Wednesday, 24 July 2013


There is never any doubt where Sun Columnist Bob Ransford stands on development. That is why I never miss his column or what he has to say on twitter. He is always on message.

A community group tweeted that it was concerned that a developer was proposing a six story development to replace Stong's on Dunbar Street. He will effectively buy his zoning by paying a community amenity charge. The City gets only its usual fees and taxes if he develops within the zoning. Stongs is a one story market and is presently zoned for a maximum for 4 storys. The plan prepared 14 years ago kept the height at 4 storys. 

Ransford tweeted, “What if the residents of your area said 90 years ago they didn't want your single family homes?” 

Mr. Ransford thus joins the company of others in all fields of knowledge in posing a thought experiment. The most famous of all hypothetical thought experiments was that of Schrodinger's Cat, the answer to which was that the cat would simultaneously be both alive and dead if certain assumptions were made, according to quantum mechanics.  I don't remember what the question was and it doesn't matter.

Mr. Ransford implies by his thought experiment  that residents in detached homes owe their good fortune to the wisdom and generosity of the 90 year old generation of Vancouverites. If folks then were as greedy and selfish, as today's NIMBYs who love their neighbourhoods and if they insisted on high density living back then we would all be living in apartment blocks.

I could not come up immediately with an adequate answer on twitter within the limit of 140 characters. I promised him however that I would reply by the July 24th.  I am a bit late.

One response would be, 

  • " If my aunt had balls, she'd be my uncle."
Another answer might be,  

  • "I would probably live somewhere else."
The problem with "What if?" questions like the one cleverly posed by Mr. Ransford,  is that they postulate something that in fact did not happen. 

If an asteroid did not slam into the earth millions of years ago the President of the United States might today be a Tyrannosauris Rex.

 Ninety years ago Vancouver was a small town. There was lots of undeveloped land. The demand then was for mostly single family dwellings. People did not move from London, England to Vancouver to live in brown-stone townhouses or high rises. Land was cheap. They wanted spacious single family homes. Immigrants did not come to Vancouver to duplicate the conditions they’ve left behind. In Shaugnessy the CPR built mansions. In Dunbar they built small, working class single family dwellings.  The zoning which was enacted in the early 1920's allowed for considerable growth.

So in fuller answer to Mr. Ransford’s thought experiment,  the residents did not seek to ban single family dwellings because that is not who they were and not what they wanted then or now. As the social engineers at city hall proceed on their policy of neighbourhood destruction including demolitions of houses and construction of towers, the demand by families with children for larger homes with front porches and back yards - places like where columnist Pete McMartin lives, will continue in the suburbs. Vancouver with its successful dense core and its adjacent low density neighbourhoods within a bike ride from the downtown will become a hodgepodge of towers and houses just like most other U.S. Cities.  People who don't like what is happening will move to White Rock, Steveston, Surrey and anywhere else.

American planners call this "Smart Growth."

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