Year of development giving way to year of transformation

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Bob Ransford

Nearly every statistic points to 2006 as a landmark year for new-home construction and sales in the Lower Mainland.

Prices rose to stratospheric levels for most forms of housing. Construction-cost increases, however, matched selling-price increases.

Labour shortages signalled a record level of construction activity, with institutional mega-projects competing with residential construction for skilled trades people.

The pace of sales rivalled, or beat, record years for both new-home product and for re-sale product. The value of new building permits issued topped previous records. New neighbourhoods emerged and old ones were re-born.

If it looks to you like urban re-development in Vancouver’s downtown and growth in the surrounding suburbs has radically changed the region, just take a look at things a year from now.

You might have thought that 2006 was a landmark year for real estate development, but it is the upcoming year that will be the one of real transformation in terms of the look and the livability of Vancouver — the period of visible change.

Many newsworthy achievements in real estate development over the past year were centred on large-project launches, massive pre-construction sales campaigns, construction groundbreakings, project approvals. They were the mere smoke signals of the change yet to come.

The construction cranes dotting the skyline are like giant pushpins on a huge map of Greater Vancouver, marking the spots where new development is about to change entire blocks and begin reshaping whole neighbourhoods.

Some projects are far enough along that they are already visible form-makers for the kind of change that is rapidly moving from Vancouver’s downtown out through the first-ring suburban areas into the distant suburbs.

For already visible signs of transformation in these suburban areas, one only needs to look at Kingsway and Knight Street, the upper-reaches of False Creek south around Cambie and Eighth Avenue, the quiet reshaping of the South Granville neighbourhood, 10th Avenue in West Point Grey, Coquitlam town centre, Richmond’s town centre, the top of Burnaby Mountain, the campus at UBC and a few other neighbourhoods where change is underway.

Wait, though, for the construction to come out of the ground on projects like the Woodward’s block in the downtown eastside, the Olympic Village on the south shore of False Creek, the explosion of mid-rise towers in downtown Richmond and further densification around most SkyTrain stations in Burnaby, stretching all the way out to Coquitlam. These areas will be reshaped over the next year by projects already approved and largely sold to new-home buyers or pre-leased to retail operators.

The next year will also be a year during which final touches will be put on the detailed plans that will launch the reshaping of the southeast corner of Vancouver at Parklane/WesGroup’s East Fraserlands site, Wesbild’s Burke Mountain holdings, Surrey’s city centre and the transformation of the aging Cambie West neighbourhood adjacent to Richmond’s existing downtown.

The Canada Line is quickly coming together like a giant rope tied together with various sections that will form a tight spine along which we will see planning take shape during 2007 for significant redevelopment at Oakridge and the south foot of Cambie Street along the Fraser River.

These projects represent a new approach to development in our region. A year from now, construction cranes will still dot the skyline, but much will be different and better thanks to the visionary decision-making, thoughtful planning, vigorous public debate, creative design and entrepreneurial risk-taking that has taken place over the past year.

Bob Ransford is a public affairs consultant with COUNTERPOINT Communications Inc. He is a former real estate developer who specializes in urban land use issues. E-mail: [email protected]

© The Vancouver Sun 2006


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