Policy & Planning
February 3, 2020

The Coupland Primer 3 – Changing Demographics

We asked stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland to do a backgrounder 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. Here’s the second.  And now the third:



Demographic change is also driving development, and explains why there are as many new homes as new residents in Vancouver in the most recent data from the 2016 Census.

In the 284,000 households in the City of Vancouver, the average household size has been falling. That’s not a new phenomenon, and it’s not only happening in Vancouver. The average household size is falling across the region, and has for 20 years.  In part it’s because my generation, known as ‘The Boomers*,’ are starting to die off. Average family size** is falling too, both in the city, and the region. It’s not because there are proportionally more one-person households; those have been surprisingly stable over the same period.

There were fewer Boomers in Metro Vancouver in 2016 than in 2011 – but only slightly fewer. The 2011 Census saw the greatest number of people born between 1946 and 1965 living in the region – almost 670,000 people. But there were 18,000 fewer in 2016, as they started retiring to other locations or dying off.

Things were different in the City of Vancouver. Boomers saw their numbers in the city drop for every census period since 1996, when the city saw ‘Peak Boomer’. There were 182,000 born in the 20 years after the war living in the city in 1996, and only 159,000 in 2016. Overall, both in the city and the wider region they’ve declined from over a third of the total population to around a quarter.

[Click headline above for charts.]

Read more »

Amy Liu tweets: Despite media narratives, most existing and new millennials in urban centers are not white but young people of color. Read latest from Bill Frey of @BrookingsMetro:

As underscored in my report, “The millennial generation: A demographic bridge to America’s diverse future,” at 44 percent minority, millennials are the most diverse adult generation in American history. …
… nearly three-fifths of millennials residing in core urban counties are racial minorities, where more than a quarter are Hispanic, 18 percent are black, and the rest other races.  … notable metropolitan areas where whites constitute a minority of millennials are New York City, Atlanta, and Chicago (download Table 1). …
To the extent that young adult populations continue to gravitate to urban America, they will bring with them a strong racial-ethnic dimension. And as the even more racially diverse post-millennial generation ages into their 20s and follows similar trends, we will see even greater racial diversity among young adult populations in each part of the metropolitan area and especially in urban cores.


Hard to find exact comparative data for core Canadian cities, but there is this from Environics:


Unrelated but connected: this quote from an NYT op-ed: Go Ahead, Millennials, Destroy Us

One of my students once asked me, when I was teaching the writing of political op-ed essays, why adults should listen to anything young people had to say about the world. My answer: because they’re afraid of you. They don’t understand you. And they know you’re going to replace them.


Read more »

From Scot: 

Brent Toderian connects the dots between school closures and neighbourhood density.  Interesting that Vancouver and Richmond with the greatest amount of empty homes in the region are facing the most school closures while in Surrey and the Valley its the complete opposite as family desperately seek affordability. My friend in South Surrey tells of Kindergarten classes consisting of 50 to 60 children..


Another issue, according to former Vancouver city planner Brent Toderian, is that there is often only one type of housing in some elementary school catchments.

That means empty-nesters can’t downsize within their neighbourhoods, and so “hang on with their fingernails” to a home that could welcome a new family, he said.

“One of the many reasons we want to introduce new housing types is to facilitate the return of children. If we don’t, we find the schools are under threat of closure,” he said.

Usually, it’s a city’s downtown that is bereft of children. But Vancouver’s downtown has seen a surge of children so significant that downtown schools are full, and nearby schools like Henry Hudson Elementary and Simon Fraser Elementary are absorbing the spillover.

Elsie Roy Elementary in Yaletown is 10 per cent oversubscribed, while Henry Hudson Elementary is 19 per cent over capacity and Mount Pleasant’s Simon Fraser Elementary is 39 per cent over capacity, according to records.

“You provide the amenities like day care and schools and families with children come and stay in urban places. It’s ironic that some of our urban places are growing and some of our single family areas that are depopulating,” said Toderian.’


