Older inner-city neighbourhoods increasingly desirable places to live

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      One of Vancouver’s largest antigentrification protests took place on June 11, with more than 200 people demonstrating at the corner of Main and Hastings streets. They were objecting to the approval of more than 1,000 new condos within a few blocks of the Carnegie Community Centre, claiming that development is displacing the poor from their homes.

      “People are here today because we need justice, not accommodations for the real-estate market,” activist Ivan Drury told the Georgia Straight’s Travis Lupick.

      These types of protests are likely to continue as old inner-city neighbourhoods like the Downtown Eastside become increasingly desirable places to live.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Toronto-based architectural and urban-planning consultant Ken Greenberg said there’s been a sharp increase in demand for housing in parts of cities built before the Second World War.

      “A small house in the older areas of our cities now, very often, costs twice as much as a much bigger house on the urban fringe,” he explained.

      Greenberg, author of the 2011 book Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder, noted that the traditional North American dream of a house in the suburbs with a garden and a two-car garage is losing its allure. Generations X and Y, and particularly the millennials—who came of age in the 21st century, are turned off by the “banality of the malls” and long commutes, not to mention the shrinking size of suburban homes.

      Young people, in particular, also appear to be driving far less than previous generations. ICBC has reported that between 1994 and 2011, there was a 10 percent drop in the percentage of B.C. residents between 18 and 24 with drivers’ licences.

      “Now in North America in the age cohort of 16 to 34, 26 percent of that group don’t bother getting driver’s licences,” Greenberg said.

      At the same time, he noted that inner cities are far more pedestrian-friendly, with far better access to public transit than most suburban locations. In Toronto, for example, 46 percent of downtown residents walk to work. As far back as 2006, the City of Vancouver reported that about 40 percent of downtown residents walk to work.

      Greenberg pointed out that young singles, young couples, and some empty nesters were among the first to embrace living downtown. The turning point came in 2005 and 2006, when real-estate analysts began noticing that demand for living in prewar cities was eclipsing demand in the suburbs. He expects this trend to accelerate as baby boomers age and decide that they no longer want to drive as much.

      “These old neighbourhoods are the cool and lively places to be,” Greenberg said.

      That’s reflected in the real-estate marketing. He pointed out that in the past, condo advertising would highlight views or the package of amenities. But with the rise of websites like Walk Score, which track distances to shopping and other services, the marketers’ emphasis has changed.

      “What they’re really stressing is proximity to transit and neighbourhoods,” Greenberg commented. “They’re selling neighbourhoods now.”

      While this is breathing new energy into the urban core, he cautioned that it comes with a price. In Toronto, he claimed, almost every area of the pre–Second World War part of the city has become fair game for developers.

      “The result is that people with lesser means have been pushed into the first-string suburbs—places that are not very walkable, where it was intended that people would drive everywhere,” he said. “A lot of these people are recent immigrants and do not have cars. They find themselves in situations where transportation is thin on the ground.”

      Greenberg added that there’s even talk of “food deserts”—a catch phrase to describe the difficulty obtaining the basics because of distances that need to be travelled.

      “It’s not surprising in any political system of any society that I’m aware of, people with the greatest means somehow find a way to get in the places that are seen as most desirable,” Greenberg concluded.




      Jun 12, 2013 at 5:54pm

      You can't restrict desirability on land. The problem is that Vancouver is too centralized. The city and developers need to work together to de-suburbanize the fringes of the city, building four-story town houses and apartments with first floor retail space. Allow mixed-zoning for small businesses and small retail outlets in what us now car-oriented suburban land. Malls do not make good hubs. Create desirable pedestrian-friendly hubs around the city and suburban areas to redistribute land value and create better communities.


      Jun 12, 2013 at 6:04pm

      I hate to give marketers an opportunity but there are few things I would love more than (or pay more for) turning all those SROs in Gastown into gleaming post and beam, brick wall, hard lofts.

      Sorry homeless, I love you guys too, but you're taking up beautiful real estate and treating it like shit. I'm as anti-capitalist as anyone can be but I love living downtown and if need be I WILL PAY.


      Jun 13, 2013 at 12:15am

      It's quite sad that a lot of young people nowadays have no interest in cars and/or cannot afford to have a car.

      Taking public transit may be 'green' but our public transit system sucks!


      Jun 13, 2013 at 11:36am

      I am no longer "young" but also not "old" and got rid of my car almost 20 years ago. My partner has a car, she works in public health and needs it for work, but we leave it parked most weekends. We live in Kerrisdale after selling our place in Kits, I have no problems using transit for getting to and from work and most of our shopping is walking distance away. We love the neighbourhood, I grew up and went to school a couple of blocks from our place. We are concerned about the rampant development that Vision is green lighting and their desire to replace the neighbourhood walk-ups with towers but their current plan hasn't rezoned our home yet.

