Data Desk, Media, Observations, Research Papers November 2, 2015

Ownership Patterns of Single Family Home Sales on Selected West Side Neighborhoods in the City of Vancouver: A Case Study

Microsoft PowerPoint - TitleAnalysis_EbyBriefing2

Please click the above image for the study’s slidedeck via Slideshare

This analysis looks at the all the sales to occur within three west side neighborhoods in the City of Vancouver over a 6 month period and the ownership and mortgage patterns within these titles. Specifically, it looks at the title records of 172 Westside Single Family Homes Sale Transactions as listed by the Multiple Listing Service in the West Point Grey, Dunbar, and University Endowment Land neighborhoods (West of Alma Street) from September 2014 to February 2015. Collectively, worth over $520 million, these properties were some of the most expensive single family home properties in the City of Vancouver and the metropolitan region. It looks at mortgage status, title holder patterns, and self declared occupation of title holders to see what kind of patterns emerge against historic held ideas of patterns of ownership in the area — these neighborhoods have historically been occupied by Vancouver’s managerial and professional classes.

The purpose of this study is not to necessarily solely focus on a single ethnic group, but in understanding how residential real estate might be consumed in the City of Vancouver with a focus on the enabling financial practices and structures in Canada. With 82 percent of residential properties in the study holding a mortgage, the image of pure “cash sales” seems highly problematic. Instead of falling for a hysteria of a mindless horde consuming residential real estate in Vancouver, this study starts to map the logic, apparatus, and actors of demand and globalization for housing in the City. It’s only from a point of considered metrics and political resolve that the creation and implementation of effective public policy can be done in an era of global housing markets, capital flows, and unaffordable housing.

Through the analysis of the mortgages, there are very distinct channels of capital and credit within the data set. While early scholars like Katharyn Mitchell and David Ley have surmised ideas of a “circuits of transpacific capital” within the Vancouver housing market, the findings of this study suggest that there is considerable empirical credence to their ideas. It is critical to note that more study in terms of expanding the geographic and time scale as well as increasing the numbers of properties to be examined needs to be done before one can generalize this study’s results to a larger population.  This document is a case study and not a total population or sample study of all  ownership patterns in Vancouver residential real estate.

A further point of curiosity was to look at the possible indicators of ethnic patterns within the sales data set and the possibility of identifying the role of global capital particular from migrants from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and global Chinese diaspora via a full name analysis in recent purchases. This study is a case study of this population and may not necessarily reflect patterns of demand and consumption that may be found in nor extended to other housing types and parts of the City or region.

Our full name analysis methodology follows accepted practices in the fields of epidemiology, demography, and political science. This study wanted to see if any distinct patterns occurring when non-Anglicized Chinese names are isolated from the rest of the data set. It is a primary assumption of this study that a non-Anglicized Chinese names may be an indication that an owner may be an recent immigrant to Canada and that an Anglicized Chinese name is an indication of a long time immigrant or non-immigrant and/or multigenerational Canadian of sole or mixed ethnic Chinese ancestry. As a course of experimentation, there may be names missed for new immigrants who have Anglicized Chinese names and long time immigrants or multi-generational Canadian with non-Anglicized Chinese name to may be in the wrong catagory, but, with external reviews, this risk is minimal.

Within this data set, the name patterns were exceptionally and surprisingly distinct as they lacked ambiguous names like “Scott Low” which could be a Chinese or Scottish name or “John Li” which could be Chinese, Vietnamese, or Korean name. These names did not exist within this data set. Non-Anglicized Chinese names in the study were either in a three or two name sequences that our literature survey suggested were Chinese with no ambiguous names. Without direct measures of immigration or citizenship status and property ownership that are publicly available in Canada, this is an indirect measure of how globalization, non-localized wealth, and immigration, particularly from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan or Chinese global diaspora are entering one portion of the real estate market in Vancouver.

At this point, it is important to note the sizable literature around income and economic challenges for new and old immigrant Chinese Canadians as well as locally born and other visible minorities in Canada. With works from Shibao Guo and Don DeVoretz and Krishna Pendekur and Ravi Pendakur, household incomes from local labour markets seem highly unlikely to produce the patterns on a scale that can be explained in the data set. Instead, the results suggest how the combination of global wealth and low-interest rate credit may entering the residential real estate market in a regional environment of near stagnant local incomes.

David Eby, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Vancouver-Point Grey deserves a special thanks for acquiring the data used in this study. Without his help as an MLA to acquire the data, this study would not be possible and highlight the difficulty of attaining accurate, transparent, and accessible data to understand the social and economic dynamics within our communities. Furthermore, with the loss of the mandatory long-form census as well as the difficulty and cost in attaining ownership data from the Province, it is difficult to conduct data oriented research that is insightful and impactful with how our communities are changing and effective public policies needed to change with them. There are some exceptions such as the release of BC Assessment data to accredited academic researchers, in a fast moving world of data analysis culture and evidence based decision making, Canada and British Columbia is moving agonizingly slow.

