The Livable Region
August 28, 2018

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From newsletter to blog, Price Tags has provided a balanced and often unique perspective on urbanism. So do our commenters: Price Tags is a forum for civil, spirited dialogue — something increasingly needed in our disruptive times.

To keep hearing those voices and maintain that forum, we’re asking you to make a sincere gesture with a small donation.

For a limited time, all contributions will be matched, to a total of $10,000, thanks our very first donor. Your donation will be effectively doubled — and here’s where the money will go.

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Colin Stein is now our Managing Editor 

Since launching in 2006, Price Tags has provided “Perspectives from Vancouver.” This blog has specialized in stories and analysis on urban design, development and planning, with a special emphasis on transportation, both local and global. Co-edited by Ken Ohrn and Sandy James, Price Tags is also known for its active discussion forums.   

To date, it’s been a volunteer effort. Now it’s time to take Price Tags to the next level. 

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A unanimous pick by the Price Tags editors for the most Potentially Polarizing Planning Work~The Amazon solicitation from cities right across North America for  its first location outside of Seattle. Why? Amazon says it will invest 5 billion dollars (those would be American dollars) in the construction of its second headquarters. Of course over 238 proposals  came from cities putting in a bid to Amazon to become the second headquarters. Amazon has had those bids since the middle of October and plans to make the grand announcement in 2018.
And here is where it is polarizing. Of course Vancouver put in a bid, as reported by Price Tags Vancouver here. But there is a good side and a bad side to this. While 50,000 Amazon staff workers would be located here, they will all need a place to live. And while Amazon will bring in new money and salaries, will those tens of thousands of high paying jobs also raise the salaries of local Vancouverites not working with Amazon? Or will those high paying jobs in Amazon make the Vancouver market more unaffordable?
Amazon did have some basic requirements, asking for a city with a one million person population, an international airport  and a place that was “stable and business-friendly”.  Oh of course, one more thing~Amazon also said “Incentives offered by the state/province and local communities to offset initial capital outlay and ongoing operational costs will be significant factors in the decision-making process.”  
Price Tags Vancouver’s Gordie 2017  for most potentially polarizing planning work.

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Statistics Canada  and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation released some new figures about housing in the Metro Vancouver market, and those statistics open up more questions about what is truly going on in this region. As Jen St. Denis writes in Metro News  buyers who don’t live in Canada like newer, bigger units are  buying a more costlier product that local resident  buyers. When Duke of Data and Simon Fraser University urbanist Andy Yan reviewed the figures, he found that new condo units started between 2016 and 2017 had a much higher percentage of non-resident owners. In Vancouver 19 per cent of these condo units were owned by non-resident buyers; the numbers were 24 per cent in Richmond and 23 per cent in Coquitlam.
Only 11 per cent of Vancouver condo units built between 2001 and 2005 were owned by non-resident buyers; 11 per cent in Richmond and 6 per cent in Coquitlam.
The City of Vancouver is embarking on a new Ten Year Housing Program to build and densify neighbourhoods and provide more of the “missing middle” of housing, often in the form of townhousing. But as Andy Yan observes, Vancouver is experiencing the “hyper-commodification” of real estate, and  those townhouses being built for local families are proving to be very attractive to foreign owners. Between 2016 and 2016 187 townhouses were built in Vancouver. Of that 21 townhouses or  22 per cent of those new townhouse builds, over one fifth of that housing stock went to non-resident owners. The benchmark price for a townhouse is $861,900 in East Vancouver and $1.2 million on Vancouver’s west side, suggesting that the policy may need to be rethought about who is going to live in these and how they are going to afford them.
“The numbers are part of an effort by Statistics Canada and CMHC to collect and analyze more data on Canada’s housing market. In recent years, enormous price spikes in Vancouver and Toronto have led economists and housing experts to question how much of that effect is due to money flooding in from overseas sources. But a lack of data has stymied efforts to quantify the phenomenon.” 
Questions are still being raised about the figures themselves, as some economists have been suggesting that the foreign money needs to be tracked, not just the foreign buyer who does not live in Canada and pay tax elsewhere. These figures do not include the flipping of property titles prior to building occupancy permits, or show when non-resident buyers purchase property in someone else’s name. In Metro Vancouver, non-residents own condos that are worth on average $161,200 more than those owned by full-time Vancouver residents, while single detached homes owned by non-residents were worth $707,800 more than those owned by residents.” 
And in Vancouver itself non-residents like the most expensive parts of West Vancouver and the area inclusive of the University of British Columbia’s endowment lands. The statistics suggest some sobering realities of non-residents’ buying power and interests in the property market. However it does not track or  follow the trail of foreign money in real estate market transactions. That analysis may reveal more.

