Smart land use planning that integrates jobs, people, and transit, within close proximity to each other, is one of the most important factors that will positively influence economic prosperity, social equity, public health, and GHG emission reductions in Metro Vancouver.
Fortunately, demographic trends reflect an increasing appetite for this type of community. Plenty of research indicates that Generation Y (born between 1979 and 1995) prefers to live and work in denser environments, those rich in transit and amenities and close to the core of cities. Downsizing baby boomers have also indicated a strong desire for denser, mixed-used, transit-oriented lifestyles.
Despite these trends, a mismatch occurs between what is actually built and what the public increasingly desires. As for what is built, Metro Vancouver only has 11% of its residential land and 1.6% of its total land zoned for townhouse, apartment, and mixed-use purposes. In terms of transportation, money allocated towards improving the transit system in Metro Vancouver pales in comparison to the amount of money spent on expanding and maintaining the region’s road and bridge network—a system geared toward low-density land uses.
To better reflect the emerging desires of both younger and older generations, new rapid transit investments should occur to help trigger more compact, walkable, and mixed-use development patterns.
With sufficient land use policies in place, communities such as those near rapid transit, are attractive for developers to build for a variety of reasons, including:
- New housing and office projects are generally able to sell/rent quickly in transit-oriented locations, which is consistent with the high level of public demand to live and work near transit.
- New housing and office projects near rapid transit often require fewer parking stalls to be built, which allows for significant cost savings, thereby increasing the viability of development—an underground parking stall costs approximately $40,000 to build.
- Project-induced infrastructure costs (sewers, roads, power, etc.) are often less expensive for infill/transit-oriented locations. This can result in lower development cost charges, again increasing the viability of development.
- There is often a stronger political and planning rationale to concentrate jobs and housing near transit, as well as fewer neighbourhood concerns regarding project-induced traffic and parking problems. This can result in faster and more successful permitting processes and the allowance of greater density levels—also key to incentivizing new development.
Fortunately, municipalities in Metro Vancouver have recently taken the lead to ensure that a variety of housing and workspace options are permitted near existing rapid transit networks. The recent increase in development activity on the Cambie Corridor in Vancouver (along the Canada Line), for example, is evidence of this trend. Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey, New Westminster, Coquitlam, and North Vancouver have also leveraged important transit-oriented development opportunities. Ultimately, this has allowed for transit ridership levels in Metro Vancouver to increase, which is essential to maintaining a successful public transit system.
Moving forward, it is critical that investment continues to occur in expanding Metro Vancouver’s transit system, while ensuring that progressive land use policies are in place to meet the economic, social, health, and environmental needs of upcoming and evolving generations.
 Source: Urban Land Institute (2014). Emerging Trends in Real Estate. Retrieved from: http://www.uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Emerging-Trends-in-Real-Estate-Americas-2014.pdf
 Most recent statistic is for 2006. Since then, new land in Metro Vancouver has been zoned for townhouse, apartment, and mixed-use purposes. Source: Metro Vancouver’s 2006 Generalized Land Use By Category. Retrieved from: http://www.metrovancouver.org/about/publications/Publications/KeyFacts-LandusebyMunicipality-2006.pdf
(Feature photo courtesy of tweng/flicker)