Read more »
969 Burrard St & 1019-1045 Nelson St

This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground

From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):

The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:

  • restoration of First Baptist Church;
  • new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
  • a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
  • a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;

Other key parameters of the proposal include:

  • a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
  • a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
  • 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.

This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.

The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).

Read more »

Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford died at age 46 today. Here’s CBC’s take on it. It’s a gracious and extensive piece that reflects on his personality, accomplishments, tragedies, and skims over or skips the sexism, racism, homophobia, and lifestyle that gave them so much news. It looks they’ve updated it from this morning’s post and it’s both more and less complimentary now. I hadn’t realized how deep was his love for football.
It doesn’t describe how embarrassing his time in office was for many Canadians – especially anyone travelling abroad while he was mayor – or his anti-active transportation stance that has delayed Toronto’s improved, urban greatness for years.
Here’s my take on what’s missing:

  • the protected bicycle lane in the centre of 5-lane Jarvis Street that was ripped out which struck fear in the hearts of active transportation supporters everywhere.
  • the homophobic comments on why City Hall didn’t need to have showers for active transportation commuters.
  • his insatiably addictive personality: he seemed addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, and later to being in the media – his behaviour more outrageous each time in order to get the exposure at the cost of any respect and his reputation.
  • his enabling family and the sad dynamic within it. His downward spiral was always to the advantage of his brother Doug Ford, whose poor behaviour looked good in comparison. I always wondered if their mother was like the mom in that very disturbing Australian film Animal Kingdom about a family gang in the 1980s.

However, Rob Ford changed my mind completely on the structure of regional districts versus mega cities. I used to think Metro Vancouver as a regional district didn’t have enough power or budget to make the decisions it needed to make. Also, that trying to get 21 municipalities, 1 Treaty First Nation, and Electoral Area A to agree on things was cumbersome and need to move faster, at the speed of business today.
I thought the solution was a mega city: 1 mayor for the entire region with a large city council like Toronto’s. Or, reduce the district into 5 municipalities (of course I had ideas on which ones to merge) and a Treaty First Nation. That would at least be more effective than what we have now.
Once Rob Ford was elected, I could see what could happen in the worst case scenario: A suburbanite mayor addicted to drugs, ripping out bike lanes, spewing hatred unprofessionally, and refusing to resign. The suburbanites in the mega city had voted for him and were still fans – he often did what he had promised to do – while the needs of urban Torontonians were neglected.
It also showed me that this was only a glimpse into the rural vs. suburban vs. urban tension. It has not reached its peak. Unfortunately, many issues including water, energy, housing, and transportation will erupt pitting suburban vs. urban or rural vs. urban residents in the future. G-d forbid.
Suddenly my appreciation for Metro Vancouver grew. It still doesn’t have much power (or the budget to go with it) to be truly effective. It still takes a long time to make major decisions – sometimes decades – because so many cities are involved. We have a lot of work to do to improve the governance structure of our transit authority. But it’s our Metro Vancouver.
My mayor looks out for the 10 block radius of our City and co-operates with most of the ones next door. My downtown lifestyle is so different from those on the West Side and in South Vancouver; it’s enough of a challenge to come to agreements with them. At least my City has no Agricultural Land Reserve or highway running through it. Those people are totally different.
Seriously though, last year’s transportation plebiscite showed how where you stand depends upon where you sit (and how you get there). Vancouver urbanists sounded like Ford’s description of Toronto’s “downtown elites” when trying to get people in “the suburbs” (now called “other cities”) to vote Yes. It takes a lot of work to get so many groups to work together. Each City has its own folks it represents from their point of view. But a mega city is not the answer. Thank you Rob Ford for that lesson.