Source: Metro News, Andy Yan

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Instead of concentrating on issues like housing diversity, seniors needs, and affordability the City of Vancouver council is wading back into predictable waters. The Mayor wants to change the City’s logo once again in an elongated process sure to take up lots of staff time. As Wanyee Li reports in the Metro News, the wordmark approved last February may be rescinded today “in response to public outcry after the original proposed version was revealed. Residents mocked the gotham-fonted logo due to its simplicity and $8,000 price tag while local designers signed an open letter that criticized the process used to create the new logo.”
As Price Tags previously reported, this Council has turfed the Vancouver logo used throughout the Olympics for a rather bare bones version of the same, in Vancouver Canuck hockey colours. Price Tags also talked about the original logo and gave a bit of background in a previous post. But never mind, it appears this is a public involvement exercise and Mayor Robertson is going to let the public “provide feedback on a new wordmark”.

“The new process, if approved Tuesday, will involve both public feedback as well as collaboration with the Graphic Designers of Canada, according to the motion…Local designers have said the original bill, $8,000 was too low and that top-of-the-line city logos could cost as much as $200,000 to design.” You can take a look at the motion to Council put forward by Mayor Robertson on this wordmark process here.  It is not called what it is, which is changing the City’s logo. It is  called “Modernizing the City’s Visual Identity”. The reason for the change according to the Council motion is that “Vancouver’s last visual identity was created over a decade ago, prior to the need for social media-friendly graphics and key City policies including the City of Reconciliation”. 
You can see the old logo and the “new” $8,000 dollar three-month old logo about to be booted below.The budget for the wordmarking  exercise will be set after the Council meeting, but won’t include the hours of staff time this process takes. Stay tuned.


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You just can’t make this stuff up. Mizrahi developments is preselling a twelve storey boutique apartment building in Ottawa with units going from $400,000 to $2 million dollars. Now you’d think they’d take a full-page out of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper to advertise the concierge, the lap pool, the entertainment suite (which includes a dining room and adjacent catering kitchen). But no-a full-page ad on April 8 proclaims  first off-“Even Your Car Gets Special Treatment”.
When You have groceries or other packages that need to be brought in from your car, the valet will help. Your car will also be parked for you in the underground garage, and retrieved for you when needed. There is also a washing bay in the garage, so your car can be cleaned for your next outing. This kind of hospitality is usually found in a five-star boutique hotel. To make it available in your home is all part of the philosophy at Mizrahi Developments. At 1451 Wellington West, you’re part of a redefinition of urban living in Ottawa”.
And in the newspaper link, Mizrahi provides no amenity for pedestrian foot traffic, but does address “garbage smell”. “If you ask Mizrahi about the traffic at his site’s intersection he will tell you he has considered it and has consequently designed his building so pedestrians will not be affected by smells from trash left out on the sidewalk because there will be no garbage stored outside the building. ” No talk of benches, trees, semi-private spaces or softening of the ground plane.
And here’s the intro video provided by the developer. There are boats and a few bikers in the beauty shots but no walkers-and no winters. Does this define refined living in Ottawa?

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Additional material on previous items:
Further to the post below on vault lights in sidewalks, PT quoted from a blog titled Vanalogue.  Hadn’t heard of Christine Hagemoen‘s history-themed contribution to our city – “exploring and featuring all things analogue (or ‘old school’) in Vancouver (and the rest of the world).”

Our loss, because it’s been active since 2013, and it’s really good.  Delves into all kinds of surprising items about this place, with a lot of background, insight and illustration. Check it out.


PT has added a credit to the post on Larry Beasley and Metro Vancouver’s Potential Third Housing Sector, where we quoted Daphne Bramham‘s column:

Price Tags relies on journalists like Daphne to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to coverage of local issues, in particular.  And we wouldn’t be the first to note that such experienced professionals are in danger in this new media environment.  We’ll make sure we give them credit.


Some interesting comments already to the post on Branch Plant Politics.

