(Click on headline above for illustrations.)

We asked stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland to do a background on The Grand Bargain and what Vancouverites (City and Metro) should know about this town, especially if they are going to weigh in on the housing crisis and to participate in the City-Wide Plan. 

Here’s the first post in the Andy Coupland Primer.  And now the second:



If you lived your life only shuttling up and down the rapid-transit system, you’d be convinced that all the growth is happening in the suburbs – or at least some of the suburbs – far more than in the City of Vancouver. Just look at the apparent density, and certainly the height, bulk and prominence of some of the transit-oriented clusters in Burnaby at Brentwood and Metrotown, and in Surrey at King George. Even in Richmond (where the height limitation means less density), the number of projects stretches to the skyline. Each of these would seem far greater than the few towers here and there in Vancouver.

So appearances can be deceptive.  A lot of lower density developments and a series of Random Acts of Density can generate more new homes than a few clusters of very obvious towers.

In fact, Vancouver is developing clusters of new towers as well. Nearly 1,000 of those 33,300 housing starts over five years in the City of Vancouver are on Davie Street, near Denman, (right) where there are five new rental buildings under construction.  Because they’re being developed in the context of other older towers, and because they are (by today’s standards) being built to modest heights, they don’t really stand out.

There’s a similar set of towers coming on Robson Street. They’re almost invisible when compared to the very prominent Vancouver House by Granville Bridge, but overall the three towers under construction add over 400 units, half of them rentals – nearly as many as Vancouver House in total, and more of them rental.

Many of Vancouver’s new homes are even more invisible. To the annoyance of some commentators, the Cambie Corridor Plan initial phase was cautious. The plan allowed six-storey buildings along Cambie and four storeys on adjacent parts of King Edward, for example. The heights were limited because the sites all held single-family homes – often 1950s ranchers. There was a recognition that, one, not every house would sell, and secondly, across the lane the zoning wasn’t going to necessarily change, so ‘fitting in’ was important.

The Grand Bargain was still in play – but in this case it was houses that were going to be torn down up and down Cambie and replaced with apartments. Without taking into account the higher numbers and densities on the big sites like Oakridge, Pearson and Langara Gardens, there have already been over 6,000 units associated with the Cambie Plan. There are 16 tower cranes along Cambie today.

Those who lament that the densities are far too low for a transit corridor forget the huge backlash against the plan, and the parade of residents who objected to the earliest projects when they came to Council for rezoning.

Even less visible are the suites and laneway houses. Over 500 laneway homes get added every year, all rental, and all modestly sized. More rebuilt homes these days have a suite than don’t, but it’s not that far back in time that there was no way of adding a suite – or legalizing one that had mysteriously appeared underneath a home. Now, providing there’s a lane, almost every plot in RS zoning can have three homes – two of which can’t be sold off, only offered for rent. It has been argued that one unintended consequence is that house prices have been maintained higher thanks to the presence of two ‘mortgage helpers’.

This situation doesn’t apply in most of the rest of Metro Vancouver, and it might explain why the numbers of new units in Vancouver is so much higher. Of the 33,000 starts over five years in Vancouver, less than 7,000 are single detached or semi detached, (many one-for-one replacements) and that includes over 2,500 laneway homes.


  1. Many thanks for the 2nd post from Andy the other number guy. The numbers illustrate how much additional residential space and numbers of units can be created in the existing urban fabric in Vancouver, as well as the older burbs and without touching the green in the more distant suburbs or the older brown fields, many in that older urban fabric. I continue to be amazed that most of the agricultural land existent in Metro Vancouver in the 1970s when agricultural preservation was initiated continues to hold. Of course, there’s a lot less agricultural use of that land, but that it remains largely green is amazing. I would offer the opinion that there’s still plenty of room left for development in the existing urban fabric. It’s cost is and the “affordability” of that housing remains an entirely different issue.

  2. The question that comes to mind, though, is whether the [i]distribution[/i] of those housing units in Vancouver is optimizing the rapid transit infrastructure in the same way that clusters of highrises are doing so in the suburbs (or whether 6 storeys along Cambie will force denser developments in less well-served areas farther away from stations to keep up supply).

  3. People need to get over their tunnel-towervision. Plenty of European cities have built or are building significant density with a low and mid-rise model. Having lived in all different types, the highrise tower is the most alienating. You can go weeks or months without ever seeing your neighbours.

  4. It depends whether you social circle centres on your neighbours or you have other activities through work, sports activities or clubs that fill your social life.
    One of the complaints from newcomers to Vancouver is that that it is hard to meet people –
    the reason is that people have their own social circles and interests and don’t have time to expand them any further (i.e. living next to someone doesn’t mean that you suddenly become best friends with them)

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