Land Supply: Scarce means Dense and Expensive, April 2016
The metropolitan Vancouver region, which now extends beyond the boundaries of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), has the smallest supply of land for urban uses of all of Canada’s major metropolitan regions. The two regional districts that share this one metropolitan region, the GVRD plus the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD), have a combined population of 2.8 million people, and lots of land (1,694,644 hectares of it). However, of this total, 1,476,430 (87.1 percent) is wetlands, glaciers, alpine, water, and forest and other non-human domination uses. The remaining 218,214 hectares is used for urban development (113,400 hectares), for agriculture 99,700 hectares, either distinctly or in a mixed agriculture and residential setting): and recreation and other rural uses (1024 hectares).
Drop a rectangle on a map of the region from Horseshoe Bay to Hope and down to the border, a box that has the dimensions of 130 km by 40 km, and out of the 520,000 hectares it contains, only 218,214 hectares (42 percent) can realistically be considered urban land supply. Drop the same area of box around any of Canada’s other major metropolitan areas, and essentially all 520,000 hectares are in play. In every other metropolitan region in Canada, if you double the size of the rectangle, the area for metropolitan development doubles: in this region, no matter how much bigger you make it, it will not significantly change the amount of land we have for metropolitan uses.
Of the 218,214 hectares of potential urban land, we have chosen to preserve the 99,700 hectares for agricultural use, reducing potential urban land to the 113,400 hectares already in urban uses. This means we have 22 percent of the urban land supply of Calgary, for example, and twice its population. It is no surprise that, all other things equal (such as incomes), our housing prices are much higher than theirs and our residential density is much greater. Sobering, and something that should inform every discussion about housing densities and prices, is the fact that at some point in time not to far away the historical options of growing “up or out” will no longer prevail – it will be up and redevelop.
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