      The DES is going to develop folks no matter how much the poverty industry protests. The people in need of support are pawns for the poverty profiteers as well as the ideologically driven elements of the poverty business. There are few people working in the DES who don't view the mentally ill & addicted as more that tools for their own purposes. The poverty businesses have no desire reduce the number of people in need, just like big pharma they like profits more than cures.

      Save Vancouver

      Jun 14, 2013 at 12:30am

      Um, there's a bit of a dichotomy in youir article when you quote:

      “A small house in the older areas of our cities now, very often, costs twice as much as a much bigger house on the urban fringe,” he explained.

      But just a few sentences later claim:

      that the traditional North American dream of a house in the suburbs with a garden and a two-car garage is losing its allure. Generations X and Y, and particularly the millennials—who came of age in the 21st century, are turned off by the “banality of the malls” and long commutes, not to mention the shrinking size of suburban homes.

      So gen-whatevers don't like tiny suburban hoems but love tiny (old) city ones?

      And maybe millenials should stop whining about affordability if they are so concerned about blowing money at stores and restaurants that are just a stroll away.

      Alan Layton

      Jun 15, 2013 at 10:15am

      Although I know that there has been an unexpected rise in young couples choosing to raise their children in a very urban setting (ie Yaletown), it has been my experience that the suburbs, or smaller town centres in the Fraser Valley, are still the main choice for them. My observations have come from co-workers, where couples without children generally live in apartments or condos near the downtown core, and couples with children commute from the suburbs where they can afford larger homes with yards. The same goes for their mode of transportation. The childless couples often have no cars, but that changes as soon as they have kids. Transporting kids without a vehicle is very difficult and time consuming. There are exceptions, but the dividing line is very clear and sharp.


      Jun 19, 2013 at 4:42pm

      I'm a gentrifier, I think, because I went to Mt Pleasant and shortly thereafter joined with neighbours to get city hall to revoke the ability of a slumlord to rent to people who were dealing drugs out of a nearby house.

      I certainly didn't move close to downtown for the amenities (although I totally love Mt Pleasant now) but because this was an area I could afford.

      While I'm generalizing based on personal experience, I suspect that many of the yuppies who went into condo units on Alexander and by the Tinseltown theatre did so in spite of and not because of the local colour.

      Pidgin, I believe, is another example of cheap real estate being the attraction to the owner, although that's again simply a guess.

      That's not to say that gentrification ignores the lovely brick wall, post and beam heritage aspect; of course that remains a selling feature. But the driving pressure is price, I believe.

      Isn't it obvious? The condo market had expanded to every other corner of Vancouver and finally went to the DTES, applying for permits. That area sure wasn't being developed to any great extent for decades, apart from a flurry of displacement and cosmetic upgrading during Expo. If it was intrinsically desireable due to its water views and proximity to downtown, it would not have lain fallow for so long.


      Jun 19, 2013 at 4:45pm


      Why does it suck that people don't want cars? I am old enough to have been around for car culture, cruising, hot rodding and so on but a lot of that was cuz we lived in the sticks and gas was cheap.

      Now we have new ideas about sustainability and peak oil and healthy lungs. Cars aren't needed very often, and when you do need them, there are these car share dealies. It's not sad at all.

      Nicholas Ellan

      Jun 19, 2013 at 4:55pm

      Condos are an option of last resort for young families. And millenials aren't lining up for mortgages quite yet. What's actually desirable for young families is not the city core, but the satellite neighbourhoods: Commercial Drive, Cedar Cottage, Mt. Pleasant, Lonsdale, and other places where subdivided 2bdr/3bdr suites are commonplace, relatively affordable and in EXTREMELY high demand. Condos capable of handling a 4+ person family are as expensive as renting a house in the burbs. (Really, for $2k/mo you can live in the burbs in a big old house.) It's not uncommon to hear of families of 3 living in 1bdrs out of necessity - but try raising kids through high school in one of those.

      The condo owner profile is pretty damn obvious once you open your eyes: two 30 somethings and a tiny dog.


      Jun 20, 2013 at 8:47am

      Don't think because developers are building condos all over Vancouver that people will ride bikes and use transit. It has been my experience in Mt. Pleasant with all the new development that there are more cars than ever. My street used to be quiet and hardly any cars parked on the street or driving by my place but now there are hardly any parking spots and the cars are speeding by non stop just like on Broadway. Yes we need more density but not skysrapers that block the sun and mountain views. The skytrain and buses are jammed to the rafters day and night and the mayor has to stop this ridiculous idea that everyone should ride a bike. I gave up my car in the 80's and yes I do ride my bike to get around but only because a car is too costly and the drivers in the city are insane. I am sick and tired of people being displaced in Vancouver due to developer take over. The mayor keeps promising affordable housing but where is it? So many of my friends and neighbours have had to move out of Mt. Pleasant and this just makes me sad as this was there home. I just heard of yet another renoviction down the street from me. One lady has lived there for 25 years and I find this heartbreaking. How many more lives are going to be destroyed due to developers taking over the city. The mayor/council are on the side of developers and this must be stopped.