British Columbia

City of Vancouver in middle of the pack when it comes to density

The City of Vancouver is the densest city in Canada, but is far behind the global municipalities it's often compared to, according to a new study published Tuesday.

Report says the city has the highest density in Canada, but just half that of New York and London

Vancouver has an average of 5,493 residents per square kilometre, with the highest densities being in and around the downtown core. (Christer Waara/CBC)

The City of Vancouver is the densest city in Canada, but is far behind the global municipalities it's often compared to, according to a new study published Tuesday. 

The city has 5,493 people per square kilometre as of the 2016 Census — 13th out of 30 global cities measured by the Fraser Institute. 

"We find Canadian cities are much less dense than comparable American cities," said Josef Filipowicz, a policy analyst with the Fraser Institute, who wrote the study. 

"Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Toronto, which are experiencing an affordability crunch, can accommodate much more housing supply. There's lots of room to grow, especially upwards, if that's what those cities want to do."

The population density of London and New York City is approximately double that of Vancouver. The densest city the Fraser Institute measured was Hong Kong, with 25,719 people per square kilometre — 468 per cent higher than Vancouver.

'We're comparing very old cities with young ones'

Filipowicz says the report shows the City of Vancouver could increase density, because there's no correlation between higher density and a decrease in liveability standards. 

"There's a road map. These cities have already done this type of density, and it means Vancouver has a lot of room to catch up if they want to boost the housing supply ... which, in the short-term, is incredibly important for stemming home prices," said Filipowicz.

But Brent Toderian, the city's former chief planner, says it's a simplistic way of looking at the data. 

"At best, it's a mathematical exercise. And you could debate it, because not all municipal boundaries are created equal. Some include suburbs, some don't, and we're comparing very old cities with younger ones like Vancouver," he said.

He argues there are important reasons for cities to consider higher density — from sustainability to liveability and affordability — but targets shouldn't be created arbitrarily based on other cities.

"It's a bit of a subjective thing. What people perceive as dense, it varies by cities, by cultures. So factually and mathematically, we could accommodate much more density. I'm much more interested in the "so what?" of that," he said. 

Large portions of the City of Vancouver have less then 10 dwellings per hectare because of zoning regulations. (Andy Yan)

The City of Vancouver is currently embarking on a new strategy that promotes gentle densification in neighbourhoods that have long been dominated by single-family homes, a step Toderian supports. 

"There's all sorts of ways to strategically densify that doesn't reflect high density, high towers," he said.

"It's always been the case in Vancouver: if we focus on a qualitative conversation about density, how we do it well, actually improving our livability and our quality of life, I've got a lot more confidence in that kind of conversation."


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