Monday, March 10, 2014

Gordzilla in the City: How does all this density improve the lives of Citizens?


I was born in Vancouver and have lived in the city nearly all of my life. This has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of what the city once was. And a curse from watching what it has become, where it is heading and how lousy I feel about the changes.
A lot of people sing the praises of the new “world-class” Vancouver, with all its shiny towers and go, go, go development, but you don’t hear it a lot from longtime Vancouverites.
We ask the question, what’s in it for us, but never get a satisfactory answer.
Now, Vancouver has always grown, and I appreciate that it is the nature of cities to gain population. But rather than let that happen at a gentle, natural pace, a cabal of profit-seeking developers, donation-and-property-tax hungry politicians, urbanist planners and university-coddled social experimenters have conspired to accelerate the pace of change.
I get it. You’re getting rich. Bully for you. But where’s the upside for citizens?
Every day of late we hear about some massive new redevelopment. Shocked residents were only coming to terms with the proposed $1.5-billion redevelopment of Oakridge Mall, which calls for 2,900 apartment units in towers up to 40-storeys high, when city hall announced a $1-billion redevelopment scheme for the Downtown Eastside that will double the population of that troubled neighbourhood.
Anyone who dares stand in the way of all this “progress” is branded a NIMBY or worse, some kind of a crank.
But who is this city for, anyway? The people who live here now — and pay taxes, by the way — or mythical future citizens, apparently OK paying a million or more bucks for tiny boxes up in the sky? Not much of a life.
And what is the limit to all this growth? Are developers and city hall politicians not going to be happy until they have squeezed every last drop of potential density out of Vancouver and it has been transformed to resemble Hong Kong or downtown Manhattan?
In my view, all they are doing is wrecking my once lovely town.
I appreciate this is a personal view not shared by everyone. But in the past, whenever a lot of us old-time Vancouverites visited bigger cities like Toronto or London, England, New York or Tokyo, it was always such a pleasure to come home to the slower, more humane pace of our hometown. Not all of us love the endless bustle of huge cities, which is why we made our lives in Vancouver.
Perhaps I’d feel better about all the growth if someone could point to some positives. But where are all the natural history museums, art galleries and other great cultural features common to other large cities? Despite the growth, we’re not acquiring any of the cultural attributes of large cities that at least provide some trade-off to a hectic life in an urban jungle. Let’s face it, we’re an artistic wasteland compared with truly great cities. How are all those condo towers blocking the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains and the ocean making us more interesting?
One of the biggest arguments for density is to improve affordability. But how’s that working for you? You now can’t buy a house west of Main Street for less than $1.5 million (really $2 million for something decent), condo prices are nuts and keep rising and try finding an affordable place with three bedrooms. No wonder Vancouver schools are down thousands of kids from full capacity. Despite population growth, enrolment in Vancouver public schools has been on a steady decline for years, dropping to about 51,000 in 2012 from nearly 58,000 in 1997. The percentage of Vancouver’s population aged 14 and under fell to 11.8 per cent in 2011 from 12.9 per cent in 2006. The national average is 16.7 per cent, meaning we have 30 per cent fewer kids than average Canadian communities. We also have a steadily increasing population of seniors. A decline in kids means a decline in families, which means that in that way Vancouver is dying. And since increasing density hasn’t done anything to improve affordability, why do we keep doing more of it, unless it’s just to sell more condos?
All we seem to get with growth is negatives — traffic gridlock, an overwhelmed transit system that we can’t afford to enlarge and crowded public spaces. How does any of that make Vancouver a nicer place to live and work?
Finally, we’ve become jerks. We used to be a pretty friendly town, but now we cut each other off in traffic, nearly run down pedestrians in crosswalks and everyone is angry all the time. It’s part of what the late U.S. ethologist John Calhoun called “behavioural sink” — the decline in civility that results from overcrowding. I’ve taken to calling the city of my birth the “City of D-bags,” not that I’m proud of it. And I never thought I’d say this growing up here, but one day I’ll probably leave.
If all of this is what it means to be world class, you can stick it where the sun don’t shine — on any sidewalk in Vancouver surrounded by all those towers.

Gordzilla in the City: How does all this density improve the lives of Citizens?

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! Many of the people who are supposedly in favour of all this densification are simply in it for the money.

Anonymous said...

