‘More bedrooms than people to sleep in them’ in richer areas

Wednesday, January 21st, 2004

Greater Vancouver’s growth occurring mostly in its more affordable suburbs

Nicholas Read

(A large group of people)

If you live in Surrey, Burnaby, Maple Ridge, Port Moody, New Westminster or almost anywhere else immediately outside Vancouver, and you think things are getting more crowded where you are, it’s not your imagination.

According to new statistics from B.C. Stats, Greater Vancouver is getting to be a busier place. But all the growth is concentrated in the suburbs.

While Vancouver‘s population declined between 2002 and 2003 — to 568,442 from 568,807 — the population of Greater Vancouver increased to 2,126,806 from 2,103,179 thanks to growth in all of its suburbs except West Vancouver, Lions Bay and Delta.

But that also fits a trend, says David Baxter, executive director of the Urban Futures Institute. By and large, wealthier neighbourhoods — and that includes Tsawwassen in Delta — are experiencing population declines, he says, because fewer people can afford to live in them.

For example, Baxter says, Vancouver and its more expensive neighbourhoods, such as Dunbar, Point Grey and Kerrisdale, are rapidly becoming communities of very wealthy people or older people who bought properties many years ago. Younger people with young families to raise have to move elsewhere.

“In richer communities, there are literally more bedrooms than there are people to sleep in them,” Baxter said Tuesday. “Grandma and Grandpa live in Point Grey because they always have and don’t want to move. But their kids have to live in Maple Ridge.”

And the proliferation of new condominiums, particularly in the city’s Yaletown district, has failed to offset the city’s population decline, Baxter says, because they’re occupied by one or two residents at most, and they’re often bought by people who were renting before. The result is more empty rental accommodation in the city, but not necessarily more people to rent those suites.

The situation is the same in Greater Victoria. While the populations of Victoria, Oak Bay and Esquimalt dropped between 2002 and 2003, the populations of more affordable suburbs rose.

But overall Greater Victoria is not attracting new residents.

Baxter says that’s because for its size, the so-called Capital region has one of the least diverse economies in Canada.

“Is government growing? No. Is the military growing? No. How was tourism last year? Poor.”

New population in the province came from three sources: births, international migration and interprovincial migration.

In fact, for the first time in six years, between July and September of 2003, more people moved from Alberta to B.C. than moved from B.C. to Alberta. This is due, Baxter says, to B.C.’s gradual economic recovery and the slowing of Alberta‘s.

It’s also noteworthy, said Baxter, that almost without exception population increases occurred in B.C.’s southwest corner, including the Okanagan. Everywhere else, he says, the place is emptying and dying.

And that’s bad news for resource communities everywhere, even in the oil- and gas-rich northeast. As resource industries either decline or become more productive, fewer and fewer people are hired to work in them, and that means cities and towns like Prince George, Prince Rupert, Williams Lake, Revelstoke and Quesnel are shrinking.

And it’s mainly young people that they’re losing, adds Baxter.

“Who’s leaving are the young people. Who’s staying are the older people.

“Three, four, five years out, if we don’t get a robust growth of that [resource] economy, we’ll see huge demands on the health-care services in those places and a decline in educational services.”

The oil and gas region isn’t benefitting from increased revenues because oil and gas exploration don’t generate many jobs.

“It’ll do okay as long as people are there exploring. But once you stop exploring, you only need a couple of maintenance guys to turn the valves on and off.”

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Mainland/Southwest: 2,445,465

Van. Island/Coast: 719,914

The rest: 981,201

British Columbia‘s population stood at 4,146,580 last year according to new estimates. Bar above shows distribution into three main regions.

Below, 10 trends observable in latest data, starting with the most significant shift in which growth is restricted to the suburbs:

1. Runaway suburbs

Growth in Greater Vancouver is restricted to its suburbs, whose collective population has risen by more than 20,000.

2. So long, city

Despite a boom in downtown residential construction, land in Vancouver is just too expensive to compete with cheaper suburbs, so the city lost almost 400 residents.

3. Thinning ranks of the rich

While the wealthier suburbs of Lions Bay, West Vancouver and Tsawwassen in the Lower Mainland and Oak Bay in Great Victoria lost residents, less expensive suburbs attracted them.

4. Golden years

Victoria is no longer the retirement destination it once was. Instead retirees are moving to smaller communities on southern Vancouver Island, the Okanagan, and the Sunshine Coast.

5. Population falls in the forest

Pick a community anywhere in B.C. that depends heavily on forestry and it lost residents last year thanks both to a decline in the industry and an increase in the productivity of mills and falling operations.

6. Net loss

Coastal communities have been hit hard by the decline in fishing as well as forestry. Port Alice, Port Hardy and Port McNeill all experienced population loss, as did other towns and villages along the coast.

7. A resort bonus

Tourist towns and communities close to them are flourishing. Tofino, Radium Hot Springs, Harrison Hot Springs, Pemberton not only grew, all were among the province’s fastest growing places.

8. The small are getting smaller

Some of the tiniest places got tinier last year. Tahsis (pop. 559) on the west coast of Vancouver Island shrunk, Lytton (pop. 343) and Hazelton (pop. 348) all lost residents.

9. What gas boom?

Despite delivering massive royalties to the province, B.C.’s oil and gas region isn’t attracting more residents. Fewer people live in Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Chetwynd, while many Albertans are finding work in the area.

10. Wine country charms

The Okanagan continues to attract newcomers, which, in turn, means a more diverse and more appealing economy.

© Copyright  2004 Vancouver Sun

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