Mar 29 2007

Urban sprawl: Environmental disaster in BC

Urban sprawl is going to kill us all.

Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. But if a Globe and Mail report about urban sprawl in beautiful British Columbia is to be believed, our goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in this province by 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 is already being undermined by the phenomenon. Simply put, skyrocketing housing prices in the coastal metropolis of Vancouver is forcing ever-increasing numbers to seek shelter in outlying communities.

The resulting increase in automobile commuting (since not everyone moving out to the boonies is taking the train) is driving our greenhouse gas emissions up. Global warming, here we come.

This isn’t actually news. Urban sprawl has been an issue for decades. The solution is less than clear-cut, though. You can’t force people to pay insane prices for tiny condos in Vancouver when they can still get a mid-sized house for a slightly less insane price just outside the operational range of Skytrain. And until we put all private homes under the direct ownership of the state a la Cuba, there’s no way to keep prices down.

The only way to artificially lower the cost of real estate would be to build coal plants and prisons right in the middle of Vancouver and other big cities like some demented SimCity mayor and watch people start actually leaving this province. I don’t see Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan or his metropolitan counterparts going the route of political suicide, though.

Sullivan’s ideas about building density in our city isn’t getting the attention it deserves. We’ll have to see whether Vancouverites and other Canadians will be willing to give up their big house dreams for convenient apartment living – like most people in virtually every other part of the world already have.

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