Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vancouver’s Livability Crisis

Latest blog post up at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: Talent attraction versus talent development.

Subject Article: "Tens of thousands of Hongkongers return from Canada since 1996: Reverse exodus of tens of thousands of Hong Kong-born residents is the 'X-factor' in urban planning."

Other Links: 1. "From Hong Kong to Canada and back: the migrants who came home from home."
2. "Density Boondoggles."
3. "Reverse migration: why are Hong Kong's immigrants leaving Canada?"

Postscript: Digging deeper into other link #3:

The city makes a tremendous amount of money from the real estate industry, so it has a vested interest in keeping those cranes a-swinging; but to what end? Who will live in those apartments, and for how long will those units continue to sell?

The term I've used in the past was, "Vancouver's becoming a suburb of itself": Yan's take is a bit more nuanced. He wanted to be clear that Vancouver wasn't experiencing a "'Logan's Run' situation", but noted that young people are having increasing difficulties in putting down roots here: "This brings up an uncomfortable question about what kind of growth we’re encouraging here in Vancouver. Are we generating enough income and wealth on levels, scales, and distribution that can allow young workers to feel they have a secure place in the City? It's an interesting paradox: we're heading towards becoming a really expensive real estate market with surprisingly low local incomes."

Yan continues, "We don’t have a great tool for measuring the role of foreigners, no way to separate local speculators, outside investors, over-leveraged locals." This circles back to Yan's previous study-- often quoted and often misinterpreted-- that non-resident investment in Vancouver real estate leads to lopsided pricing and ghost-town neighbourhoods (*ahem* Coal Harbour *ahem*).

I'd go further and look at the most geographically mobile, foreign born or not. Some parts of the city are linked to economic globalization. Most parts aren't. Chicago is a good example:

“We’re not like Detroit, cordoning off sections of the city,” Benet Haller, Chicago’s principal adviser for planning and design, told me. “But we are like London or Jakarta, with a hyperdense core — a zone of affluence — and something else beyond.” What the housing crisis has revealed, in stark relief, is a Chicago that already looks increasingly like this vision of a ring city, with the moneyed elite residing within the glow of that jewel-like core and the largely ethnic poor and working-class relegated to the peripheries, the banlieues.

The globalized part of the city is thriving, world-class. "Something else beyond" is a Rust Belt nightmare of isolation and poverty. Richey Piiparinen and I noticed the same urban pattern emerging in Cleveland. Globalization is beginning to reshape that city. The question for planners, "What can be done about it?"

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