Jeff Fisher

A Changing Vancouver: More Homes for More People, More Spaces for Jobs

The Urban Development Institute (UDI) represents the development industry and its related professions – including, architectural, engineering and planning firms, legal practices, financial institutions, construction companies and government agencies.

Through our partnership with the City and its communities, we have built a world-class downtown and one of the most livable cities in the world. Our members shape the visions laid out in City plans – the residential, industrial, office, institutional and retail projects where people live, work and shop, as well as the community facilities that Vancouverites enjoy.

UDI has long supported the need for a City-Wide Plan. In fact, Vancouver is one of the few major municipalities in North America without a City-Wide Plan.

Why do we need one? Simple! We need to know where we are going to grow. We need more spaces for businesses to create jobs. We need more homes for more people. Vancouver is going to grow. Approximately 35,000 people will move to our region every year. They need to be accommodated in a small area bound by mountains, the Ocean and the U.S. Border. In addition, the Agricultural Land Reserve and Metro Vancouver’s Urban Containment Boundary limit development to one-third of our land area, and much of this is already built out.

Metro Vancouver, in its recently approved Regional Growth Strategy, includes targets for the City of Vancouver, which is expected to grow on average by 4,000 people, 2,143 dwelling units and 2,543 jobs per year over the next three decades.

Although these numbers may seem daunting, they are not. Over the next 30 years, we will be growing approximately half as fast as the rest of the metro area. In 30 years, the City of Surrey will begin to replace Vancouver as the largest city in the region, and will gain the influence that comes with that new role. At the same time, the City of Vancouver will still only need to provide housing for 60,000 fewer people than the City of San Francisco has now (both cities are roughly the same size geographically).

Vancouver needs to at least achieve the projected Regional Growth Strategy targets. If it does not, young people will not find jobs. Vancouver, which is already regarded as one of the most unaffordable places to live in the world, will face even greater affordability challenges as a growing demand for housing is not met with enough supply. Our desire to be the greenest jurisdiction will be undermined as families are pushed out to other parts of Metro and are forced to own more cars and commute longer distances with them.

Vancouver has always been very good at identifying where we do not want growth to occur, with height limits, freezes on residential development in industrial and commercial areas, and other planning initiatives. In response, for several years now, UDI members have asked, “if not here or there, then where?” As a community, we have to provide clarity on where and how we want the City to grow.

There are four objectives we hope the new City-Wide Plan will achieve. In addition to the plan needing to accommodate future growth, and provide clarity, it also needs to be viable and flexible.

The City-Wide Plan needs to work. As I stated above, our members shape the visions established by municipalities through their plans and policies. For the plans to work, they need to be viable. A four-storey building on a site is not going to be replaced with a five-storey project, as construction costs will not be recovered from such a limited increase in density. Nor will landowners significantly lower their sale prices to reflect new costly regulations or high fees and charges.

If plans are not viable, they will not be implemented. As a result, little housing or job spaces will be built; our economic, affordability and sustainability goals will not be achieved; and many amenities will not be provided to neighbourhoods that need them.

One way to ensure the City-Wide Plan’s viability is to take advantage of the infrastructure we have in place. We and other observers have long lamented the fact that transportation investments and land use planning in this region are not linked. We build multi-billion dollar transit lines where no one lives and works, and then discourage businesses and people from moving near stations through planning restrictions.

The Waterfront station downtown is at the start/end point of three transit lines (five, if you include the West Coast Express and the SeaBus). These are our highways and links to the rest of the Region. We need to leverage this advantage to maintain our place in the Region and improve our economy and employment opportunities.

There are also well-documented social and environmental benefits to leveraging our transit infrastructure. Homes in compact transit-oriented communities are smaller and more affordable. Working families have better access to jobs. People are more active and healthier. Development is also greener, as smaller units take less energy to heat and cool, and families do not require two to three cars.

The new City-Wide Plan also needs to be flexible, as it will likely last several decades. The only thing constant in our world is change. What changes will we see to Vancouver in the next thirty years? Our new plan needs to include mechanisms to allow for change so we can meet our future challenges. This should also include appropriate consultation.

We at UDI look forward to participating in the forums, discussions and consultations that will make up the City-Wide Plan process. We hope you will as well. This is an important document for you, me, and every Vancouverite. It is about where you will live, work, shop and play – so please participate!


Jeff FisherJeff Fisher is the Deputy Executive Director and Senior Policy Advisor for the Urban Development Institute (UDI), Pacific Region. He joined the Institute six years ago as the Director of Municipal Affairs and Research, and is responsible for UDI’s relations with local governments, including the Institute’s numerous Municipal Liaison Committees.  He sits on several Provincial Government committees such as the Development Finance Review Committee.

Prior to joining UDI, Jeff was a Senior Policy Advisor with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. In this capacity, he was involved in numerous issues including Building Code reform, the development of a new Ontario Municipal Act, pension governance, labour issues and emergency services.   Jeff has also worked in the Legislative Assemblies of Ontario and British Columbia and at the Canadian Urban Institute. Jeff holds a Bachelor degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto and a Master in Urban Regional Planning from Queen’s University.