Vancouverism@30: The Housing Crisis

After 30 years of building Towers-and-Skytrain Metro Vancouver is in a Housing Crisis. What’s behind it?

Olser Street


30 years after the first Skytrain was built single family home prices in Vancouver have shot up by 1,167%. Far outpacing wages, inflation in property values puts in question the ability of the middle class to ever own a home:

“I want to keep home ownership within the grasp of the middle class in British Columbia,” said British Columbia Premier Ms. Clark at a news conference in Victoria, 27 July 2016, nine months and 13 days ahead of the next provincial elections.

At these prices the Canadian Dream of owning a home is ruled out not just for median income earners, but for almost everyone else. Never mind working folks who used to be able to afford paying down a mortgage on a house as their primary family investment. Three forces have shaken the property markets. All originate in areas of government oversight and regulation: the shift in urban paradigm from suburban to Towers-and-Skytrain; the Agricultural Land Reserve; and Chinese flight capital washing on-shore.

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Vancouverism@30: The Great Urban Train Robbery

A truncated 5.4 KM subway and a 12 KM tram are proposed for Vancouver and Surrey. However, the costs have not been made public. Costs for recent Translink projects just keep going up and up. The culprit? Municipal pork.



On 17 January 2017 Translink announced two new extensions to the Greater Vancouver transit network: a 6 km subway under Broadway, and a 12 km tram linking Newton-Surrey Center-and-Guilford. While there are many things to like about this proposal, unanswered questions threaten to derail the discussion. Not least of which is the incredible shrinking problem afflicting the length of the new transit lines and the fact that the announcement did not include cost estimates.

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Vancouverism@30: The Game Changing EV

The dawn of clean energy is also the advent of free energy—and that will prove to be the game changer.




For two decades arguments in Vancouver about sustainable urbanism have centered on curbing car use in order to reduce green house gases. Our civic leaders have sold us Towers-and-Skytrain as Eco-Density when in reality something like a Laundromat for off-shore wealth has been driving large projects here since the late 1970s. Further more, the ecology of towers is an urban myth. The very ‘voices of doom’ have never referenced the alternative: switching fuel sources from fossils to electric. In a land where power has been green since the 1950s, where 93% of electricity is hydro-electric, switching to electric energy and driving electric vehicles (EVs) should be a no-brainer. A natural common place.

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After 30 years Vancouverism—building towers and skytrain—have delivered 2,245% price inflation in the cost of housing, threatening the survival of the middle class and democracy in Vancouver.



Vancouverism—the tower-and-podium architecture that began building post-Expo ’86—boils down to just two essential parts: Towers-and-Skytrain. The towers block the sky and the view of the mountains and stop the sun from reaching the city street and sidewalks. This in a place where skies are either overcast, or raining 60% of the time. Nobody wants that. The Skytrain blights the neighborhoods it crosses preserving an unencumbered ground plane for automobiles. People would rather see the public realm supporting both social functioning and traffic—not just one or the other. The Vancouverism doesn’t give much consideration to the human experience of place, or what should be understood to be ‘good’ urbanism. Vancouverism’s gigantic land parcel assemblies defy human scale. There is no there there. No legible hierarchy of street, block, district and neighborhood. The whole is not greater than the sum of the parts simply because the parts are just too big. The gigantism of the tower-and-podium typology is too large to be apprehended by our human senses. The images of the Vancouverism are all made from high up and far away using our glorious mountains as backdrop. Up close the mountains are hidden from view. Unit is piled upon unit, piled high one upon the other, creating a seamless and seemingly endless monotony of place.


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The sunset of coal and oil, and the rise of energy self-sufficiency in urbanism

The greatest convergence of innovations for curbing energy demand, managing environmental pollution, and reducing carbon emissions is taking place inside the urban footprint.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 9.57.29 PM

STILL FROM THE FILM WHY BEAUTY MATTERS (2009, L. Lockwood, Director; R. Scruton author & presenter)

New technologies available today make eliminating carbon emissions from transportation and energy generation the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in the push to clean the environment. In turn, positive results found in the places we call home present as new opportunities in the workplace, and in industries like forestry and mining.

Electric cars; 83% efficient LED-lighting; smart electric grids; wind and solar energy generation; these are combining with new building technologies for human-scale architecture; affordable housing; livable streets; walkable neighbourhoods; commuter rail transit and urban rooms to achieve what was once thought impossible. Canada and the U.S. will achieve energy self-sufficiency within our lifetime, raising the social functioning of our communities while adding value to our economies.

Similar developments underway in other areas of the globe are promising dramatic results in the hot-spots of geopolitical friction, including: the Middle East, the South China Sea, and the OPEC nations.

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Look Up—Way Up!


Architecture that oppresses the human spirit and curtails social freedom can look beautiful in pictures. Go figure! Hong Kong photographer Andy Yeung has created a series of images taken from the ground looking up—waaaay up! Yet, his photos document an architecture denying principles of human scale thriving since the times of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

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Financial Markets Peak


S & P 500 – Five Year Performance (Bloomberg)

As we approach the Lunar New Year festivities in China all the major western indices are drawing the same picture: it looks like a mountain top. As events unfold China contagion is the only explanation for why the western markets should be trending downward as they anticipate a hard landing in China.

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