Not that I am a fan of highrises, but it is not developers who get people to move to Vancouver. People move here, they need housing. I have moved here and I needed a place to live. Unless you stop immigration to Canada and migration to Vancouver, Metro Vancouver will continue to grow. If we don't want more sprawl, it will be higher density housing.

Anonymous said...

How come many of the new condo"s are vacant?

Where are all the jobs?

Anything goes with developers in the City of North Van.

Even have a Councillor who holds his nose and votes
Contrary to his true feelings.

Anonymous said...

Good planning can control overdevelopment .. nothing wrong with delaying permits etc. That's how truly livable cities hit the pause button on too much too fast. Good planning does not exist in the cnv - roads are in terrible shape, condos empty, no attempt to encourage businesses and jobs. Packed buses/seabus. Limited parking because people "should walk or bike". Money spent on sham projects (waterfront); pretense at engagement and no change.

Anonymous said...

From tomorrow's Province:

Density is wrecking Vancouver

Gordon Clark asked in his column Monday on Vancouver’s increasing density, “What’s in it for us?

The answer is more congestion, more taxes and less money for individuals to spend to enjoy their lives. In addition, less feeling of belonging to the community which is running afoul.

We have been asking these questions for some time and get no satisfactory answer. Coquitlam is bent on proceeding down this dark path of community destruction by densification. Just look at the town centre, with all of these high rises. Not a friendly area and lack of greenery and parks in the immediate area. Very damp and cold. No sunshine!

We call our present situation a “democratic dictatorship,” with do as we say!

Elwin Mowry, Coquitllam



It’s all about money

Re: Gordzilla column.

My new name for our metropolis of Vancouver is “Narciss-city.”

I don’t know why, given the well-studied effects of over-crowding on rat behaviour, not to mention the disease-spawning effect of over-crowding known to have occurred in Southeast Asia over the centuries, why jerks in city planning and politicians seem so keen on it.

Money, I guess, as usual!

Dave Bridges, North Vancouver



Get out and vote

We are fast approaching the upcoming Vancouver municipal election, and since we know that elections are a number games, I hope that Vancouver citizens will realize how important they are as voters.

Each of their votes is as valuable as any developer, special-interest group or individual dollars. We need to show the parties that Vancouver’s voters are intelligent and will make sure who we are voting for is really who they say they are. I hope Vancouverites will come out in droves in the next election and let their voices be heard.

Alicia Hagman, Vancouver

Anonymous said...

Gordon Clark writes:

"...A decline in kids means a decline in families, which means that in that way Vancouver is dying. And since increasing density hasn’t done anything to improve affordability, why do we keep doing more of it, unless it’s just to sell more condos?"

The developer-driven planning rampant throughout Metro Vancouver is not kid-friendly. Period.

Anonymous said...

And yet everywhere you go in Metro, there are kids.

Anonymous said...

Is Clark really suggesting that densification is hampering family size?

Aren't the fastest growing places in the world the ones with the most dense cities?

Canada is barely growing biologically because it is really expensive to have a kid and we have become too self indulgent to want to set aside 15 years of our lives to raise a family.

Densification is a response to demand. People want short commutes close to employment, there are countless communities in BC attempting to attract young families with large cheap lots and they aren't selling.

Bill and Dot Bell said...

Good article. The increase in density above the community plan in the City of North Vancouver has hurt the livability, particularly in Lower Lonsdale. This coming municipal election will be the most important in the City's history. If increases in density and height go ahead under a new council, there will be no turning back.

Anonymous said...

Same for the District.

Anonymous said...

Must be why the push continues for new developments before Nov 15: 2 Polygon lower lonsdale, Harbourside rezoning coming Apr 1st, Marine Drive Darwin 100 more units - south side, unknown Lucas/Cloverley, 161 E Keith, Telus site, on it goes. Are you coming back to run Bill Bell?

Anonymous said...

Interesting counter-opinion:

http://tinyurl.com/m85yz9t

pb said...

Among the various options for funding Trans Link expansion, one that hasn't been discussed much is a levy on a benefitting area. Commercial and residential development at Oakridge and along the Cambie Corridor should contribute to the cost of rapid transit at their door step.

pb said...

As for development in CNV, it's time to take our foot off the gas.

Anonymous said...

to 4.27pm - maybe if the CNV development had some benefit we could talk. Adding hundreds of empty condos does not contribute anything to a community.

