This week’s issue (pdf link) of Gordon Price’s priceless newsletter, Price Tags, has a great graph that shows a trend you just don’t see in most US cities—at least not to the same extent…

Housing completions in downtown Vancouver have boomed over the past decade and a half;  2000 and 2001 were a bit lean, but construction rebounded well in subsequent years. 

To those of us in the US, this trend is doubly surprising.  First, it shows that there’s a lot of demand in Vancouver for living right in the middle of downtown.  To some extent, folks south of the 49th parallel tend to assume that the demand for downtown living is minimal.  Not so in Vancouver—ultimately, market demand has been driving construction trends, since no developer would build so much new housing if they didn’t think it would sell. (To be clear, though, Vancouver does have unique demographics, history and physical characteristics that may make this kind of thing harder to replicate in the US). 

But the second surprise is just how much downtown construction has gone forward in a highly interventionist policy environment.  Vancouver city officials are much more involved in reviewing and approving design decisions, and much more willing to require developers pay for amenities and infrastructure, than is politically feasible in the typical US city. Still, it appears that it’s actually easier to move these sorts of higer-density housing projects forward in downtown Vancouver than in the US.  Whether this is in spite of, or because of, Vancouver’s government involvement is perhaps a matter of opinion.