Finally, the contributions of various external academic and professional reviewers must be recognized. This study would not have been possible without their extremely helpful reviews and critiques on methodology and results. Any errors and omissions are strictly my own, but the insight, experience, and wisdom of the study’s external reviewers were greatly appreciated.

Any opinions expressed in this study are strictly those of the writer and not necessarily those of Bing Thom Architects.


Further Reading

Badarinza, C., & Ramadorai, T. (2015, April 24). Home Away From Home? Foreign Demand and London House Prices. Retrieved 23 2015, August, from

Cityspaces Consulting. (2009). Vancouver Condominium Rental Study. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from

Ley, D. (2011). Millionaire Migrants Trans-Pacific Life Lines. London: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ley, D., & Titchener, J. (2001). Immigration, Globalisation, and House Prices in Canada’s Gateway Cities. Housing Studies , 199-223.

Li, W. & Dymski, G. “Financial Globalization and Cross-Border Co-Movements of Money and Population: Foreign Bank Offices in Los Angeles.” Environment & Planning A 36(2): 213-240

Li, W., Lo, L., & Oberle, A. (2014). The embeddedness of bank branch networks in immigrant gateways. The Canadian Geographer, 48-62.

Li, W., Oberle, A., & Dymski, G. (2007, April). Metropolis British Columbia: Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Diversity. Retrieved from Global Banking and Finance Services to Immigrants in Canada and the United States:

Mitchell, K. (2004). Crossing the Neoliberal Line: Pacific Rim Migration and the Metropolis. Philadelphia : Temple University.

Moos, M., & Skaburskis, A. (2010). The Globalization of Urban Housing Markets: Immigration and Changing Housing Demand in Vancouver. Urban Geography , 724-749.

Surowiecki, J. (2014, May 26). Real Estate Goes Global. New Yorker .

Walks, A., & Clifford, B. (2015). The political economy of mortgage securitization and the neoliberalization of housing policy in Canada. Environment and Planning A , 1-19.

12.Yan, A. (2013, March 21). Foreign Investment in Vancouver’s Real Estate Market. Retrieved August 2015, 23, from BTAworks Foreign Investment in Vancouver Real Estate Slide Presentation at SFU Woodwards:

13.Yan, A. (2009). Ownership, Occupancy, and Rentals: An Indicative Sample Study of Condominiums in Downtown Vancouver. Vancouver: BTAworks.

14.Yu, H. (2009). Global migrants and the New Pacific Canada. International Journal , 1011-1026.


Public Programming October 30, 2015

BTAworks Metro Vancouver Trick or Treater Count 2015 | #TreatCount2015

Treatcount 2015

In partnership with the Vancouver Sun, BTA’s 5rd annual online trick-or treat count is on again tonight. Tell us the nearest intersection to where you live, how many trick-or-treaters you received and what type of candy you gave out.

This year, we are teaming up with the Vancouver Sun and its fledgling data journalist, Tara Carman (@tarajcarman) to present #TreatCount2015 and submit your counts through three ways:

1) The Vancouver Sun website: You can directly submit your count on this Vancouver Sun website.

2) Email: Counters can email us at Email to Treatcount with their closest street intersection, number of trick or treaters, and candy type. For example, if you live near the corner of Main and 37th Ave with 40 Trick or Treaters and handing out lollipops,  you can email the message: “Main and 37th Ave, 40, lollipops”


3) Tweet Us: Counters can tweet us with the hashtag #treatcount2015.  With the above example, a Twitter submission would be: “Main and 37th Ave, 40, lollipops, #treatcount2015″

For those interested in observing the social media role out of #treatcount2015, you can either follow the hashtag or access the Project’s Storify page.

The BTAworks data gremlins will process emails and tweets during first week of November and publish their results on this blog and a story in the Vancouver Sun. We’ll be collecting entries up until 4pm on November 2nd. Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!


A Look Back October 29, 2015

The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts: A View from 1969 Vancouver


As the City of Vancouver passed a motion for the removal of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts on October 27, 2015, this pamphlet shows how they once considered a sign and measure of civic progress. In the 45 years that have passed since the opening of the Viaducts in 1970, the Viaducts were a symbol of what that generation of Vancouverites wanted which seems to be at odds with what the current and future generation of Vancouver needs the City to become. Nevertheless, while the transportation vision from 1969 may have been problematic from the perspective of 2015, one sees the spirit of optimism and advancement between the lines of this document between the development of the Viaduct, the Museum Planetarium complex, various infrastructure improvements and downtown development.