Anonymous said...

Can you show proof that the condos are, in fact, empty?

Anonymous said...

you could look at Pinnacle, or the Loblaws building, or Marine Drive for a start; today there are 167 listed condos under $350K in North Van on the realty link site.

Anonymous said...

So what? How many properties total are for sale in North Vancouver? Do you really think anyone would build anything that they can't sell? That'd be a pretty bad business model, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Nothing is for ever!

A hike in interest rates, a crisis or?




Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen to prices if no more housing is built? What will happen to property taxes? How many of us will be able to afford it?

Anonymous said...

Who is saying ZERO housing to be built? We just need the massive densification to slow down. There is far too much construction impeding traffic throughout Metro, and it is a FACT that building market housing (especially condoes) does not help the overall housing prices, the opposite--it brings it up! Look at Metro Vancouver. And don't for a second think that if all these condos weren't built throughout the region that the prices would be even higher. Not!

Anonymous said...

8:14am can you provide sources that support your assertions? Just saying something doesn't make it true.

Anonymous said...

Just look at the gridlock traffic! This is proof that we're doing something wrong.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen gridlock here. You want gridlock? Go to LA or New York. The only time the traffic is stopped here is if the bridges are closed, which has nothing to do with development and everything to do with bad drivers. Stop describing busy roads as gridlock.

Why not save your anger for the mayors and councils who aren't doing enough to get improved transit to and from the North Shore? Save your anger for the inefficient operations that result in property tax increases each and every year (have you had pay raises every year? I haven't).

Anonymous said...

There is traffic GRIDLOCK in the DNV. This has been documented. You are in denial. Your logic....it's worse somewhere else so....

Anonymous said...

Show me the documentation of gridlock please (you know, an actual published study). There's rush-hour traffic and occasional congestion but that's die to driver error. You haven't seen gridlock or anything like it in this area, so stop referring to our congestion as gridlock. Just because it takes you 10 minutes to get somewhere, when it once took you 5, does not equal gridlock!

pb said...

Whether you call it "gridlock" or "congestion", it was identified as the top of mind complaint at the NV Chambers' Mayors' Lunch. Woe to the candidate who says otherwise. Your call for studies and stats falls flat in the face of voter perception. It smacks of arrogance.

Anonymous said...

pb, I'm asking for people to support their claims and nothing more. Gridlock and rush hour congestion are two very different things. I have never had any trouble getting from point A to B on the North Shore at any time of day. The only times traffic is at a standstill (gridlock) is when a bridge is closed. But as long at the other bridge is clear or the sea bus is operating there are options. Have we become so entitled that we expect unimpeded driving whenever and wherever we wish? When did we ever truly have that, even on the North Shore? Want unimpeded traffic, you and your council members should spend less time having lunches on the tax-payer dime and spend that time pressing the Ministry to get our highways and bridges in order and start demanding Translink provide us with a more efficient transit network that will get people out of their cars. Don't place the blame on people who want to live here and need housing. That sounds a little like you want to raise the drawbridge behind you now that you've got your piece of the Shore and THAT smacks of arrogance!

pb said...

8:15 Actually all NS Councils are lobbying for the projects you identify, and surely you would not begrudge councillors meeting at least once a year to hear the business community raise issues with our respective Mayors. As for congestion, it has been significant as a result of construction project on main commuter routes, road work on the other side of Second Narrows, increasing volume at rush hour. Time is money. Why would you mention the need for an interchange if there is no problem? Why do we need to increase public transit capacity if there is no problem?

Anonymous said...

pb, why does there have to be a problem to encourage a better transit system? Get transit to the point where it is an efficient and desirable option so that people reconsider using their car to get to and from work each day. Isn't the goal to reduce traffic, regardless of building development? You've identified two causes for traffic congestion; the first being the act of construction itself the second out our jurisdiction. Construction isn't forever and once complete, the traffic would presumably return to normal. Although your city staff aren't doing so well in planning for the traffic problems that construction causes. They could step up the effort to ensure that construction is staged so as to minimize the impact on traffic, particularly during rush hours. Maybe council needs to start giving staff the mandate to implement thorough traffic planning during construction cycles.

struat markes said...

Yes,
Many people can see that after some time "No wonder Vancouver schools are down thousands of kids from full capacity."

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