Archive for June, 2012

Will the value of detached homes in Vancouver increase under new City initiative?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Vancouver’s new housing affordability initiative may have the effect of increasing the value of single detached homes, while providing a moderating influence on prices for condos and townhomes, according to Tsur Somerville, director, Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate, Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C.

“If this is successful, I’d expect higher single family prices than they’d be otherwise,” said Somerville Monday of the plan, which will see the city become more involved in the housing development business.

Somerville said there are already pressures to convert single family homes into denser types of housing, and that those pressures should increase under the plan.

The city’s housing initiative, he said, proposes reducing development costs and red tape to augment denser housing projects, which would result in “more applications to rezone existing single family sites along major arterials.

“You’ll redevelop more single family [land] into condos, which increases [single family] land prices and reduces the supply of single-family homes. There’d be fewer single-family homes, so they’d be worth more.”

However, Somerville believes the policy might also have a moderating effect on overall prices for townhomes and condos in Vancouver, because the supply of high-density housing would increase as average rents drop. “If rents fall, the rental value is lower for an investor, so they’ll pay lower prices. And if we build more condos and townhomes, there will be more supply and prices will moderate.”

However, the chief economist for the B.C. Real Estate Association believes the new housing policy won’t have much of an effect on overall home values in Vancouver.

“It will help increase the stock of affordable housing for lower income households,” said Cameron Muir, noting that high-density housing tends to be less expensive. “But [for overall price levels in the city] I would expect that it would be negligible.”

Source: Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun

Condo construction is booming in Vancouver

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Vancouver is building on its reputation as a city of glass and steel.

Look around the skyline and you’ll see it dotted by cranes, and everywhere there seems to be another hole in the ground making way for another apartment building.

Sixteen condo towers are under construction, according to a database by and another 67 proposed high-rises are in the works.

Amid newly-tightened mortgage rules and concerns of an over-supply in the Toronto condo market that prompted financial authorities including Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney to sound an alarm this week, we think we’ve earned the right to ask: Is Vancouver oversaturated with condos?

Housing starts in Vancouver are up in the first five months of 2012 compared to the same period last year, driven largely by multiple-unit dwelling construction – which is up by about 50 per cent from last year.

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 5,503 condo units are under construction in Vancouver in April, adding to the existing 230,000 units already in the city.

B.C. Real Estate Board economist Cameron Muir says the short answer to our question is no.

“Prices have been pretty flat since 2009,” Muir said. “There’s ample supply in the market place, but we are seeing prices at a steady pace.”

The fact more condos than single-detached homes are being built in Greater Vancouver is nothing new, said Muir, as condo starts have consistently made up about 75 per cent of all housing starts in the last several years. “It’s a function of land supply.”

Consumer demand during the last several months is trending on a 10 to 15 year average, he added.

One indicator, says Muir, of the demand-and-supply balance in the marketplace is the sales-to-new-listings ratio.

In Vancouver last month, the ratio, at 15.3 per cent, inched closer to a buyer’s market — but sits within the balanced range of between 15 to 20 per cent.

There hasn’t been a sustained buyer’s market since the recession hit, between late 2008 to early 2009.

As of April, 504 recently-completed units remain unsold. Overall, 3,017 units are listed on MLS.

Is Vancouver over-supplied with condos? The market will let us know.

Here are some of the condos currently under construction in Vancouver:

1. Wall Centre False Creek I, II, III, IV

100 W. 1st Avenue

• 556 units in four towers

• Completion: Early to mid-2014

2. Maynards

1901 Wylie Street

• 253 units

• Completion: Fall 2012

3. James Living

289 W. 2nd Avenue

• 155 units

• Completion: August 2012

4. The Mark

1372 Seymour Street (at Pacific Boulevard)

• 300 units

• At 41 storeys, it is billed as the tallest tower in Yaletown

• Completion: Summer 2013

5. Salt

1308 Hornby Street

• 199 units

• Completion: June 2014

6. Cosmo

161 W. Georgia Street

• 253 units

• Status: Move-in ready

7. The Rolston

1300 Granville Street (site of the old Cecil Hotel)

• 187 units

• Completion: June 2013

8. Maddox

1304 Howe Street

• 214 units

• Completion: December 2013

9. Uptown

2788 Prince Edward

• 100 units

• Completion: Fall 2012

10. TELUS Garden

775 Richards Street

• 428 units in a 53-storey tower, which will be the second-tallest in the city after the Shangri-La

