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How Vancouver is different from Toronto: denser, less development on rural edges, less population loss in centre

June 2nd, 2015 · 25 Comments

I’ve been intrigued with the Neptis Foundation, a privately funded group in Toronto, ever since one of their reports wound its way onto a Metro Vancouver agenda about five years ago.

This group has looked carefully at how cities add new residents, using aerial surveys and other tools to examine exactly how much land is used to accommodate each new 1,000 in population.

I’ve used their report when I teach housing policy courses to show students how planning really does matter, in a big way.

Their latest report came out recently, this time comparing only Toronto and Vancouver.

Once again, it showed that Vancouver has absorbed population largely by adding people into existing urban areas, whereas almost 90 per cent of new development in Toronto happens in greenfields on the edges of the metropolitan boundary.

When people here talk about the un-greenness of tearing down houses and replacing them with concrete, I think they sometimes forget that every house here that is replaced with something even a little bit denser — a duplex, a set of rowhouses, a small apartment building — makes a difference somewhere out in the valley.

(That doesn’t, of course, have anything to do with the appalling practice happening from here to Coquitlam, of tearing down smaller houses to build gigantic single-family palaces)

What makes the difference here? According to the report, three things

1. Partly our strong policy on saving agricultural land

2. Partly our regional plan that doesn’t just say densify, but that targets densification to defined urban centres near transit

3. A regional government that can exert some pressure to keep all 21 municipalities sticking to the plan. No, it doesn’t have a lot of powers, but just the power of having everyone in the same room and agreeing to agree seems to exert some influence, say the Neptis people.





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