal revenue in 2014. That works out to a per capita revenue rate of $1,625.
When it comes to revenue collection, the City of Vancouver is a leader in the region. The City of Surrey actually spent more money from developers in 2014 than Vancouver; most of Vancouver’s revenue comes from property tax.
The City of Vancouver has a lot more money available to use for municipal infrastructure and services than other municipalities in the region. This in on top of the non-revenue contributions it is able to extract from developers due to the Vancouver Charter, and the demand for development in the city.
Another thing that sets Vancouver apart is its party-style political system. While some municipalities have slates, they pale in comparison and are less divisive than the Vancouver political system.
Vision Vancouver, for example, is able to accomplish their agenda more effectively because of the unique way that Vancouver politics work, but the highly-polarized political system in Vancouver hurts the rest of the region at times.
Separated bike lanes are a perfect example. Because Vision Vancouver wanted bike lanes in Downtown Vancouver, the NPA didn’t want bike lanes. This created a controversy, and a chilling effect on other municipalities in the region that wanted to install separated bike lanes. They did not want to have Vancouver-level of controversy in their municipality.
It wasn’t until places like Calgary, and even my home town of Vernon, started installing separated bike lane with little controversy that other municipalities in the region started installing separated bike lanes in earnest.
Most municipalities in Metro Vancouver are actually looking to Surrey for leadership on how to provide cycling infrastructure. Surrey has been slowly building a greenway network and on-street separated bike lane network with little controversy.

A Surrey Greenway. Source: waferboard

So while the City of Vancouver has been able to do a lot of great things to improve the quality of life for people that live there, many of the things that Vancouver has done can’t simply (nor should they automatically be) replicated throughout the rest of the region.