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What would happen if Vancouver residents blocked all new density?

October 24th, 2013 · 101 Comments

Every development opposition person I meet always starts off by saying, “I’m not opposed to development but …”

In some cases, I believe that’s true. In others, it’s more dubious. The more you try to get an answer on what IS acceptable (Not towers. Not low-rise apartment complexes. Not six-storey projects. Not stacked townhouses. Not rowhouses or duplexes. Not laneway houses), the less you know.

I do hear a lot of chatter out there, as well, about people who think it’s some kind of developer spin that there are people moving to this region. I guess Statistics Canada is in on the whole game, since they keep publishing census results indicating that there are more people living here every every year.

In the view of the population-increase deniers, nothing would happen if development stopped, since no one is moving to this region.

But assuming that most of us accept the likelihood that Stats Can is not fabricating numbers and that there are about 30,000 to 40,000 people moving to the region each year (nothing like what Toronto gets, but still quite a few people), what would happen if the city slowed development right down to a crawl?

When I talked to former city planning director Ann McAfee recently for a story I did about anti-development activism and how to talk to communities, she said that one thing planners made very clear when doing CityPlan consultations in Vancouver back in the 1990s was that there would be very negative effects to doing nothing.

The way McAfee put it to me: Vancouver is a small chunk of the region, with about 70,000 single-family houses. If nothing changes, then that limited stock of housing eventually is bought up by the wealthiest buyers in the region. So, even though the city doesn’t change visibly, it does change in who owns it.

I’d argue that there are two likely possibilities if the housing in the city were more or less frozen. The biggest, single-family properties would be bought by one of two groups. One, singles and couples who are very wealthy and can afford the whole property for themselves. Two, they’ll be bought by groups, likely families, who will crowd as many income-earning adults into the house as they can in order to cover the high price and compete with the wealthiest buyers.

(The city’s service workers, of course, will continue to crowd into small apartments or live six to a household, as they are doing now.)

I keep trying to figure out if that doomsday, or at any rate, depressing scenario is wrong. I’d love to hear from all of you how you imagine the future unrolling in the city if residents decided they’d had enough and weren’t going to accept any or much new density?






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