What will Vancouver be like in 40 years? And what can we do now to make sure it’s a place we’ll still love?
REW.ca talked to a real estate insider who’s been spending a lot of time lately looking into the future.
David Allison is president of Braun Allison Inc., a marketing company that works with property developers to make their projects appeal to buyers. And seeing it can take years to plan and build a project, he says, the development industry is building for who we’re becoming, and taking a guess at who we’ll be tomorrow.”
Allison sees a radical demographic change coming. He foresees that the people who live here will be different, and the way we communicate with each other will be different.
- By 2050, the Metro Vancouver population will be more than four million, almost double the 2.3 million people here now.
- Seventy per cent will be first- or second-generation immigrants with no inherited memory of how Vancouver used to be.
- Those under 65 will have lived their entire lives with computers and instant communication. “Technology will become like air—‘that invisible, but that necessary,’ to quote Margaret Atwood. Any type of ‘off’ will feel as weird as holding your breath,” Allison says,.
He has a name for the future citizens of Metro Vancouver: ROVERS. They will be:
- Richer than us:
International immigration will account for 23 per cent of the population. A large proportion of them will have chosen Metro Vancouver over other global options.
There’ll be proportionally fewer young people.
- Very Educated:
They’ll be smart and entrepreneurial, taking advantage of total connectedness and access to information.
They’ll be living more and working less, choosing to live here because of what technology lets them do.
They’ll have global, worldly experience, but no particular history here.
In 40 years, Allison says, “Their dominance will be complete.”
The change has already started, of course—more people, more demand for housing, more wealthy outsiders. It’s changed the character of many neighbourhoods and threatens to change the character of many more.
Naturally enough, change brings resistance.
Allison understands. “We see ourselves as rightful owners of the city. Others are coming and changing things, making things more expensive, changing neighbourhoods into things we don’t recognize anymore, and we don’t like that.”
But he asks people to imagine themselves in the position of the aboriginal population when the Europeans came. “It’s such a cliché, but change is the only thing you can count on.”
“Do we think we’re going to stop the influx of people to this global playground that we live in?” he asks. “That’s naive and dangerous.”
He’s an enemy of NIMBYism and questions the notion that Shaughnessy or the West End or Kitsilano should stay unchanged.
“We can try to keep everything as is, so only the uber-rich will be able to live here... or we can change in ways that are inclusionary so more people will be able to enjoy the places we value.”
If that’s going to happen, people are going to have sit down and talk. And listen.
“Any change gets messy in the in-between bits,” he says. “We’re in the messy bit now, and people are arguing and fighting, and at the same time getting more and more sophisticated about how we present our arguments.
“It used to be that developers had the money and control of the conversation. Social media changed that, so now neighbourhood/community people can call the shots because they understand how to use the tools.
“I think the fundamental problem is that there’s a feeling of a divide. People who think that a development company, just by being a development company, is somehow evil... that these are people with gold coins falling out of their pockets as they run down the halls giggling to themselves. But in fact they’re taking huge risks to help us build this city. There has to be incentive on the table so the smart people will do it—and do it right.
“Otherwise, Vancouver becomes a playground for the ultra-rich because there’s no new housing stock.
“It doesn’t make sense for any one group—developers, politicians or residents—to be the only people bringing about the answers. We need to make the discussion less theatrical.”
One discussion forum he points to is More Homes for More People on Facebook and Twitter (@MoreHomes4), which puts out an open invitation to anyone, with any point of view, to talk about how we’ll build Metro Vancouver.
“Maybe it’s a bit ‘Thomas More’ of me to think we’re all going to sit around a table and talk. Maybe it’s utopian, but it’s got to be better.
“What’s coming is definitely going to change the character of neighbourhoods. We have to get over that. So how can we make change happen so the things that are great about a neighbourhood stay viable?
“Let’s move on in a way that hurts as few people as possible.”
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