• Completion: 2015

11. Marine Gateway

8400 Cambie Street

• 415 units in two towers

• Completion: 2015

12. 1153 West Georgia Formerly the Ritz Carlton

• 290 units (but should be confirmed independently, based on CBC report)

• Completion: XXX

13. Wall Centre Central Park Boundary Road and Vanness Avenue

1,114 units in three towers

Status: Rezoning application approved. Completion date: XX

TOTAL: 4,464

Here are some proposed developments:

1. Rize Mount Pleasant

Kingsway and Broadway

241 units

Status: Rezoning proposal approved by city council in April. If approved, completion date of XX.

2. Burrard Gateway

1290 Burrard Street (and 1281 Hornby Street)

About 589 units in two towers

Status: Proposed, awaiting rezoning approval. If approved, completion date of 2015 to 2016

Source: GlobalNews. A division of Shaw Media Inc., 2012

New mortgage rules announced for Canadians. See how it could affect you

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has outlined new rules aimed at reining in a hot housing market and ensuring Canadians aren’t taking on more debt than they can afford.

Flaherty laid out a series of changes to the rules that govern the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Crown corporation that effectively oversees the housing market by insuring the vast majority of Canadian mortgages.

The most important new change is that the maximum amortization period has been reduced to 25 years, down from 30. The longer a mortgage is spread out, the lower the monthly mortgage payments are — but the more the borrower ends up paying overall over time.

The impact of the change is likely to be significant. It’s about the same as a 0.9 percentage point increase on a typical mortgage, Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic noted.

Indeed, the numbers add up. A $300,000 mortgage spread over 30 years at 4.0 per cent would cost $1,426 a month to pay back. That same mortgage amortized over only 25 years increases the monthly payment by $152 or 10 per cent to $1,578 a month.

Ultimately though, the higher monthly payment saves the borrower money in the long run. The total interest payments are $213,558.91 on the 30-year mortgage, but only $173,416.20 on the 25-year one.

The shortened amortization is also likely to affect a huge segment of the market, as about 40 per cent of all new mortgages were amortized over 30 years last year, the Canadian Association of Accredited Mortgage Professionals estimates.

Anyone who needed or wanted a 30-year mortgage before is going to have to qualify under tougher 25-year requirements now.

Ottawa has now moved three times to rein in the maximum mortgage term, since the CMHC briefly started insuring mortgages with 40-year terms in 2006. The limit was brought down to 35 years, then 30 and now the more traditional 25.

“The reductions to the maximum amortization period since 2008 would save a typical Canadian family with a $350,000 mortgage about $150,000 in borrowing costs over the life of that mortgage,” Flaherty said.

“Our government has encouraged Canadians to borrow responsibly,” Flaherty said. “Most Canadians have done so.”

At 25 years, the maximum amortization period for CMHC-backed loans is now back to where it had historically been before the Harper government began raising the period after taking office in 2006.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae made that very point in question period on Thursday, asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper if raising CMHC’s limit to 40 years in the first place was a mistake.

“The government has altered rules a number of times and will continue to do so on a prudent and flexible manner depending on the circumstances,” the prime minister replied.

Refinancing limit set at 80%

Flaherty also outlined a few other measures today:

The government has lowered the total amount that Canadians can withdraw when refinancing their homes to 80 per cent of the home’s value, from 85 per cent.

