Friday, March 15, 2013

The City in 2050: Bridging the Gaps and Bringing into Focus the Future of Cities

Submitted by Carla Guerrera, Senior Planner (Vancouver, BC)

This blog entry is the next in our series of posts focused on urban development and the challenges facing today’s cities. Last week: The battle between the urban core and suburbs of Boston. Next week: How cities can attract the “creative class” to the urban core.

Vancouver, British Columbia
Real estate professionals across British Columbia are dealing with the challenges that face cities and communities everywhere. However, few platforms exist to bring a cross-sector and multi-disciplinary perspective to these issues. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has designed the City in 2050 speaker series to provide a key opportunity for land use and real estate professionals to engage in these important discussions and explore and define strategies to create communities that are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable as we move to 2050.

A recent ULI City in 2050 event in Vancouver featured Mayor Gregor Robertson, who explored the question, “What kind of city do we want to create for 2050 and how do we get there?” As the largest event yet for the ULI in BC, there were over 350 attendees including city councilors and staff, real estate developers, consultants, planners, engineers, institutions and design professionals all eager to hear the mayor’s perspectives on the most important issues affecting Vancouver’s future.

Mayor Robertson was elected in 2008 on a platform of three significant goals: economic growth, increasing affordable housing, and being the greenest city in the world. Several indicators show that the city is moving towards achieving those goals. In the face of severe budget pressures, the city has managed to keep the lowest tax increases of Canadian cities. The rating agency, Standard and Poor, has signaled an upgrade to Vancouver’s credit rating and has provided a favourable review of the Olympic Village financial plan. In addition, construction is making a significant surge with over a billion dollars in development permits submitted to the city this year, a 40 percent increase over last year.

There are some challenges as Vancouver looks to 2050, though, as the mayor explained at the ULI event. It is predicted that downtown Vancouver will grow by approximately 150,000 people over the next 38 years. Global warming will bring an increasing frequency of extreme weather, as recent events like Hurricane Sandy have shown, impacting quality of life as well as the economy. Dramatic increases in property losses related to weather events have been reported, signaling a need to reduce our impact on the planet and plan resilient communities with infrastructure that can withstand these extreme weather events. In response to these changes, Vancouver has undertaken a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy outlining steps that can be taken to incorporate climate change adaptation measures into new projects and daily operations of the city.

These challenges have shaped the key areas of Vancouver’s focus to 2050—transportation, housing, and land use strategies—as the mayor describes them. The city is implementing policies to ensure a highly efficient public transit system is developed over the next 38 years and beyond, with the sky train remaining as the backbone of the system, walking and cycling continuing to grow in popularity for shorter distances, and clean technologies as the norm for all vehicles. To ensure these objectives are met by 2050, major gaps must be addressed urgently such as the under-serviced Broadway corridor, which will take some investment from the provincial and the federal governments.

Carla Guerrera
To enable the city to accommodate the anticipated population increases to 2050 and beyond, the density increases and the provision of affordable housing are imperatives. The recently adopted recommendations from the Mayor's Task Force on Housing Affordability will help Vancouver become a more sustainable, diverse, and affordable city, and prioritize affordability for those households with low to moderate incomes. A key element of the plan is the need for diverse housing types such as townhouses and midrise buildings. “We have to fill the gap between the glass towers and Vancouver specials,” said Mayor Robertson, emphasizing the importance of small, affordable options for seniors and young families that want to build lives and careers in Vancouver.

The next four decades are full of opportunity for growth but require adaptability, and resiliency. Past achievements, current global recognition, and thoughtful future strategies have prepared Vancouver to tackle the challenges to come. At the ULI event, Mayor Robertson noted that he is confident that the city will “face these challenges squarely” and will continue to draw on the knowledge and ingenuity of the people of Vancouver to manage change and work with cities around the world to grow successfully through the next 38 years.

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