Just released:  Sightline’s analysis of smart growth trends in Greater Vancouver, BC.  We crunched Canadian census data from 1991 through 2006, looking in particular at residential development trends in BC’s lower mainland. 

The good news:  pedestrian-oriented development is going gangbusters in the city of Vancouver itself, along with a few of the municipalities just outside the city.  Given the economic burden that’s being created by rising gas prices—let alone the challenge of climate change—Vancouver can give itself a pat on the back for fostering the kind of neighborhoods where residents don’t have to drive much.

The bad news: as a region, Greater Vancouver’s overall smart growth leadership slipped a bit during the last census period.  In particular, the share of new growth that went into compact neighborhoods declined between 2001 and 2006, compared with the previous decade.  The decline was modest, but real nonetheless—and it came as a bit of a surprise to those of us who’ve been impressed by the region’s efforts to curb sprawl.  Still, by US standards, Greater Vancouver still stands out for its stellar smart-growth record.  But by its own lofty standards, the region lost a step.

We’ve put up an interactive map of the data (thanks to Umbrella Consulting, our fantabulous GIS consultant) that’s definitely worth checking out.  Or if you’re not into interactive maps, check out the eye candy below:
Vancovuer, BC animated Map

  • There are 2 things that stand out to me about what we found, but that got edited out of the report itself—largely because they’re a bit speculative.

    First, Vancouver seemed to do better at fostering compact neighborhoods when population growth was faster, as it was between 1991 and 2001.  This is somewhat consistent with some findings in the US: fast-growing cities tend to grow a little more compactly, perhaps because scorching population growth makes compact development seem both more urgent, and more profitable.

    So that could explain some of the declines in Greater Vancouver’s smart-growth success:  slower population growth may have made compact growth seem less urgent.

    Second, smart growth trends were uneven across the region.  Vancouver, Surrey, and Richmond, for example, did roughly as well over the last census period as they had over the previous decade, at least by our metrics.  New Westminster did somewhat better, as did White Rock, West Vancouver, and a few other municipalities.  But Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta and Langley did a little bit worse; and Maple Ridge remained stuck, with a very low share of residents in compact neighborhoods.

    It’s hard to know what, exactly, to make of the regional variation—whether it was simply a function of different real estate sub-markets, or of different municpalities’ attitudes and successes with planning.  Regardless, expanding highway capacity in the region—as is currently the plan—is likely a recipe for even more sprawl in the distant suburbs, and greater pressures on the agricultural land base that the province is working so hard to protect.  (If Vancouver needs an example of the risks, look no farther away than Greater Seattle!)