“This will promote saving through home ownership and encourage homeowners to prudently manage borrowings against their homes,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty also moved to cap the maximum gross debt service ratio at 39 per cent and the maximum total debt service ratio at 44 per cent in order to get CMHC insurance. Banks calculate the former by adding up mortgage payments and property taxes on a home loan, and dividing by the borrower’s income. The latter adds in other debt payments such as lines of credit and credit cards to the top side of the ledger.

Although they both have obscure, technical names, they’re both effectively just limits on how much debt a borrower is allowed to take on as a percentage of their overall income. That move, too, is aimed at making sure borrowers can’t bite off more than they can chew.

The final change was to limit CMHC insurance to homes priced under $1 million. “Wealthy people can borrow whatever they want from banks, and they can work that out from banks,” Flaherty said. “That is not my concern.”

July deadline

That effectively means that a homebuyer who wants to purchase a home for more than $1 million can’t get insurance on it — which in turn means the buyer will have to come up with the 20 per cent down payment requirement in order to get an uninsured mortgage.

So under any circumstance, any new borrower wanting to buy a home of $1 million or more is going to have to put $200,000 down at a minimum. That’s also likely to have a major impact on a comparatively small segment of the market.

“Although this could create some market dislocations in the just-under-$1-million segment, it’s consistent with CMHC’s recent efforts to focus its insurance business on encouraging owner-occupied purchases among average Canadians,” BMO economist Michael Gregory noted.

All of the changes will be in effect as of July 9, 2012. In the interim, the action in hot Canadian housing markets is likely to get even hotter, experts say, as borrowers scramble to get in ahead of the more stringent rules.

“As we’ve observed around prior mortgage rule changes, some housing market activity will likely be pulled forward ahead of the implementation date,” Kavcic noted.

But there’s likely to be a subsequent pullback, too, he says. The last time Ottawa tinkered with CMHC rules, home sales fell by three per cent in the two months following the implementation date.

The Canadian Real Estate Association reacted coolly to the news on Thursday, calling it a “measured response” to rein in debt loads, but taking pains to note that the home resale market contributes $20 billion a year to Canada’s economy and as such, is deserving of caution.

“Going forward, we would urge the government to consider the impact of further interventions in the market carefully,” CREA said.

Source: CBC

Changes to mortgage rules means that some homebuyers may find it harder to qualify

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OFSI) sent ripples through the industry March 19th, releasing “draft recommendations” for all federally regulated banks to follow.

We have now learned that the OSFI intends on getting these guidelines finalized for the end of June or early July, with implementation potentially immediate, but most likely within a month or two of the official announcement. Bank CEO’s have been informed of these time frames and are beginning to prepare for what could be a large shift in the way the big banks underwrite mortgages. Here are the highlights from the guidelines (available at

* Home Equity Line of Credit mortgages reduced from 80-per-cent financing to 65-per-cent financing.

* Lines of credit to be either amortized, or amortized after a specified period of time (no more never-never plans).

* More stringent income requirements for self-employed borrowers.

* All mortgages to be reviewed upon renewal (currently as long as payments are made, it is unlikely for a bank not to offer a renewal to a client).

* Funds from cashback mortgages are not allowed as a source of down payment (currently only a handful of lenders allow this, but it does mean that “zero down” mortgages are technically available, but with some restrictions.)

* Use of the five-year posted “benchmark” to qualify uninsured terms of one to four years and all variable terms (currently most lenders use a three-year posted or a lower rate to qualify uninsured mortgage.)

* More limits on underwriting exceptions (many recent applications don’t fit the ever shrinking “boxes” with the banks, which means fewer common-sense deals will get approved.)

* Home insurance to be included in debt-servicing ratios (it is currently not included.)

* More public disclosure of statistics pertaining to institutions’ mortgage practices.

* More accountability from management to ensure lenders are adhering to their underwriting guidelines.