Read more »

From CityLab:
From 2000 to 2010, more college-educated professionals aged 25 to 34 moved downtown than to the suburbs in 39 of the 50 largest U.S. metros. For 35-to-44-year-olds, the same held true in 28 of the 50 largest metros. This revival was true in the places you might expect, like New York City or San Francisco, and in places you might not, like Cleveland.
Couture and Jessie Handbury of the University of Pennsylvania think they’ve settled on an explanation in a new working paper that tracks America’s urban revival as meticulously as any analysis to date. And it’s not one of the usual suspects.
... service amenities seemed to play the key role in explaining urban revival … Over time, young professionals chose to live in areas where there had been higher densities of amenities in 2000, as well as in places that experienced growth in such amenities during the next decade.
Furthermore, the researchers believe that first trend—the initial density of amenities—was the bigger instrument of revival. If young people merely flocked to places adding amenities from 2000 to 2010, they would have gone to the suburbs in greater numbers, since the suburbs actually experienced more amenity growth than downtowns did at that time. The fact that they went downtown, which had greater initial amenity densities in 2000, suggests to Couture that they’d developed a new preference for living near bars, restaurants, theaters, and the like. …
“So what it seems is it’s not that the environment has changed in a way that favors downtown,” he says. “It’s that the preferences of people have changed in ways that favor the downtown—in particular the preferences for these highly urbanized amenities, like in entertainment services.” …
Couture and Handbury aren’t saying that a new demand for proximity to bars and such was the only factor—just that it offered the best statistical fit with residential patterns during that period. The other explanations they considered, many offered by the popular media or previous research, proved relatively less powerful than the lure of amenities.


More exploration of alternative reasons here.

Read more »

Here is that New Yorker story that has again focused on the new kids of Vancouver – the fuerdai, which means “rich second generation.


The West is the plan for many of China’s new rich. In the past decade, they have swept into cities like New York, London, and Los Angeles, snapping up real estate and provoking anxieties about inequality and globalized wealth. Rich Chinese have become a fixture in the public imagination, the way rich Russians were in the nineteen-nineties and rich people from the Gulf states were in the decades before that.
The Chinese presence in Vancouver is particularly pronounced, thanks to the city’s position on the Pacific Rim, its pleasant climate, and its easy pace of life. China’s newly minted millionaires see the city as a haven in which to place not only their money but, increasingly, their offspring, who come there to get an education, to start businesses, and to socialize.

It’s one of those pieces that make you wonder why the principals participated.  Did they not understand how their portrayal was going to be interpreted, or not care?
Regardless, like any group who come together at one time, whether by migration or birth, and have a high impact (there have been many before, some with considerable resources), they are part of the community of Vancouver.  Emphasis on community.  Everyone – them, us, and all the other pronouns – have to work to make it so.

Read more »

From Ken Ohrn:


Ryan Holmes of Hootsuite and Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail are both in the conversation the last few days over assertions that we have a mass outward migration of young’uns in full stampede due to housing unaffordability.
Mr. Mason quotes Mr. Holmes:

Vancouver risks becoming an economic ghost town, a city with no viable economy – other than the service industry catering to wealthy residents and tourists,” Mr. Holmes wrote.

Here’s a contrary opinion, rooted in 2006-2011 census data, from Nathanael Lauster, Associate Professor in Sociology at UBC.

What about the City of Vancouver?  For those in their late teens and early twenties, the phrase “pouring in” is simply inadequate.  We have a tsunami on our hands.  Why?  Probably in part because Vancouver is a university town – in fact it’s MY university town.  But also because central cities tend to attract young people, provide them with jobs, and provide the diverse kinds of housing stock able to support them.
It’s true that the balance shifts between the City of Vancouver and the rest of the metropolitan region as people age.  The City of Vancouver is a net loser for people in their thirties and beyond.  No doubt many of them are looking for more spacious and affordable housing, and they would stay in the City if they could find it there.  But crossing the border into Burnaby, or down to Surrey, or out to Coquitlam, seems like pretty normal circulation.  The type experienced by central cities everywhere (yes, I checked, and Toronto experiences it too).
2016 is upon us, and soon we’ll have a new census.  We’ll all be eagerly awaiting the results (well, anyone who has bothered to read this far, anyway).  Who knows?  It’s possible patterns will have shifted by then.  But it’s also worth holding on to a healthy dose of skepticism.  Vancouver has at least 99 problems associated with housing affordability, but losing our lifeblood ain’t one.

Read more »