Category Archives: Urban Planning

Is Vancouver an “Elite” City?

The Economist has a feature story about Portland and “elite cities”. Portland is leading the way in the United States expanding public transit, encouraging local food, and building cycling infrastructure. For the most part, it’s a positive article that compares Portland to Vancouver in Canada and many European cities. But then the Economist squeezes in this paragraph near the end:

Joel Kotkin, a Los Angeles-based demographer and author, thinks that places like Portland, San Francisco and Boston have become “elite cities”, attractive to the young and single, especially those with trust funds, but beyond the reach of middle-class families who want a house with a lawn. Indeed Portland, for all its history of Western grit, is remarkably white, young and childless. Most Americans will therefore continue to migrate to the more affordable “cities of aspiration” such as Houston, Atlanta or Phoenix, thinks Mr Kotkin.

Cities like Vancouver, Portland, San Francisco, and New York are expensive because there is a huge demand for what they’re offering. I thought the Economist would understand the basics of supply and demand. More cities should be following Portland’s lead instead of trying to be “cities of aspiration” – whatever that means.

Reflecting the Eyes of the World Inward

The eyes of the world are now on Vancouver. The LA Times just published a great article on Vancouverism and a summary of the urban planning decisions going on in the city. The external scrutiny has spurred some navel gazing by the city’s thought leaders.

I just got back from a coffee house discussing Matt Hern’s newest book – Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future. I just bought the book tonight, so I haven’t had a chance to read it. The discussion tonight was about funky cities and contrasting Montreal and Vancouver. There was an informal panel of local leaders and some really interesting conversations about making Vancouver more fun.

Some of the points that struck a chord with me:

  • There’s a trade-off between safety and fun. Some examples: food sanitation rules prevent a lot of street food; BIXI (the Montreal bike sharing program) is widely supported by Vancouver City Council but will likely never happen because of mandatory bike helmet laws here; and Vancouver has really stringent liquor laws that prevent late night bars.
  • Changing neighbourhoods are interesting. David Beers had a better phrase for this, but the idea was changing neighbourhoods attract people who are also changing and this leads to creative, funky spaces. Part of Vancouver’s problem is the universities (and the students) are isolated from the rest of the city.
  • Vancouver is too expensive. Joan Seidl pointed out that young families can’t afford to live in Vancouver and have to leave to the burbs or Saskatchewan. There are other consequences to the high costs. I find a lot of NIMBYism in Vancouver is due to risk-averse property owners who don’t want to jeopardize their home value. And if I just spent a million dollars on a house I might agree, although I currently think they’re a bunch of whiners.
  • Public spaces are key. Vancouver’s best public space is along the water. This creates a centrifugal force pulling people from the centre of the city to the periphery. Vancouver needs a public square and a car-free commercial street.

I’m really happy there are people thinking about how to make the city better, and not just complaining about parking taxes. These guys really piss me off. Considering how expensive land is in Vancouver, parking is dirt cheap. Who is driving downtown anyway? Some parts of Vancouver are hard to get to by public transit, but the downtown is the one area that is extremely to get to.

Good Urban Planning

FountainFor everyone out there interested in urban planning, there are two events you should be aware of.

This weekend there are free Jane’s Walks going on in cities across Canada and the USA (including Winnipeg, family). Named after urbanist Jane Jacob’s, the walks are intended to encourage walkable neighbourhoods and help people reconnect with their environment. Here in Vancouver, the walks fill up fast, but they just made a few more spots available.

Emily and I will be attending a Sunday afternoon walk in our new neighbourhood: “Old Mount Pleasant – A Victorian Village”. Should be interesting.

The second event worth noting is the Where’s the Square? contest. Vancouver sorely lacks a car-free public space for people to gather, and the Vancouver Public Space network is trying to change that. Yesterday they announced the short list entries in their contest. One entry I was hoping to see, Lantern Park, didn’t make the cut. Of the 13 entries that did, I haven’t decided who to vote for yet.