Barbara Yaffe: They will come, whether we build it or not

from the Vancouver Sun and quoting in part:  ‘But would it be possible to give locals a reprieve from all the densification and new infrastructure demands, to slow down growth, by enacting municipal policies to discourage aggressive expansion?’  Comment from Voices:  we have long advocated for planned growth, with infrastructure in place to handle the growth.  Planners who say it can’t be done are wrong.   Where does it say that all building permit applications have to be approved?

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Barbara Yaffe: They will come, whether we build it or not.

Transit plebiscite voters are being told more tax revenue is needed annually to meet anticipated service demands from one million new residents arriving by 2041.

That message, from the region’s mayors, has prompted some Lower Mainlanders to start thinking about moats and drawbridges.

“How did we arrive at the ‘transportation crisis?’” Brian C. Kerr challenges. The mayors themselves “have, along with developers, been pushing densification.”

“Why do we have to densify Vancouver more than it already is?” asks Carlie Hennigan. She says the mayors “think we need more transit because they keep stuffing our city full of more and more townhouses, low-rise and highrise condominiums.”

“Our region is already suffering from the effects of overpopulation in some areas. Traffic congestion, excess pollution; eco-density and higher crime rates,” says Derek Simpkins.

“The vast majority of current residents have indicated they do not want to see a population explosion for Metro Vancouver.”

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, a city watchdog group pushing “development in a scale, pace and form” that protects character homes and green space and takes into account grassroots perspectives, complains on its website of “a severely dysfunctional mode of planning that jeopardizes Vancouver’s future as a sustainable and livable city.”

The fact is, 30,000 newcomers are moving to the region every year, and within 25 years, Greater Vancouver’s 2.3 million population is to swell to 3.4 million.

The Vancouver area is Canada’s second fastest growing region, after Toronto.

Another 574,000 new housing units will be needed by 2041, says the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. While 20 per cent of the growth can be accommodated by “developing and planned urban areas,” the rest must come from “strategic infill and intensification [or densification] of established urban areas.”

But would it be possible to give locals a reprieve from all the densification and new infrastructure demands, to slow down growth, by enacting municipal policies to discourage aggressive expansion?

Three respected urban planners, canvassed for their views, warn that while some cities have tried slowing growth, such efforts never work.

Municipalities such as Boston have tried retarding growth through restrictive zoning policies. Beantown zoned entire suburbs so residential construction was restricted to lots larger than five acres, notes former city planner Patrick Condon, a landscape architecture professor at the University of B.C.

That led to higher housing costs, making it tough for businesses to attract new employees.

“As long as people want to move to a city, its population will increase even if the number of new housing units doesn’t keep up with demand,” Vancouver architect and planner Michael Geller says.

“Instead, people will double up and overcrowding and housing affordability will be exacerbated.”

The only truly effective ways to limit growth would be to reduce a region’s economic activity and quality of life. And who would want to do that?

Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former planning chief, says, “Wanting to stop growth is not a responsible or realistic reaction.

“Experience shows you can prevent planned growth but you cannot prevent growth.”

Moreover, Toderian, who these days is a planning consultant at Urbanworks, notes it is the explicit policy of both the region and Canadian government to accommodate growth.

Condon goes further: “Vancouver is using zoning policy to increase our rate of population growth, not stop it from growing.”

He personally favours a city population of a million or so, but believes “growth should be gentle and incremental, and happen mostly south of West 16th Avenue.” He favours a Kitsilano model of densification and dislikes highrises and glass towers alongside rapid transit stations.

Condon says general wisdom has traditionally held that “growth is good if it is well planned.”

But, “challenges to the wisdom of perpetual growth are coming from a lot of quarters these days, including environmentalists and even economists.

“There has to be a limit somewhere, and our children are likely to discover where that limit lies.”

byaffe@vancouversun.com

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