We Have A Choice On Population Density

Immigration Watch Canada’s latest bulletin “We Have A Choice On Population Density”  was written by former British Columbia MLA Gordon Gibson in the midst of open citizen rebellion against Vancouver City Council which for many years has advocated perpetual densification of Vancouver. Mr. Gibson is one of very few Canadian politicians who questions unending population growth, and implies that population stabilization is needed.

However, readers will note that Mr. Gibson (in this OP Ed), as well as those protesting against densification / destruction of their neighbourhoods, do not use the word “immigration”.

This is noteworthy because even in the early 1990’s, immigration was responsible for about 83% of Metro Vancouver’s population growth. The figure is now even higher and is predicted to soon reach 100%.

As we have said before, our federal government has never provided a single sensible reason for its immigration intake : an average of 250,000 per year for the last 23 years and about 50,000 per year in Metro Vancouver.  A single pen-stroke aimed at slashing immigration would end a corrupt, vote-getting immigration policy. It would also save Metro Vancouver, Metro Toronto / Southern Ontario and much of Canada.

Daniel Murray


We have a choice on density

Urban Land Reserve needed for quiet neighbourhoods
By Gordon Gibson, Special to the Vancouver Sun February 3, 2014

Here are three contrarian statements, quite against the conventional wisdom, almost blasphemous to some but nonetheless true. And they must be said:

• Urban density is not destiny. It is a choice.

• Population growth in Vancouver is not inevitable. It can be controlled or even stopped.

• The world of the future clearly must be a steady state, a sustainable society, where growth comes in the quality of life, not in quantity.

I was born in Vancouver in 1937. I love this city. I have watched it grow and change and there is much to be proud of. The downtown is exciting and vital. The cultural explosion has been phenomenal. Transit has improved and more must be done. Bike lanes are good.

However, we must not lose a central part of our soul, and I speak of our quiet neighbourhoods.

This is a growing concern. The people of Marpole, of Grandview-Woodland, or Dunbar and elsewhere, are making their worries about density clear. Someone needs to say this view deserves much more respect than it is getting from politicians and planners.

There are two assumptions and one political imperative underlying current trends. The first assumption is that growth cannot be stopped. That is manifestly not true. Growth in our housing stock requires permits, and those permits don’t need to be granted. This is not to argue for a shutdown. It is to make a point that we are not powerless.

The second assumption is that a world-class city needs to keep growing. (It is interesting to note that actual world-class cities never need to talk about being such.) But here is a contrary factoid.

There is no doubt Paris is a great city. Paris-proper bears a similar relationship to Greater Paris as does the City of Vancouver to Metro. Paris-proper is today much smaller in population than it was 100 years ago, a drop of more than 20 per cent. It has been slowly declining since 1921. And the city was doing just fine last time I visited. (Incidentally, the density of our West End is greater than the average density of central Paris, though our over-all density is much less. But central Paris has none of our wonderful quiet neighbourhoods.)

So those facts show our city can be what we want it to be. Why is that being challenged? Because of the aforementioned political imperative.

Vision is our current governing party. It is a party of social engineers and proudly so. But that sort of thing takes a lot of money. Where to get it: From the developers who add to the density of the city. More than 20 per cent of the budget comes from that source one way or another.

Then you get a vicious circle. More people means more social services and infrastructure. The debate about hugely expensive transit is driven by growth and a lot of it is right in the city; see the multi-billion Broadway line proposal. Park space per capita declines and housing costs rise. There are unintended consequences and more money from more growth is called on to fix that. So we get arguments for density and dancing with developers.

Development so far has been mostly in the downtown core and north of Broadway. Now it is moving south and east and west, mostly along main transit lines for the time being and that is fine. But current trends show it won’t stop there, and quiet neighbourhoods will be gradually nibbled away. Then where will be the quiet bike routes?

A sustainable city? Well-intentioned, I’m sure, but attracting new people from lower carbon places to high carbon Vancouver doesn’t make much sense on that scale.

This is starting to sink in. People are becoming restless. The strong pushback in Grandview-Woodland was enough to derail density plans for the time being and the city, to its great credit, has promised a Citizens Assembly as a form of deep consultation to see what people really think. The anti-growth signs all around Marpole tell the story there.

We need a rethink. A bit more than 40 years ago, (former NDP Premier) Dave Barrett brought in the Agricultural Land Reserve. It was highly controversial at the time (mostly because of lack of compensation) but we bless it today. In Vancouver and indeed throughout Metro we now need an Urban Land Reserve for our quiet neighbourhoods. Who will raise this flag?


Gordon Gibson is a political columnist, author, and former British Columbia MLA.