Since announcing the proposed guidelines, the OSFI has reviewed comments from the industry and it is changing its opinion on a few items. First, it is becoming more likely that 65-per-cent financing on lines of credit is a done deal, although officials are probably scrapping the idea of a forced amortization on these credit lines. However, the most important comments from the OSFI’s review of the feedback has been that they are likely to withdrawal the requirement to re-qualify at renewal, which has given many in the industry a sigh of relief.

Although many of these above guidelines sound reasonable, having all of these changes come into effect at the same time could have a negative impact on housing markets short term. Potential purchasers may find it more difficult to obtain financing, and investors may find it harder to leverage existing assets to acquire additional properties.

Many in the industry feel that these changes are the government’s way of slowing down accumulation of secured debt and the housing market without raising interest rates.

The Bank of Canada announced June 5 no change in the prime rate, and the consensus is no further changes until early 2013. Many fingers on this decision pointed to ongoing concerns with the European (and therefore worldwide) markets, as well as a relatively strong Canadian dollar and inflation levels at comfortable levels. Until the Euro is more stable, money will continue flooding from European markets to North American markets, keeping interest rates low for borrowers.

For borrowers, this presents a double-edged sword. No longer should they be worrying about getting the best rate on their mortgage (many lenders are currently offering 3.09 per cent on five-year fixed rates), but should be more concerned about getting the money at all. If you are planning on making a purchase this year, the window (especially for investors) may be closing soon.

What is interesting is that these rules are going to be affecting all federally regulated institutions, so we may find that credit unions may be able to offer niche products (like lines of credit over 65 per cent) that major banks won’t be able to offer.

Credit unions will often follow federal guidelines, but may feel that their risk to lend to high-quality clients may not be as severe as the OSFI feels and continue operating on their current guidelines. It might be time to develop a stronger relationship with your credit union again.

Source: Kyle Green, Mortgage Alliance Meridian Mortgage Services Inc.

Distinctive South Granville property for sale – post and beam construction, large lot

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Just listed on is this South Granville property on Vancouver’s Westside which was designed with great proportions and custom built with top quality craftsmanship on a magnificent park-like 60-by-218-foot lot. The one-owner family house is in original condition and has been maintained throughout the years.

The home consists of principal rooms on the main floor that flow into another and there is elevator access to all floors. Take advantage of the peaceful surroundings and spectacular private professionally-landscaped garden with swimming pool.

There are formal living and dining rooms for entertaining which are adjacent to a spacious family room and industrial kitchen designed for large gatherings. Beautiful hardwood floors flow throughout the main floor and upstairs are four generous-sized bedrooms and three bathrooms. Downstairs is an in-law/nanny’s quarter and ample storage.

The property is located in one of Vancouver’s most exclusive and convenient neighbourhood.

Listed at: $3,950,000

For further information and to contact the listing realtors, Christopher Rivers and Fioretta Wilinofsky of Sutton Group – West Coast Realty, please access South Granville house for sale.

Will Canada’s housing boom grind to a halt?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Canada’s housing boom will grind to a halt next year, stopped by price declines in the condominium-saturated markets of Toronto and Vancouver, according to a Reuters poll, raising the risk of a broader economic slowdown.

On a national basis, Canadian house prices are expected to rise 2.0% this year before stalling next year with a negligible 0.5% gain, according to median results of the poll, which was conducted last week.

House prices have increased 37% since their trough in January 2009, The Canadian Real Estate Association index showed. All 15 respondents in the poll said the market was expensive, by varying degrees.

“Home prices are overvalued by slightly under 10% nationwide (and) most of the overvaluation is concentrated in Toronto and Vancouver,” said Mark Hopkins of Moody’s Analytics, citing a common concern about the two hottest urban markets.

House prices in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and financial capital, are expected to rise 6.6% this year after rising almost 10% in 2011. But that will quickly fizzle into a decline of 0.2% next year, the first fall since 2008.

In Vancouver, the country’s most expensive market and until recently clocking the fastest annual price rises, they are expected to fall 1.6% this year and 2.5% in 2013.

