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Living Close: Concept and Consequence, March 2016

The slogan living close to work is a seductive siren’s call, enticing in its simplicity but not revealing the consequences of pursing it. One of the consequences of having everyone live close to work is that the population living in a community will have to be proportional to the employment in it. In the case of this region, it would mean that the City of Vancouver, which has 33 percent of the region’s employment, would have the same share of the region’s population, which would require a) 197,000 people moving in from other municipalities to bring its population share up to 33 percent from its current 25 percent, or b) 100,000 jobs moving out to these other communities to take its employment share down to 25 percent. If the City of Vancouver was home to all those who worked in it, its residential density would have to increase by 30 percent.

Higher density and higher housing prices are also consequences of living close to work for communities that have a more than proportional share of employment. The lower journey to work costs that living close to the employment centre attracts households who compete with each other to obtain these transportation savings; collectively they capitalize the transportation savings into higher land prices. Higher land prices and many people trying to live close to work mean higher densities – apartments close to work are for those whose priority is live close to work and detached housing with a commute to work are for those whose priority is housing.  If land use controls provide lower density housing in proximity to centers of employment, the prices of these homes will be relatively high as they offer a very rare opportunity. 

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