Douglas Todd: Greedy Vancouver Hoarding Jobs Destined for Suburban Centers

Opinion: Metro’s plan has long been to shift jobs to where people can actually live, namely the suburbs.

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The city of Vancouver is ignoring its longstanding commitments to the suburbs by trying to concentrate too many jobs along the Broadway corridor, a retired Metro Vancouver planner and others say.

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Vancouver’s city council last month approved the Broadway plan, which aims to turn 500 blocks of the Broadway corridor into a massive “second center” of commercial towers, condominiums and high-rise rentals and 120,000 jobs.

But Christina DeMarco says the councilors’ move flies in the face of how, long ago, Vancouver agreed to a more inclusive regional plan to make Surrey Center the “second hub,” while doling out jobs to regional urban centers in Metro Vancouver.

DeMarco, who also served as a senior planner for Sydney and Vancouver, said adding dozens of office towers to the Broadway corridor runs counter to regional efforts to cut commute times, reduce carbon emissions and distribute jobs equitably across the country. Subway Vancouver.

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The primary reason job growth in the Broadway corridor “must slow is to provide jobs closer to home for the region’s population. This is really important for quality of life, for reducing travel times, for climate mitigation, and for the efficient flow of passengers in both directions of the transit system.”

The concerns of DeMarco and others strongly suggest that the Vancouver City Council is serving its own interests, including taking an outsized share of tax revenue, by ignoring its obligations to the other 20 municipalities in Metro Vancouver.

In particular, Metro’s plan is to turn places like New Westminster, Coquitlam Center and especially Surrey Center into workplaces.

The city of Vancouver is “exceeding employment goals” that were detailed in the report. Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping our future and in the draft Metro Vancouver Strategy 2050.

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“The City of Vancouver signed this regional plan. So I’m not sure how they justify targeting so many jobs in the Broadway corridor.”

The Broadway Plan calls for 42,000 new jobs by 2040 in the area between False Creek and 16th Ave., Vine and Clark, which is receiving new SkyTrain stations.

But DeMarco said that far exceeds Metro Vancouver’s goal of a total of 57,000 future jobs for all of Vancouver’s so-called “Metropolitan Core.” That encompasses the Broadway corridor, the downtown business district filled with ultra-dense skyscrapers, and Strathcona, which is expected to produce tens of thousands more jobs by 2040.

“If the city of Vancouver takes more jobs, it means other areas of Metro Vancouver will get fewer. The economy does not stop at municipal borders,” said DeMarco.

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The Vancouver City Council aims to turn the Broadway corridor into a
The Vancouver City Council aims to turn the Broadway corridor into a massive “second hub.” But Christina DeMarco says Metro Vancouver’s plan is for the region’s next “hub” to be Surrey Centre. It is close to Broadway and Granville, which is slated for heavy development. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

About a decade ago, Metro-appointed municipal politicians (including those in Vancouver) began restricting municipalities from unilaterally creating new office space, even in industrial parks not accessible by public transportation.

“We needed regulation,” DeMarco said, “rather than goodwill to make this policy effective.”

Their crucial task remains trying to reduce the time that the large proportion of Vancouver workers who live in the suburbs, where housing is less expensive, spend commuting.

DeMarco cites the example of someone from Cloverdale, in southern Surrey. “It will take at least an hour and 40 minutes for that person to get to the Broadway corridor, and maybe five to seven minutes less when the new SkyTrain (extension) opens. Alternatively, Cloverdale to Surrey Metro Center by bus takes 40 minutes. Saving two hours a day on commuting is a huge quality-of-life booster.”

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During the debate on the Broadway Plan, Vancouver Councilwoman Jean Swanson said she spontaneously asked an “innocent question” about its impact on climate change. “If people drive to Vancouver for work,” Swanson asked, “wouldn’t it be better to increase jobs elsewhere outside of Vancouver, so people don’t have to drive as far?”

Chief City Planner Chris Robertson responded, “What I can say is that Vancouver is today and continues to be a huge draw for jobs. People want to be here, and it will always be necessary to support that with good traffic and job balance.”

For DeMarco, the planner was basically saying that Vancouver will do whatever it can to serve the market, regardless of whether that’s good for workers scattered throughout the region.

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While Swanson says the jobs are generally good for the city of Vancouver, she remains “concerned that new workers drawn to that area, who don’t have high incomes, won’t be able to afford to live there.”

That includes new positions in a vastly expanded Broadway hotel sector, where Swanson said “most will be making $21 an hour” and unable to afford rent or ownership. Broadway’s plan calls for only 20 percent of newly built units to be “affordable.”

What’s more, Swanson said existing Broadway tenants who were pushed out of older buildings by new skyscrapers have been prioritized for the “supposedly” affordable units. “My fear is that everyone will be (trapped) by the current tenants who are exercising their right of first refusal.”

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Swanson voted against the Broadway plan, along with Councilmembers Melissa De Genova, Michael Wiebe and Colleen Hardwick.

Like DeMarco, Swanson also wonders if the Broadway Plan will bring “density without amenities” to the increasingly congested neighborhood.

This is another reason why it’s in Vancouver’s interest to lower its work targets for the Broadway corridor, DeMarco said: “It will allow more space for other uses, including parks, and open up options for less aggressive housing densities.”

Michael Heeney, former head of the Surrey City Center Development Corp., confirmed that Metro Vancouver long ago planned for northern Surrey, around which the population is inexorably moving, to be the region’s “second city center.”

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While living in Vancouver, the veteran architect said it’s “disheartening” and “hypocritical” that Vancouver councilors, who constantly talk about combating climate change, so blatantly monopolize jobs.

Tax revenue is a big motivator for the council, which is already raising residential taxes by a near-record 6.3%. Office and commercial towers are taxed at a much higher rate than residences, Heeney and DeMarco say. Vancouver also has the opportunity to demand high fees and benefits from builders. The Vancouver Metropolitan District believes those tax opportunities should be distributed more fairly.

“Like most city politicians, Vancouverites don’t think beyond their borders,” Heeney said. “Vancouver is used to throwing its weight around.”

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