Vancouver Province Column: Eco-density zealots must recognize that condo living is not for everyone

The Province
Monday, June 18, 2007

Greater Vancouver’s civic leaders are talking a lot about density these days — elevating the D word to almost mythical status. Indeed, there’s a lot to like about people moving into compact places like the downtown core, since land in our region is finite, while the population continues to grow.

But density isn’t for everyone — a point that some density boosters fail to see.

In their rush to squeeze everyone into a lifestyle of condominium living — complete with seawalk strolls, yoga studios and low-fat lattes — they run the risk of demonizing those who, for a variety of good reasons, opt for suburbia.

No doubt about it, there are many positives to urban densification. People living in these neighbourhoods use up fewer environmental resources, and are more likely to take advantage of public transit than those who live in sprawling suburbs.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan continues to promote his EcoDensity initiative as a means to creating “green, livable and affordable” housing.

At a GVRD forum on housing earlier this month, the pro-density argument again was put forward as a way of taking the froth off of prices in Greater Vancouver’s red-hot real-estate market by ramping up the supply of multi-family units. Translation: More high-rise condos are on the way.

But, before we overdose on density, we need to ask ourselves if the push to compact living is right for everyone.

The B.C. census numbers for 2006 seem to tell a different story than the one the density advocates would like you to hear. For one thing, the biggest growth in our region isn’t happening in the City of Vancouver. It’s in Surrey, Mission, Chilliwack and Abbotsford — where single-family homes still rule.

Between 2001 and 2006, Surrey alone enjoyed a population increase of 13.6 per cent. And the City of Vancouver’s growth rate lags behind not only Surrey, but that of the GVRD as a whole.

So why aren’t more Lower Mainland families embracing the high-density lifestyle?

For starters, there’s the perception, right or wrong, that compact neighbourhoods are the domain of childless singles and well-to-do retirees.

Also, raising kids can be a challenge in the inner city.

Yaletown has new schools and parks to bolster its case for being family-friendly. But other highrise neighbourhoods have not followed suit.

Then there’s the affordability issue for people with families. The cost of buying a two- or three-bedroom condo in central Vancouver can be astronomical.

So what can the density cheerleaders take from this picture?

Let’s hope a healthy respect for those who’ve taken a pass on the downtown lifestyle, for starters.

It’s about choice, really.

A family guy taking care of four kids and a dog is about as fond of condo living downtown as the hipster from Main Street is of living in an Aldergrove cul-de-sac.

In urban and suburban circles, the old expression still holds true: To each his own.

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Filed under Environment, Neighbourhoods, Protest, Real Estate, Transportation, Urban Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

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