Pacific Centre with a new Eatons store, the Toronto-Dominion Bank Headquarters, underground retail mall, and project would start construction in 1970. With the viaduct were open, the City would then pursue the state of Project 200, a 15 year, $300 million ($1.9 billion) development of Project 200 Office Tower, Canada Square, and a second office tower that “may be entirely used by the Federal Government”.  Also announced in this report: the $25,000,000 ($160 million) first stage of a 50 plus storey Provincial Government offices tower.  After all this new downtown development and infrastructure expansion, “we will shortly have a downtown of which all the citizens of Vancouver can be very proud”.


Attached to this progress report is also a budget for the City of Vancouver.  In 1968, the City of Vancouver spend $101 million ($628 million in 2015 dollars) for operating and maintaining the City. By 2015, the annual City of Vancouver budget would be $1.2 billion in expenditures.

Data Desk, Media, Observations, Research Papers October 14, 2015

A Window into the Floors and Ceilings of Riding Population Densities in Canadian Federal Elections


by Michael Heeney and Andrew Yan

A special thanks to Frances Bula for her article on the study in the Globe and Mail.

With the looming federal elections on October 19, 2015 , BTAworks wanted to look at the population densities of ridings and their voting patterns. With data from Elections Canada and Statistics Canada, we examined the population densities of every riding in Canada and the party that they voted for and see if there might be any patterns between the riding density and party preference. While we focused on the 2011 elections, we also studied the patterns of the 2006 and 2008 elections. Given the vastness and geographic diversity of Canada, these riding population densities ranged from the riding of Nunavut at 0.01 people per hectacre at its lowest to 112 people per hectacre in the riding of Papineau in Montreal at its densest. To visualize what a hectacre is, it is about the size of the field within a 400 metre running track. It’s important to note that as a result of the 2012 federal electoral redistribution, the number of electoral districts was increased to 338 from 308 for these previous elections, with additional seats based on population assigned to Alberta (6), British Columbia (6), Ontario (15), and Quebec (3). Nevertheless, the question would be how riding population density might be an indicator or even motivator of party choice.

The above chart is what happens when you take every seat won by party organized by riding population density from the 2006, 2008, and 2011 federal elections. The Conservative seats were all from ridings of less than 50 people per hectacre, the Liberals were between 0.0001 to 112 people per hectacre, the New Democrat Party were between 0.0001 to 101 people per hectacre, the Bloc seats were between 0.003 to 113 people per hectacre, the Greens at 2.3 people per hectacre, and Independents held ridings that were between 0.09 to 0.13 people per hectacre. The slide below illustrates the average and the median population density per hectacre by party. Not surprisingly, there are very different patterns depending on what party one is examining over three elections.


As perhaps, a possible predictor of who might or might not win and where, here is the party riding by riding population densities for 2011. It is perhaps the subject of further, much deeper study to look at the specific reasons why these patterns occur.


Some final notes:

A special thanks to Mark Heeney, the BTAworks Summer Intern extraordinaire for helping processing the elections and demographic data. And finally regardless of what riding and riding population density, please remember to vote on October 19, 2015 and click here for more information.


A Look Back, Data Desk, Media, Research Papers October 6, 2015

A “Tree Rings” View of Residential Properties by Year Built in Metro Vancouver


A special thanks to the ever erudite John Mackie for his article on the chart in the Vancouver Sun.

In the ongoing exploration of property data in Metro Vancouver from BC Assessment, BTAworks looked at the age of residential properties and charted their type and year built.  With 2015 BC Assessment roll data provided by an academic license via the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, the chart provides a kind of dendrochronology of all residential properties in Metropolitan Vancouver. The chart captures the time frame of the 1900 to 2014 and is a point-in-time capture of all the residential properties in Metro Vancouver. The ebbs and flow of economics, real estate development and history as well as some building booms and busts throughout the 20th century are be observed.  The First and Second World War as well as the Great Depression have left a mark on Vancouver’s built form.  This chart does not capture every building that was ever built in Metro Vancouver, but the surviving stock of residential properties in the region as of 2014.  In an ever changing region, residential properties have been demolished, replaced, and newly built throughout the 120 year time line. It is not an absolute listing of every residential building ever built, but a view into our existing residential property stock.


It can be argued that Metro Vancouver area is a product of the late 20th century as 80 percent of its residential properties were built after 1971. While the City of Vancouver and the City of New Westminster do have a stock of residential buildings that date back to the late 19th and early 20th Century, the overwhelming mass of residential buildings in the region are from the late 20th century. The early 1980s and the late 1990s seems to be corrective slowdown moments to make the end of large periods of residential property construction.  The impact of pubic policy on residential property can be observed acutely as condominiums were only created with the passing of the Strata Act of 1972 and of which took several years before they were constructed in mass.  For a comprehensive history of the Strata Act and its impact on the housing markets in the City of Vancouver, please click here. Interestingly, peak single family housing construction seems to have occurred in 1989 with 10,560 units and the strata residential (condos) at 17,259 in 2008.

