VANCOUVER, BC-Greater Vancouver's regional leaders'
obsession with changing people's behaviour through land use
planning has left the region with the least affordable housing
and some of the worst traffic congestion in Canada, according
to a new study released today by independent research
organization The Fraser Institute.
"Planners with the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now
Metro Vancouver) narrowly focus on two goals: avoiding urban
sprawl and minimizing automobile driving," said Randal O'Toole,
a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in urban
issues and public lands and author of
Unliveable Strategies: The Greater Vancouver Regional District
and the Liveable Region Strategic Plan.
"But the tools they use to achieve these goals are
essentially a form of social engineering to change what people
want - convenient transportation and a single family home.
Instead, the regional planners hope people will drive less if
roads are congested and that everyone will happily live in
high-density towers if single family homes are
O'Toole's study traces the GVRD's history of planning
from 1966 with the creation of the Official Regional Plan
through to the Liveable Region Strategic Plan in 1996. Along
the way, he examines the key decisions (and those that weren't
made) that helped shape the Lower Mainland.
"The GVRD likes to use the term "liveable" in all its planning
documents, as though repeated use of this mantra will lead
people to overlook the fact that regional planners have made
the region less liveable by increasing housing prices, imposing
densities and increasing traffic congestion," O'Toole said.
O'Toole points out that surveys show more than 70 per cent
of Canadians want to live in a single-family home. But the
GVRD's planners consider such homes undesirable because they
tend to be too low in density to support high levels of
walking, cycling, and transit riding.
In 1961, 58 per cent of all new dwellings built in the
Vancouver region were single-family homes. By 2005, planners
successfully reduced this to 26 per cent.
"Regional planers and politicians have embraced a policy that
promotes multi-family housing at the expense of single-family
homes, effectively denying up to 32 per cent of the region's
families from achieving their aspirations."
O'Toole finds little evidence that district planners made any
effort to identify and evaluate alternatives or assess the
tradeoffs inherent in their plans. He suggests the GVRD's
leaders could have focused on reducing the impacts of growth
through technical solutions, such as controlling auto
emissions, and through user fees and incentives that ensure
people pay the full costs of their housing, transportation, and
He concludes that the problems with the GVRD's
Livable Region Strategic Plan
are not the result of bad planning; they are the result of
planning, that is, centralized, top-down, government
"A region as large and complex as Greater Vancouver is
simply too complicated to plan," he said. "Rather than
seriously evaluate the trade-offs between, say, open space
preservation and housing prices, they simply and mindlessly try
to preserve a maximum amount of open space and ruthlessly
punish anyone who wishes to drive by forcing them to suffer
He concludes that the solution to the problems created by
the GVRD can not be found in the planning process or trying to
devise a different plan. Instead he recommends:
• The province and region should find technical
solutions to the negative effects of sprawl and driving such as
improving auto emission controls, rather than trying to curb
sprawl and driving themselves;
• The region and cities in the region should allow
people to make their own choices about housing and modes of
transportation, but ensure people pay the full costs of their
• The province should break up the Greater Vancouver
Regional District into a set of agencies, each of which focuses
on a specific mission, such as water, sewage, or parks. As far
as possible, these agencies should be funded out of user fees
linking producers to consumers. None of these agencies should
attempt to do comprehensive planning for the region. Most of
these agencies, including those focusing on water, sewer, and
parks, should be further broken up into smaller geographic
units, each serving a portion of the region.
• Transit should be managed by one or more agencies
that have incentives to find the most cost-effective forms of
transit for each sub-region or corridor. This could mean a
heavier emphasis on bus service and no new rail construction.
Transit subsidies should be given to transit users in the form
of vouchers rather than to transit bureaucracies.
"The GVRD's current problems were predictable and
predetermined by the decision to treat the region's problems
through a central planning process," O'Toole said. "The region
has focused on urban design, sprawl, and driving rather than on
real measures of livability such as congestion, pollution,
affordability, and easy access to urban open space.
Unfortunately, an urban region like Vancouver is simply too
complicated to plan, and any effort to do so will necessarily
produce the serious problems this plan is now causing."