Gentrification in Vancouver

March 1, 2012 at 6:01 am (goings-on, Other, Vancouver) (, , )

My house (on right) is owned by a property development corporation and will be redeveloped in the next few years--rightly so, given the high traffic volume on Knight St. The view from the backyard is of the King Edward Village tower.

Over 180 concerned residents of the Mount Pleasant community were registered to speak at Monday night’s Vancouver City Council meeting to state their concern for the re-zoning and development of the southwest corner of Broadway and Kingsway.  The developer, Rize Alliance, wants to erect a 19-story luxury condo tower (down from the 26 stories initially proposed), which residents contend is completely out of scale with surrounding properties and will ultimately signal the beginning of the end of affordability for the area.  For more details on Rize and this project in particular, see the Mainlander’s article on Gentrification in Mount Pleasant.

Unfortunately, since the development proposal and opposition hearing was item six of six on Monday night’s agenda and since there were so many people signed up to speak, only one of the 180 citizen speakers was given a chance to speak before the meeting adjourned.  The rest were invited back the following night to speak, if they could make it, but it must be assumed that not everyone could come back for round two.  So, while City Council goes through the motions to appear sensitive to citizens’ concerns, gentrification marches on.  Even if the re-zoning application is denied and Rize agrees to build a comparatively modest mixed-use development of only 5 to 10 stories, what the neighborhood will end up with will be a glut of one- and two-bedroom condos.  Why no three- or four-bedroom condos?  A three-bedroom may have the same floor space as two one-bedrooms, but the developer can’t double the sale price on it.

For those who do not reside in Vancouver, a one-bedroom condo priced under $500,000 is what passes for “affordable housing” here.  City Council talks a lot about creating “affordable housing,” but it only ever seems to result in more market-rate condos.  The character of a neighborhood can’t stay the same when all the families are forced to leave, which is the pattern in Vancouver: so-called “affordable housing” moves in and families stay as long as the kids are small, but inevitably move east when they outgrow a two-bedroom condo.

What’s taken for granted is that home ownership is achievable and desirable for all families; none of these new developments include affordable rental housing (except that many of the units do sell to wealthy international investors, who profit from renting them, further exacerbating the upward pressure on rental rates).  A kind of middle ground exists between owning and renting, but non-profit co-operative housing has all but disappeared from the city’s vocabulary–this, despite the fact that units in the existing co-housing developments, built in the 70’s and early 80’s, are in high demand and co-op applicants can be waitlisted for years.

I’m not proposing that development should be altogether halted; but the rampant over-development that is driving Vancouver families to the financial brink, just before driving them out completely, is ultimately going to rob this city of its designation as one of the most livable cities in the world.

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3 Comments

  1. dreamstreamr said,

    I wonder how this relentless ‘progress’ compares to other large cities, not only in Canada but also in the states? HGTV’s house-shopping shows sometimes represent the Toronto housing market. The young buyers (“Property Virgins”) think they can buy close in and ultimately are sent packing well to the eastern communities.

    I found this quote on gentrification — “The term was coined by sociologist Ruth Glass, who is quoted below.
    “One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle-classes—upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages—two rooms up and two down—have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences …. Once this process of ‘gentrification’ starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”
    -Ruth Glass (1964)”

    A good friend told me about antiques many years ago — poor people use them, middle class people wish they could afford them, and rich people hoard them. Isn’t it the same with the modest and as yet less-popular areas in a city.

    • Venetia said,

      Such a great quote, and a great way to explain what gentrification can do to cities.

      • kelseywood said,

        Thanks, dreamstreamr, for the quote. I was previously unaware of where the term ‘gentrification’ came from. I can’t help but think of Jane Jacobs’ description of it in her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She describes un-gentrified urban spaces, especially commercial and industrial units as low-overhead incubators of innovative small business ideas. Besides historical character, older buildings boast cheap rents because their mortgages are paid for, leaving only maintenance and taxes to be covered by rental income. Replacing most of the old buildings in a neighborhood with new construction necessarily drives rental rates higher, at the expense of diversity and innovation in business. Frequently, an area becomes known for one type of business and that is the only kind of new business that is likely to succeed there. Along Vancouver’s Main Streeet, for example, you have lots of trendy fashion boutiques and antique stores. To be sure, ethnic groceries, convenience stores, and laundromats still exist, but they mostly occupy the remaining old buildings. I wonder if they would survive the move to higher-rent spaces in the new mixed-use developments…

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