Urbanism
January 15, 2021

Narratives and Demographic Realities of the West End – 2

Our ‘Fun with Numbers’ guy, Andy Coupland, ran some numbers on the West End, comparing 1981 and 2016 census.  Though the Big Takeway is still that the West End is more stable than often perceived, some changes (like overall demographics) are in line with wider City / Region / Canada change.  But the uniquely high rental proportion, and therefore high mobility, may explain some of the differences. 

(Comments in brackets are from Price Tags.)

 

There are more males. (If the gay population was declining significantly, you’d expect the opposite of this trend.)

1981 – 18,255 (49% of total)

2016 – 24,670 (52% of total)

 

And less females.  (In 1981 there were 440 more females than males; now there are 2,140 more males than females.)

1981 – 18,695 (51% of total)

2016 – 22,530 (48% of total)

 

There are more children under 15.  (Again, if the number of families with chiIdren was dropping, the opposite should be true.)

1981 – 1,165

2016 – 1,945

 

There are fewer young people aged 15 – 24.  (This is where affordability may be having an impact, and why it seems there are less younger gays.)

1981 – 4,950

2016 – 3,710

 

There are a lot more aged 25 – 44.  (Affordability would be less an issue for this cohort.)

1981 – 15,990

2016 – 22,545

 

A lot more aged 45 – 64  (Why the big jump in this group?  Growth of the condo supply?  Affordability?  Social status of the West End?)

1981 – 7,930

2016 – 12,000

 

But almost the same number (and a smaller proportion of the population) over 65.  (Again, affordability?)

1981 – 6,930

2016 – 7,000

 

 The number married (including separated).  (This is likely a reflection of a societal wide change, but interesting to see in the West End.)

1981 – 38%

2016 – 45% married (25%) or living common law (18%) or separated (2%)

 

An identical proportion single, never married.

1981 – 43% (15,380)

2016 – 43% (19,525)

 

A similar proportion divorced.

1981 – 10% (3,550)

2016 – 9% (4,100)

 

Fewer widowed.

1981 – 9% (3,350)

2016 – 3% (1.330)

 

Part 1 of this series here.

 

 

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The second event of The Future We Want: The Change We Need series, hosted by the City of Vancouver in partnership with SFU.

 

How must the City of Vancouver think differently about housing and the housing market to better meet the needs of its residents, ensuring priority for those with the greatest need?

What is required of a new city-wide plan to ensure the urgent and transformative change necessary to establish an equitable housing system?

Speakers
  • Evan Siddall – President and CEO, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • Khelsilem – Squamish Nation Councillor
  • Barbara Steenbergen – Member of the Executive Committee, International Union of Tenants
  • Leilani Farha – Global Director, The Shift
  • William Azaroff – CEO, Brightside Community Homes Foundation
  • Andy Yan – Director, The City Program at Simon Fraser University
Moderators
  • Meg Holden – Professor and Director, SFU Urban Studies
  • Kerry Gold – Journalist and Globe and Mail Housing Columnist

Register here.

 

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It’s only mid-January, and already we have a nomination for ‘Article of the Year.’

Doug Ward’s long-form analysis in The Tyee of the No. 1 story in this town is a must-read if you want an informed perspective on the particulars of the housing challenges in Vancouver, what actions and proposals have been taken, and where the various factions on council stand.  It’s the best read so far of the political players, their motivations and critiques of each other.  It’s a lot of material to pack into a single story, and this one is as good as we’ve seen so far.

Here’s Doug’s conclusion:

The politically low-friction days of filling brown fields with new developments are over. And nowadays, almost all densification in established neighbourhoods happens on the east side of town, while on the wealthier west side, says (Andy) Yan, “The homes have become larger and emptier. It’s getting less dense.”

Something’s got to give….  (But) Stewart and his councillors have yet to forge an agenda that reflects the mood of crisis that delivered them to their posts in the first place. They have until the fall of 2022 to demonstrate otherwise.

My thoughts:

The housing challenge cannot be met within the boundaries of Vancouver.  Housing is, at minimum, a regional challenge, involving every level of government.  City of Vancouver politicians should never be so presumptuous as to think they have the levers to solve it between Boundary Road and the UEL.

Also unquestioned (even in Doug’s piece) is the presumption that the City should replace the market as the short-term determinant for housing supply and affordability.   Let’s leave aside the question as to whether that’s possible (it isn’t), the fact is that most citizens, including immigrants, would be distrustful of an ideological solution unless it manifestly benefits them directly.

It could be that city government won’t have to intervene in any major way (rezoning the city from one end to the other or budgeting to build thousands of units) so long as it can affect marginal supply at a time when more global factors align (especially interest rates and health of the economy – which influences immigration rates, domestic and foreign).  By assisting the market to strategically supply an ongoing expectation of new units (which is happening now, especially in the rental stock) in a sufficiently short period of time, the overall market may be moderated in price and scarcity to remove the issue as a political imperative.  The pandemic might do the same, but likely won’t make much of a difference in the medium term.  (It hasn’t so far.)

The hope being placed on the Vancouver Plan was naïve to begin with, and unachievable in the time left in this council’s term, especially given the disruption of the pandemic.  Trying to accommodate a visionary or ideological model of change for every neighbourhood simultaneously, especially when it involves the character or scale of a community, is simply not doable without having to pay too high a political price (assuming there is a disciplined majority willing to take the risk).

Such a city-wide plan cannot on one hand provide an overview of how growth will be accommodated (along with infrastructure and amenities) in a way that is accepted as equitable and, on the other, inform citizens on what can literally be built next door to them (which is the real purpose of zoning: to give assurance, continuity and control over the rate of change).  The Vancouver Plan has no chance of doing that, and so will be compromised into mush or deferred into the future if it isn’t abandoned.