Canada’s housing market avoided the U.S. sub-prime boom and bust that triggered the global financial crisis, in large part because its banks are more closely regulated and more conservative, requiring higher deposits for mortgage lending.

While property prices tumbled in the U.S., Ireland, Spain, and to a lesser extent, Britain, record low borrowing costs that followed the recession spurred another wave of home buying and property market speculation in Canada.

By early 2010, sales volumes and prices were rising by double digits on an annual basis. Figures from one industry group showed that since March 2009, the nadir of the financial crisis, Canada home prices have risen by nearly a third.

Source: Cameron French, Reuters

Calgary leads the country in house sales

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Calgary’s resale housing market had the highest year-over-year sales growth in May compared with other major centres across the country, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.

In releasing its monthly MLS data on Friday, CREA said the Calgary market had 2,982 sales during the month, up a stunning 34.4 per cent from a year ago. Nationally, sales of 53,068 were 9.0 per cent higher than a year ago.

Calgary’s average MLS sale price jumped by 3.2 per cent to $429,459 while across Canada the average price dipped 0.3 per cent to $375,605.

Robert Kavcic, an economist with BMO Capital Markets, said sales activity at the national level “has clearly mellowed.”

“While Vancouver softens, Calgary is awakening from a three-to-four-year slumber with sales surging 34.4 per cent in the past year, and average prices within a hair of record levels seen in 2007 as supply conditions have tightened across Alberta,” he said. “Before declaring victory in Calgary though, note that the more representative House Price Index, which accounts for dwelling type, quality, etc., was still about 10 per cent below peak levels in April. May figures are expected next week.”

Wayne Moen, CREA’s president, speaking about the national picture, said “the expected continuation of low interest rates will keep housing markets stable and home ownership affordable and within reach for many buyers in the months ahead.”

“Activity in Greater Toronto is stronger this spring than it was last year, and higher-priced homes are still selling quickly,” said Gregory Klump, CREA’s chief economist. “As Canada’s most active housing market, and one of the priciest, it is still the biggest factor boosting the national average price but its support was less of a factor in May.

“At the same time, the national average price is finding support from Calgary, where sales and average selling prices are up from levels in May last year. Overall, price growth remains modest amid balanced market conditions.”

The average price in Toronto rose by 6.4 per cent to $516,787.

CREA said sales in Alberta rose by 23.4 per cent to 6,984 while the average sale price increased by 4.9 per cent to $374,653.

Also on Friday, CREA released its latest forecast for the rest of this year and for next year. It said MLS sales in Alberta would rise 12.1 per cent this year to 60,250 units and by another 2.2 per cent next year to 61,550.

It said the average price in the province would jump by 2.4 per cent in 2012 to $361,800 and by 2.2 per cent in 2013 to $369,800.

Nationally, sales are forecast to increase by 3.8 per cent to 475,800 this year but drop by 1.1 per cent next year to 470,400. The average price across Canada is predicted to increase 2.2 per cent in 2012 to $370,700 and by 2.0 per cent in 2013 to $378,200.

Source: Mario Toneguzzi, Calgary Herald

Good news for homebuyers as Vancouver home sales hit a 10-year low

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Greater Vancouver housing sales hit a 10-year low in May, dragged down by plunging sales of high-priced homes in West Vancouver, Richmond, and on Vancouver’s pricey west side.

May sales figures show that detached-home sales fell 59 per cent in West Vancouver, 46 per cent on the west side of Vancouver, and 25 per cent in Richmond.

Overall sales of detached homes, townhouses and condos fell 15 per cent compared to 2011, making this the bleakest real-estate May since 2001.

Eugen Klein, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, said the year-to-year comparisons in areas such as West Vancouver follow a frantic spring market in 2011 marked by bidding wars, multiple offers and homes selling well above the asking price.

