Fraser Institute Senior Policy Analyst Josef Filopowicz sees a glaring problem in the Vancouver real estate market. He joins Adam & Matt to detail why Vancouver stands out among the 30 cities he analyzed and it is not for the reason you think.
Josef Filipowicz, Sr. Policy Analyst, Fraser Institute
Josef is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Fraser Institute’s centre for Municipal Policy. This is a new centre, about a few years old, that focuses on local government. The first thing the institute ever published was a book on rent control, so they have a history of expertise in this area. With his colleagues, Josef has been working through how to build the centre up since it opened.
Originally from Kitchener, ON and having spent time in Toronto, Josef has been in Vancouver for about three years.
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On Room to Grow: Comparing Urban Density in Canada and Abroad and what interested him in the subject:
Cities like Vancouver and Toronto are growing. As they do, they face more pressure to increase population density (people per square kilometre). Josef wanted to explore how dense our most desirable cities are and how they stack up to other cities in the world (e.g. San Francisco, New York, Chicago). They found that Canadian cities are not all that dense, which people may be surprised to hear. Although Vancouver is densest by Canadian standards at 5,500 people per square kilometre, places like San Francisco are 30% denser. There is room here to grow if we want to.
On the study’s process and approach:
To keep things comparable, they looked at cities similar to Canadian cities, i.e. those with high incomes. These were 30 cities from the World Bank’s high-income classification that are fully urbanized (without farmland in municipal limits, such as Winnipeg and Ottawa), and cities with a similar land area. Like Vancouver, San Francisco is about 110-120 square kilometres, on a peninsula with similar geographical constraints, and on the west coast—so, it’s relatable. They used Barcelona too, as it’s 101 square kilometres. San Francisco has about 140,000 more people than Vancouver and Barcelona has 1.6 million people, or three times the density as Vancouver.
On the relationship between density and quality of life:
There is an assumption that the denser a place gets, the lower its quality of living gets. They wanted to show that there is no strong connection between density and living standards. There are many ways to measure liveability and they used the Mercer ranking. Montreal and Singapore, for instance, are similar, which includes things like stability, safety, and quality of infrastructure, yet Singapore is more than twice as dense. It comes down to what people in a given community value.
On whether assumptions about density are generational:
The Toronto Board of Trade recently surveyed young professionals (18-39 years old) and the vast majority wanted more density. This was because they like urban settings but also because they want an affordable place to live. The American Association of Retired Persons has their own definition of liveability and push for density, because as people get older their mobility is restricted—perhaps they can’t drive and want to be closer to amenities they value.
On what we might lose with increased density in Vancouver:
If people are used to a certain lifestyle they want to keep, they need to express that to their elected officials. If one values their neighbourhood, they should know it will still change in dynamic over time, regardless of its physical form.
On what findings suggest for Vancouver, moving forward:
Josef already knew Vancouver was dense by Canadian standards, but what’s so interesting is that Vancouver is the 13th least dense city compared to the others in the study—there is still so much room to grow. The former city of Toronto (that is, its current downtown core before the amalgamation of six cities in 1998) was roughly Vancouver’s size today (100 square kilometres); back in 2001 it had almost 7,000 people per square kilometre (so, denser than Vancouver). In reality, Vancouver has a small island of density downtown that’s surrounded by single-family homes.
On what Vancouver could look like in 10, 30, or 50 years from now:
There is pressure to grow. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver face lots of demand from people who want to work and live here; this won’t change. We are geographically constrained and can only go upwards. City hall may be moving towards more density—what this looks like is up to elected officials, City staff, and the builders. Every city does density differently.
On the Vancouver Sun article from about a month ago, and his response to the view that the Fraser Institute has a biased way of thinking:
Josef is an independent researcher. He looks at the best data possible from sources like Statistics Canada and other countries’ statistical agencies. The numbers don’t lie.
On surprises from other cities in his research:
Toronto is facing similar pressures as us. There are about 2.6 million people, just as in Brooklyn and Chicago. However, Brooklyn has the same population but takes up about one-third the landmass as Toronto, and it is not full of high rises and skyscrapers (it’s known for brownstone walk-ups and townhomes). Density can manifest itself in a number of different ways, so people need to look beyond their preconceived notions. There are so many options.
- Favorite neighbourhood in Vancouver: Kits, where he lives and can walk everywhere
- Favorite bar or restaurant: Café Salade de Fruits (inside the French Cultural Center)
- Downtown penthouse or west-side mansion: Downtown penthouse (Josef enjoys having all the cities’ amenities nearby.)
- Where he first brings out-of-town guests: The brewery scene near Commercial Drive
- Vancouver Whitecaps or Toronto FC: Toronto FC
To find out more about Josef’s work and the Fraser Institute: