A Solution For The High Cost of Housing in Vancouver

Michael Goldberg says the solution for bringing down the cost of development and housing in Vancouver lies in reduced planning regulation and allowing property developers more leeway to construct more taller buildings faster.

A Professor and Dean Emeritus with the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, Goldberg is currently serving as a director of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

If the Vancouver property development environment were to facilitate the construction of a surplus of residential units, and similarly, excess floor area in the commercial sector, then the competition for purchasers and leases to fill the voids would bring the cost down according to Goldberg.

Canadians like living in cities and the demand to live and work in cities is likely to increase and not decrease in Canada said Goldberg. He attributed the trend to a demographic shift toward smaller households, older and retired people who have lost interest in single-family homes and a working population who would prefer to live in the city rather than commute from the suburbs.

An advertising message used by builders to sell condominium units ‘if you lived here you’d be home by now’ Goldberg referenced as indicative of the shifting desire of Canadians to live and work in the same urban neighbourhood.

“Foreign purchasers of real estate in Vancouver are making valuable investments here”, said Goldberg and Canadians should be creating a favorable environment for accepting their involvement in our economy.

The move toward taller buildings in Canada has been ‘an evolution not a revolution’ says Goldberg. He cited the decision by the former City of North York when Mel Lastman was its Mayor (prior to formation of the GTA) as an early example of successful urban intensification along a transit line.

North York struck a deal with the Toronto Transit Commission that it would allow tall commercial and residential buildings north of highway 401 if the TTC would build more closely spaced transit stations. As a consequence that part of Toronto currently has the highest density of buildings outside the downtown core.

The City of Vancouver should abandon regulations that protect ‘views of the mountains’ said Goldberg. He considers the mountains to be high enough that buildings are not going to interfere sufficiently with the views to bother with a regulation.

Building height limits too should be dropped in Vancouver according to Goldberg. He says that market condition should dictate height of buildings not planning regulations.

Interestingly the City of Toronto has no height limit in parts of the downtown and views of Lake Ontario have all but disappeared from the downtown streets and along sections of the Gardiner Expressway where it is bordered by condo buildings.

U.S. cities such as Chicago, the so-called ‘home of the skyscraper’, have many very tall buildings as a consequence of minimal planning regulation and no height limits, explained Goldberg.

The John Hancock Centre in Chicago at 343.7 m and 100-floors, is one of the highest buildings in the U.S., and considered an attraction for visitors to the city. As a consequence of many years of urban intensification Chicago has about three times more built floor area per square foot of land than in Vancouver.

Goldberg contends that planning regulations are serving to hold back the efficient construction of new buildings in Vancouver to meet a growing demand for real estate. A restricted supply of residential units is in turn pushing up the cost of property development and housing.

Michael Goldberg provided Property Biz Canada with the following list of pluses and minuses for the construction of tall buildings:

Tall Building Pluses

• Make more efficient use of urban land
• Allow efficient ToD and create customers for transit both rapid, bus and trolley
• Elevators efficient movers of people vis-à-vis cars and buses
• Add to urban built form supply efficiently and lower price per buildable square foot
• Allow for urban core open-space
• Encourage mixed uses further adding to urban efficiency and reduction in traffic
• Will typically be built on rapid transit lines to ensure easy access for large office, residential and shopping populations accommodated by tall and large urban buildings
• Only way to reduce building and occupancy costs without expanding urban region through freeways in growing cities is through higher densities which tall buildings embody
• Can create significant landmarks for a city
• Can create rooftop gardens and viewing terraces
• Can help to create a distinctive skyline and cityscape
• Can create large public plazas, pocket parks, cafes, restaurants and sitting, reading, chess/checker and public gathering entertainment spaces

Tall Building Minuses

• Can create shadows on public open spaces
• Can block views currently enjoyed by people in other buildings or viewpoints
• Can create wind tunnels
• Can create traffic demand, congestion and bottlenecks if poorly located and not integrated with subways, buses, and street cars

About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a Professor and Dean Emeritus with the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He is currently a Director of the Canada Pension Plan investment Board a position he has held since 2008 and is also serving on the Board of the Surrey City Development Corporation.

Goldberg has had a distinguished academic career that spans four decades and includes research that explored many aspects of urban intensification and development. He earned his MA and PhD in Economics at the University of California (Berkeley). He has filled many appointments to academic positions in Canada two years in Singapore. He has held many directorships on private, public and not-for-profit sector organizations.



David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

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David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting…

Read more




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