Monday, March 23, 2009

Utopian Project Doomed from the Beginning

Call me negative, call me a cynic but this new development on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is going to fail. The Globe and Mail interviews the architect and it doesn't take long to see the failings.
There is a gargantuan new residential and commercial development on the site of the old Woodward's building in Canada's most troubled postal code, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The project is an exciting attempt to, in a single stroke, remake a depressed community. As it happens, for the past three years, the project has been going up just down the street from my office, and as it's climbed above the Gastown skyline, its ambitions have intrigued and inspired me.

Of the development's 536 suites, about 40 per cent are going to non-market housing, which means the place will be an admixture of the advantaged, less advantaged, students (the property will house Simon Fraser University's new Centre for the Contemporary Arts), shoppers and workers (at the drug and grocery stores, non-profits and other retail units).

Translation, almost half the building will be social housing. Do they really think this will be positive in the long term? Would you pay money to live in a building that's half social housing and knowing the crime and lower quality of life that comes with that?

The architect has lofty goals:
The future is in hybrid projects - where market, rental and affordable housing get merged into the normal fabric of our city. I think that if we embrace the philosophy, in one generation we could end the homelessness and affordability problem. We're such a wealthy country, the fact that we can't deal with this important issue just seems silly.

Again, I hate to be a cynic, but I'm willing to bet money that this will be a bust within 10 years. When people aren't paying to live in a place, they don't treat it well. Imagine if you've invested money to live in a condo and in the lobby there's surly young men, and grafitti? You would be begging to sell and nobody will be buying.


  1. I have seen this sort of thing in Toronto. The government buys a few floors in a high end condo building. Well guess what happens to value of the privately owned condos? They plummet to zero. The private owners are then stuck in a welfare building. Their asset is worthless. This is all engineered by some unelected bureaucrat. He drives home in his BMW, knowing his social engineering has helped improve the world. The same thing happens if they build a welfare housing project right beside your neighborhood. The government will wipe out your house value, in a heart beat.

  2. Yeah, the reporter wasn't doing his job by not mentioned the huge downsides of the project.