“Last year we saw 228 detached homes sell in May on the west side of Vancouver – this year we’re looking at 115,” Klein told The Province. “Last year, there were pockets of heavy activity.”

Klein explained the drop followed a hot market in 2011, fuelled by prices that had continued to climb quickly year after year — a cycle Klein said had to end at some point.

“It’s a reality of the market – you can’t have double-digit increases forever,” he said. “We’re not seeing the large offers, and the multiple offers. Whether it’s foreign policy, I don’t know. It’s a stabilizing period.”

Klein puts a positive spin on the negative numbers, saying fewer sales and more listings mean that buyers can look around and haggle over price.

“People are talking all the time about affordability,” he said. “There’s more room to negotiate with sellers. That’s when you have better affordability.”

The overall 15-per-cent decline from May 2011 to May 2012 was nearly across the board — with a few notable exceptions, especially in (relatively) lower-priced regions where value and affordability are far better than the westernmost areas.

From May 2011 to May 2012, the following areas swam against the stream, showing increased sales:

* Detached homes: Whistler, Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, and Port Moody/Belcarra

* Apartments: Coquitlam, New Westminster, North Vancouver

* Townhomes: North Vancouver and Port Moody/Belcarra

The extensive REBGV study found overall that prices for all categories of homes were up 3.3 per cent, with each group having substantially different results:

* Detached-home sales fell 25 per cent, while detached-home prices rose 5 per cent.

* Apartment sales fell 6 per cent, with prices increasing 1.7 per cent.

* Townhouse sales fell 10 per cent, with townhouse prices falling 5.3 per cent.

Source: Ian Austin, The Province

Canada’s housing market still outshines rest of the world

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Canadian housing market conditions have cooled slightly, with prices down nearly 2% in the first quarter, but the country continues to outperform other developed nations, according to a new Scotiabank real estate report.

The latest Scotiabank Global Real Estate Trends report released today found that the inflation-adjusted national average home price fell by 1.6% in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period of 2011.

That compares with a 1.3 inflation-adjusted year-over-year gain in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Canada’s housing market remains an outperformer among developed nations, but conditions have cooled here as well, according to Scotiabank economist Adrienne Warren.

“Price trends are relatively steady in the majority of local markets, though a few, notably Toronto, continue to report strong appreciation,” Warren writes in the report, released today.

Demand has cooled due to moderate income growth and tighter mortgage insurance rules. In addition, there are more houses up for sale in most parts of the country.

Scotiabank said it expects the number of sales and average prices will be flat in the latter half of 2012.

By comparison, it found global property markets remain under stress, especially in recession-plagued European countries. Ireland saw prices fall a whopping 18.9% and prices in Spain, which has experienced a housing crash, fell 9.1% year-over-year.

Over the weekend, eurozone finance ministers offered to make $100 billion available to Spain to revive banks crushed by bad real estate loans. However, market reaction suggests many observers didn’t feel the relief was enough.

Most countries covered by the Scotiabank report saw prices decline during the quarter.

“The intensifying eurozone debt crisis, increasing financial market strains and moderating global growth suggests there is more downside risk to property prices in the near-term,” Warren said.

“Eventually, however, improved housing affordability and pent-up demand will put many of these markets on a firmer footing.”

Scotiabank projects that the era of ultra-low borrowing costs will continue in most developed economies, while many developing economies are moving to reverse prior hikes.

The latest figures on Canada’s housing market from the Canadian Real Estate Association are due Friday, measuring the strength of sales and prices in May.

In April, the average home price in Canada was up 0.9% from a year ago at $375,810, while sales on a year-over-year basis were 49,480, up 11.5% from 44,370 a year ago, CREA said.

Continued strength in the housing market, largely due to the staying power of low interest rates, has led some economists to warn the market is overvalued. That could make homeowners vulnerable to a downturn, especially those who have used low interest rates to borrow more than they could otherwise afford.

