Aug 12 2007

The Price of EcoDensity

EcoDensity is taking hit after hit in the Vancouver’s mainstream media these days.

The Vancouver Courier’s latest line on Mayor Sam Sullivan’s pet project is pretty much par for the course. A cover feature warns of the consequences of densifying neighborhoods for Vancouver families who have lived in their sprawling spaces for generations. Whatever will people do without their backyard gardens?

The criticism is as short-sighted as it is gutless. Undeterred by insane real estate prices, people are flooding into the Vancouver region literally from all over the world. We need places to put them, and that means more density.

Don’t let Vancouver’s ever-upward downtown skyline fool you; most neighborhoods in our Pacific paradise are low density, composed of single-family dwellings on relatively large lots. These neighborhoods – including the ones with backyard garden plots – are environmentally unsustainable.

There are certainly legitimate criticisms of the EcoDensity plan. But quoting people who simply want to continue living in a bubble where unsustainable living is celebrated like a kind of indigenous culture isn’t the best way to do it.

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “The Price of EcoDensity”

  1. on 12 Aug 2007 at 4:49 pm

    What do you mean by ‘environmentally unsustainable’? In what way is the current situation unsustaining the environment, and how would increased human density ameliorate the situation?

    A while ago I read in a news article a passing comment about a mining area, I think it was in central Europe but the location is immaterial, that had been ‘unsustainably mined for the last 2,000 years’. Just think, if they keep up those unsustainable practices for another 2,000 years, the mine might fail, and then what?

    The meaning of the word ‘sustainable’ has become so vague as to render the word totally useless for meaningful communication.

  2. on 12 Aug 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Unsustainable refers to a process of erosion of a particular commodity or natural resource in which continued development means that the resource or commodity cannot replenish itself without scaling back the amount harvested from it.

    I would say that aptly describes Vancouver’s situation. Unsustainable development in the city will undermine the ecology in years to come.

    Having said that, Vancouver is lucky because it is still surrounded by a natural splendour which has been as yet, unspoiled. The recent developments on Highway 99 notwithstanding, the ecological survival of Vancouver should exceed that of any other urban metropolis in Canada.

    What needs to be taken into consideration, however, is that population density certainly can, and will, destroy the beauty and livability of a city. Take Hong Kong for example. It is a wonderful Pacific Coast Rim city with beautiful mountains and oceans. But after a century of unabated progress, the rich are fleeing to Vancouver to escape the congestion, overcrowding, and pollution.

    Those who fear the same thing happening to Vancouver should carefully watch the population density as it is stacked by Eastern Canada migration, and Asian immigration.

  3. on 13 Aug 2007 at 2:36 am

    “Take Hong Kong for example. It is a wonderful Pacific Coast Rim city with beautiful mountains and oceans. But after a century of unabated progress, the rich are fleeing to Vancouver to escape the congestion, overcrowding, and pollution.”

    Well, mostly they were fleeing the Communist party, but there’s the other stuff, too. Thanks for your informed response to “anonymous” – I couldn’t have put it better.

  4. on 13 Aug 2007 at 3:21 pm

    If it whines, it leads…or so it seems in the Vancouver media these days. If they can’t come up with a blood and gore lead story, there is the whiner lead story. Fear of density is a great whiner story.

    Eco-Density doesn’t mean anything is going to change overnight anywhere. From what I’ve heard and read about it, it is a process of changing some zoning so that more duplexes might be built where single family houses exist today, and more low-mid rise townhouse and condos along arterial corridors with transit.

    Some neighborhoods have been going through this for years, and are better for it in terms of amenities, safety, etc. — look at Commercial Drive/ Grandview, the area off Main Street between about 18th and 30th, and some parts of Kitsilano.

    But if someone currently owns a big house with a nice yard, and wants to keep it that way — in any neighbourhood — there is nothing forcing them to change. Over time, their community may change, which they won’t necessarily like — but that’s part of life. And, their property value will likely go up more than if higher density were not possible, based on the experiences in Kitsilano, Main Street and Commercial Drive areas. It’s hard to feel sorry for these whiners.

  5. on 14 Aug 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Good post, Jonathon, and some interesting comments. Ecodensity is a good idea, if properly implemented. I would like to point everyone to the learned Gordon Price from SFU’s Urban Studies Program, and his very thoughtful response to critics of Ecodensity in this post.

    Denigrating Mr Sullivan « Price Tags

    I couldn’t sum it up better, except to say that if you’re interested in a well-developed, sustainable city then get involved in the public process. Join a CityPlan committee in your area, or start one if it doesn’t exist. Bitching from the sidelines only serves to stir up fear, and pushes more people into their cars and serves to create sprawl.

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