‘New urbanism’ works in Vancouver -Census vindicates the city’s downtown experiment and puts it ahead of other cities, demographers say
In what city planners and
demographers say is unmistakable
proof that the Vancouver
experiment in downtown living has
worked, the 2001 census shows
16,000 people moved into central
city neighbourhoods between 1996
"It’s a confirmation of the fact that
the new urbanism is working and it’s
working because there’s a product
there that customers want.
"It shows that if you build good
housing in the downtown area,
people will come and live there,"
demographer David Baxter said.
Vancouver is about five to 10 years
ahead of other Canadian cities and
even U.S. cities in developing its
downtown, partly because its
industrial lands emptied sooner than
those in other cities.
But Baxter and others say it’s also
because Vancouver put some good
work into planning for its population
turnaround. While other North American cities have seen the first stages of gentrification —
young professionals who move into neighbourhoods and fix up old houses — Vancouver
planners took that trend and ran with it.
"The developers now are building on the foundation of that gentrification," says University of
B.C. geographer David Ley. They realized that people didn’t just want more space and
"They saw that people were prepared to give up some private space for public space," he
He and Baxter say Calgary and Toronto are only beginning to aggressively repopulate their
downtowns the way Vancouver has for a decade now.
Vancouver city planner Larry Beasley said the census numbers are already fairly out of date
He said the city’s own estimates indicate the total downtown population is now 77,000, an
increase of 37,000 from 10 years ago.
"This is our Living First strategy made manifest," he said. "That strategy was developed more
than a decade ago and envisioned creating a new downtown by permitting much more
residential development, through shifting office space and opening up industrial land.
"That strategy is what we’re seeing and it’s a powerful market reaction."
One of the disturbing trends, however, was the loss of population in the city’s inner-city
Strathcona neighbourhood. It has the highest decrease of any neighbourhood in Vancouver,
with 402 fewer people than in 1996.
The Vancouver metropolitan area showed much slower growth than it did between 1991 and
1996, increasing by only 4.9 per cent from 1996 to 2001. Although that was higher than the
national average of four per cent, it was down considerably from the 13.5 per-cent growth of
the first half of the ’90s.
But inside those numbers the interesting trends for the region were the way the biggest
centres — downtown Vancouver and the edge cities — kept drawing population, pulling
people away from smaller suburbs.
For regional planners, there was some heartening news in the numbers that appear to show
that population has increased in some areas adjacent to SkyTrain lines. Areas close to the
Joyce Station, Metrotown, New Westminster, and downtown have all grown by 20 per cent
But it was discouraging, too, for them to see the amount of growth in areas where growth
can only mean sprawl.
"There’s been enormous growth in Surrey and a lot of that is spread across the municipality.
That is a challenge," said Hugh Kellas, the administrator for regional development with the
Greater Vancouver regional district.
Surrey’s general manager for planning and development, Murray Dinwoodie, acknowledged
the census statistics showed that Surrey’s biggest boom areas were in the southeast sector,
rather than in the north Surrey area where the SkyTrain and theoretical town centre are.
But, he said, that’s just one five-year piece of a long history.
"The pattern is something different than what the long-term pattern is hoped to be."
On the other hand, some parts of the district’s Livable Region strategy seems to be working.
Residential growth has appeared along SkyTrain lines and around some of the designated
town centres, Kellas said.
That is encouraging, since the region’s plan to have more office space concentrated in those
town centres has not worked out as well, with an overwhelming number of businesses
choosing to go to business parks instead.
"In other cities, like Toronto, the subway stops attracted residential development first and then
the office development came in."
He also noted that the census statistics showed 64 per cent of the new development in the
last five years was in the "growth concentration area" the district wants it to go.
That’s an improvement over the 60-per-cent figure from the last five years.
© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun
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