Rebecca thought “stuff like this belongs in another forum.”  Dan Ross thought not.  And Geof provided a particularly good commentary, worth bringing forward:

The urban/rural-suburban divide is perhaps *the* defining political fact, geographically and culturally. Rob Ford weaponized it. The NDP is divided over it. Christy Clark used it as a referendum wedge.
Urbanism changes our politics. I believe there is scholarship to that effect: the experience of urban diversity actually changes people’s views. Living in the city tends to make people more liberal. Mixed developments and transit make future liberal voters, just as suburban plots and freeways make future conservative voters.
At the same time, cities exacerbate and highlight hierarchy and inequality. City and suburb sort us by tribe, by education, by income. Often these are side-by-side, as with our own downtown east side. They are the home of both the poor and the smug elites: a politically explosive combination of others.
Urbanism is a class thing. To the rich (old neighbourhoods are like old money) go the spoils: the walkable neighbourhoods, the bicycle paths, the subway lines. Like a working class man who would not be caught dead with a posh accent, suburbanites denied these things reject them.
At its best, urbanism physically challenges echo chambers as we are brought face to face with those who are not like us. (But not all those who are not like us: tragically and perhaps shamefully, many Democrats in U.S. cities did not know a single Trump voter.) At its worst, it dissolves our community bonds and rubs our noses in who we cannot be and what we cannot have.


Geof is not alone.  From the Washington Post:

From The Guardian:


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The Globe and Mail‘s Kerry Gold reports on a new wave of condo buyers that is happening at a faster pace than expected. Seniors instead of holding on to their equity rich housing until infirmity forces them into supportive care facilities appear to be cashing out and moving to condominium developments, many with similar  square footage on the floor plate as their previous homes.

Called “the transitioning buyer” these older condo purchasers will spend approximately half their equity in their new abode.Developers including “Nic Paolella, director of development for Marcon Developments in Vancouver, says he’s seeing the beginning of a potential flood of downsizers that will become one of the biggest drivers of the condo market. Marcon is a mid-size condo developer with a projected 1,000 units coming on the market this year.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of amount of capital out there for downsizer buyers,” he says. “We are only at the start of that wave. We are in for a lot more, and it could be a five- or 10-year run of the aggressive downsizer buyer,” he says. “And they have specific interests of where they want to be – often, in a similar neighbourhood to where they were living. Often, they want walkability and access to amenities without a car.”

With the high prices commanded by Vancouver housing, sellers can also now negotiate to continue to live in their homes until their respective condos are ready for occupancy. This can also be for the buyer’s benefit as “if the new buyer plans to tear the house down, as they usually do, it’s more difficult to remove a full-time paying tenant. And if the house is left empty, the owner is looking at paying the new vacancy tax.” 

Despite the cooling off of Vancouver housing prices this year, the Teranet-National Bank home price index still shows prices up 17 per cent from 2015.  “Long-time realtor Stuart Bonner, who specializes in expensive west-side Vancouver properties for Re/Max, says he’s seeing retirees taking a more “proactive” approach. “Nobody would have predicted what prices have done in the last three or four years. People are saying, ‘My house is worth what?’ They are stunning numbers. A lot of people are saying, ‘I’ve got to take some money off the table.’ These are educated people who realize it won’t go straight up forever.”

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The “Gordies” are awarded annually by the Editorial Board of Price Tags with input from readers. “Gordies” for 2016 will be presented daily every day in six outstanding categories. 

Today, Tuesday January 2 , Price Tags Editorial Board presents the Gordie for:
*Biggest Transportation Events*
There were four notable contenders in this category.  The Biggest Transportation Events of 2016 are:
The Massey Bridge-–”10 lanes to fresh new sprawl. Yummy.  Cars for everyone!!  And billions upon billions of referendum-free dollars for them, with no end in sight.  How many months until that Provincial election?”

Approval of Mayors’ Phase One Transit Plan“$2B more bus, Skytrain, Seabus and HandyDART; money from Feds, Province and Metro Vancouver.  Serious planning on Broadway subway and Surrey LRT lines.  Baby steps, too, on the way to regional mobility pricing.”

More SkyTrain — “approval of $93M for 28 spankin’ new SkyTrain cars (a 9.8% increase) arrivals start in 2018; cars in service by the end of 2019.”

Opening of Evergreen Line –“ $ 1.43 B (capital), 11-km, 7 stations, construction since 2013.  Hopes for development to boom around the stations. Transit-oriented development rises in local thinking.”

Tomorrow, stay tuned for another “Gordie” 2016 award in the “Happiest Tranportation Story” category.

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