A report released earlier this week by the Toronto-Dominion banking group projected Vancouver and Toronto home prices will probably experience a downturn of about 15% in two to three years, but not the dramatic drop that hit the United States a few years ago.

The Bank of Canada and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently stepped up their warnings to Canadians to moderate borrowing on real estate, declaring household debt to be the domestic economy’s number one enemy.

Source: Sunny Freeman, The Canadian Press

Why Vancouver needs more housing developments

Monday, June 11th, 2012

This is my favourite quote of today “None of the places that build a lot are expensive. And none of the places that are expensive build a lot.”

Below is an interesting article that appeared in this weekend’s Vancouver Sun by Don Cayo on why our city needs more quality high-density housing.

Think globally and act locally?

Nonsense, sniffs Edward Glaeser, a Harvard University economics professor, a prolific author and a globally recognized authority on urban issues.

Glaeser has made his name, and he makes his living, documenting evidence that pokes holes in many of the myths about what it takes to live lightly on the planet.

And it turns out it has nothing to with trekking back to the land, or with building chicken coops or cultivating gardens on what ought to be high-density urban land.

Indeed, “Local environmentalism often turns into bad environmentalism,” he told me as we strolled busy streets from former mayor Sam Sullivan’s first Vancouver Urban Forum in the Playhouse Theatre to a downtown radio interview.

“The key is not to ask about the footprint of the person in Vancouver. Rather, it’s about what has Vancouver done to lower the footprint of the world.”

What we have done – though not enough of – is live close together in a place that is packed not only with people, but also with amenities that make life pleasant.

Glaeser has been to this city before, and he’s a fan of Vancouver, though he admits that really he knows only its downtown core and the area around the University of B.C.

But that’s enough for him to proclaim to the Playhouse audience that this city stands “as a model to the world.”

Which is not to say he has no ideas to make it better.

Glaeser’s main thesis is summed up in the title of his most recent book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier. The book documents how innovative and entrepreneurial cities – as opposed to the dying industrial cities like those of the U.S. Rust Belt – are substantially ahead of other areas in all measures of quality of life, and they have a much smaller impact on the environment.

“If the environmental footprint of the average suburban home is a size 15 hiking boot, the environmental footprint of a New York apartment is a stiletto-heel size 6 Jimmy Choo,” he observes in the book.

So what Vancouver has begun to attain, but needs more of, is high-quality density. And this means, among other things, housing that’s affordable to the full range of citizens who might like to live here.

His recipe is simple: build more homes.

In his extensive studies in the U.S., he said, “None of the places that build a lot are expensive. And none of the places that are expensive build a lot.”

Building more means dealing with some sensitive issues – NIMBYISM, a faddish affection for urban agriculture, even heritage preservation.

He even dares to take issue with perhaps the most influential urbanist of her day, Jane Jacobs – a writer and thinker who, for the most part, he admires greatly, as do I.

“But she did make a mistake when she looked at old buildings and new buildings”, he said.

Jacobs concluded that, because old buildings were cheaper to live in than new ones, they should be preserved for affordable housing.

“But this isn’t how supply and demand works. We’re not promoting affordability when we freeze cities in amber,” he argues.

In conversation, Glaeser used the counter-intuitive example of Yaletown’s pricey towers as construction that enhances a city’s affordability.

“Beautiful green glass towers are expensive to put up, and they’ll never be an affordable housing option. But by building green glass towers, we limit the push to gentrify middleincome areas. So creating supply in one area eases demand in another.”

And vice versa when we limit density through stultifying regulations or by crowding it out with low-density uses.

We may fool ourselves into thinking we are doing good for the environment, but we’re pushing other would-be residents out of the city and into places where their presence creates a much larger impact.

“We are an extremely destructive species,” Glaeser said, recounting how Henry David Thoreau, revered today as an early environmentalist who chronicled the good life on Walden Pond, enraged his neighbours when he inadvertently burned down a large tract of forest.

“So if you love nature, often the best thing is to stay away from it.”

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