Vancouver will muddle along, spot-rezonings and all, and manage to still end up with a remarkably successful (if expensive) city.

 

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A few weeks ago, PT wondered why GlobalBC TV doesn’t use charts to show the daily Covid numbers in context.

Charts are really useful! – vast amounts of information can be displayed with clarity, for comparison, over time.  Like the one below, used by Investigate West, to illustrate this even more useful story:

A Lost Decade: How Climate Action Fizzled In Cascadia

(Click for full story to see how chart is presented over time with annotations.)

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From the Daily Hive:

… local developer Bonnis Properties and the local office of the architectural firm Perkins & Will are pushing forward their proposal to redevelop 800 Robson Street — the entire area between the former Payless Shoes building at the north end of the city block to the Orpheum Theatre’s Granville Street entrance building near the south end.

 

Existing condition of the 800 block of Granville Street in downtown Vancouver, showing the redevelopment footprint and the historical structures that will be preserved.

 

This proposal is currently in the pre-application stage; proponents are aiming to formalize their application to the City of Vancouver this year.

More here at Daily Hive.

 

Okay, Price Taggers – your turn.  Add your comments.

 

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A few weeks ago, PT ran a post: “The West End The Way it Was.”   Its last line: “One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.”

Regular commenter Bob took issue:

(The West End) “was” one of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

The distinctive mix of demographics that made it unique: seniors, young immigrant families, the gay community, all are being driven out by the gentrification unleashed during Vision Vancouver’s and the BC Liberal’s tenure. The removal of St.Pauls to the False Creek Flats will be yet another body blow to the community.

 

There’s been a narrative like that in the West End as long as I’ve lived here.  Since the 70s people have said the unique mix isn’t what it was, or is in danger, or is no longer.

I understand what Bob bemoans: the perceived loss of diversity as the West End becomes upscaled and out of reach of the residents who gave it real character.  It seems they are being unfairly squeezed out by a rate of change – whether demographic, physical or economic – that’s too fast.

No arguing with what people perceive; that’s their reality.  But I learned as a councillor that people’s perception of the rate of change in their community is paradoxical.  As the rate of change slows down, in fact, people’s perception of change increases.  What was once unnoticed in a neighbourhood swept by turbulent change – like the West End in the 1960s – becomes the focus of attention when things slow down enough to notice.

But eventually facts have to match up with perceptions.  Change must be reflected in the measures of that change.   And thanks to the great work by the City’s Social Policy department, we have those measures in one place and can graphically see them illustrated.  Lots of charts.*

No amount of data from yesterday will necessarily convince those persuaded by the anecdotal changes of today.  However, these community profiles derived from the census do provide a base of comparison over decades. Are seniors, families, immigrants and gays being driven out.  And who has replaced them?

We can find out in this Profile of the West End**:

 

Big takeaway: the astonishing thing about the West End is its stability.  Even physically, the district west of Burrard and south of Robson is remarkable for how little it has changed from the 1980s on.

Chilco Street in 2009:

In 2019:

Not even the trees have changed.

Is this Denman Street in 2005 or 2019?

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Just when it looks like 2020 is not finished with us yet, here is a bit of relief:

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay — the Scottish celebration of the New Year — dispensed with the huge crowds and fireworks to create a virtual three-part celebration called “Fare Well,” an amazing blend of cinematography, music, poetry, and drone technology. Part 1 reflects on the past year of loss and mourning, Part 2 praises the compassion of the present day, and Part 3 looks to the future with hope – with the necessary subtitles.

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Regular PT commenter Sam de Groot linked to his blog – Dreams and Schemes – when referencing The Icepick, which largely ignored the Hub Framework intended to guide development.  So instead, he has some thought-through ideas for the the Vancouver Central Waterfront (the area between Centerm and Canada Place) worth posting here.

 

Sam: The railyards on the waterfront are an anachronism that beg for redevelopment proposals, and there have been a few over the years like a casino, stadium, bland office towers and transit hub. I started these ideas when the casino was proposed in the 90s, and I have revisited them over time. … My proposal is (to bridge) the railyards to connect downtown to the water (with) a triangular area ….

On this triangle I propose a tight grid of narrow streets around small blocks that get even smaller toward Crab Park. The park is expanded but directed inward.

Looking at the image above, the grade descends from downtown to the water at the right.

On the bottom chord of the triangle, the grade must be high enough to clear the railyards, and along the left chord of the triangle, the downtown grade is preserved to the northern point as the vantage point should be a bit higher than the wharves on either side. The Centerm expansion is assumed and shown in blue, and completion of the Harbour Line and removing the Seabus terminal is also assumed.

Lots more detail on Sam’s blog here – like this:

I have pencilled this in with narrow streets because this is essentially a pedestrian only precinct. ….  The shorter the buildings, the narrower the streets.

And this: Read more »

Friend of Price Tags and resident of Grandview, Gerry Stafford (who lives meters from the Broadway SkyTrain station) sends along a notice from the Grandview Wood Area Council – and a comment:

Gerry Stafford: Interesting the automatic assumption that everyone is against the towers at the Safeway site or indeed all towers.  I for one am ashamed that density around one of the busiest transit hubs in Western Canada has not evolved similar to Cambie and Marine or Brentwood.  Yes, this is counter to my personal interest but one sometimes needs to look at the bigger issue.

More on proposal in Daily Hive

The creation of dense pods around transit results in fewer vehicles on the road, but more to the point – with the inclusion of rental and non market housing it allows the poor among us the opportunity to live in a circumstance where obtaining work is feasible.  Those lucky enough to live beside a major transit hub, myself included, can get to most of the Lower Mainland within an hour’s commute by transit.

We need 21st century solutions to the current issues of pending gridlock and climate change.  Densification around our transit hubs is one of those solutions.

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