There are some technical notes about the data and use of this chart:

  • This chart covers residential properties in Vancouver and NOT buildings. Strata residential also known as condos are registered as individual units that are counted in this chart, but not necessarily individual buildings.  For example, 250 units built in 1996 that can be a single building, but registered as separate 250 properties in 1996.
  • While data is from the 2015 BC Assessment Rolls, it ends at the year 2014 as Assessments are made every July to July and the Year published for each assessment is made as of July of the previous year.  For example, the 2015 Assessment is actually done in July 2014.
  • The base variable used for these charts are the “Year Built” variable within the Assessment Rolls. If a property had major renovations, but original building still stands, then the year built variable remains, but the year of the major renovations are noted as its “effective year”.
  • The core BC Assessment database has been edited for erroneous entries and matches and properties with values of less than $100,000 were excluded from the chart. Moreover, we suspect that the year built of many residential properties built prior to 1920s may not have been comprehensively documented in the current database.
  • Finally, one should not be directly comparing the data in this chart to data from Statistics Canada or the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation as each agency follows a different methodology towards tabulating and processing counts of housing.



Data Desk, Media, Research Papers September 15, 2015

The 2015 $1 million Line for Single Family Residential Properties in Metro Vancouver




Building upon the previous BTAworks $1 million line maps for the City of Vancouver, this map series expands the map area to cover the $1 million line for single family homes in Metro Vancouver for the 2014 and 2015 BC Assessments. With statistics and spatial data sets attained from BC Assessment, the Integrated Cadastral Information Society, and Metro Vancouver, the data was attained on an academic license through the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning where Andy Yan is also an adjunct professor. A special thanks to Tsur Somerville and his team for assembling the BC Assessment datasets!

Please note that, through data cleaning and editing on an expanded regional Geographic Information Systems spatial data and tabular Assessment dataset, calculations within these maps will slightly differ from previous BTAworks analyses on the City of Vancouver. Instead of using categories for Single Family Residences as defined by the City of Vancouver’s RS zoning, this map series uses BC Assessment’s “Actual Use Category Name” category of “S/F Res” which in addition to “Single Family Dwellings” which does include single unit owned “Duplexes”. Hence with a greater population as a denominator, assessment statistics in this analysis for the City of Vancouver will be generally smaller than previous entries.

The total assessment value which is the aggregate of land and structure values from the 2015 BC Assessment is used to categorize S/F Res properties as either above or under $1 million. While known as the 2015 Assessment, these values reflect a valuation made in July 2014. Note that Total Assessment Values for S/F Res properties worth a total of less than $100,000 were excluded in the map and value calculations. Certain calculations will differ between graphs due to rounding.

A special extension of this map series is the inclusion of estimated lifetime transportation costs to the total assessment values. Derived from the recently published (and magnificent) Metro Vancouver Housing and Transportation Cost Burden Study, these maps illustrate how housing values shift once transportation costs are accounted for. In an “H” (Housing) + “T” (Transportation) approach, it looks of connects housing affordability with transportation costs. Transportation costs are often excluded from housing costs of which provides a skewed impression on the actual costs of household maintenance. What initially seems like affordable single family residential housing away from the urban core and in a car dependent suburban location can be deceptive as it excludes the total costs of transportation of living in such communities.

The average annual 2011 transportation costs faced by working households who are owners with mortgages by municipalities was multiplied by 25 and 30 to reflect the possible lifetime costs of transportation for households in these municipalities and added to the total values of each properties in each municipality. Admittedly, this is a blunt means of transportation cost calculations, but, with further refinement, it is expected to better reflect the real total costs of living away from the town centers of the region and, in most cases, being car dependent. Future refinements such as using Net Present Value for lifetime transportation costs will likely further add more pressures of transportation costs onto housing values.  Note that the transportation data for Anmore, Belcarra, Lions Bay, Bowen Island, and Tsawwassen First Nation were not shown due to data reliability considerations.





Some key observations are:

  • 28 percent (111,659) of all Single Family Residences in Metro Vancouver had a total assessment of more than $1,000,000 in 2014
  • With the composition of Single Family Residences for each municipality, 100 percent of the Single Family Residences in the University Endowment Lands are valued at over $1 million followed the District of West Vancouver (95 percent), the City of Vancouver (62%), the Village of Belcarra (60%), the Village of Anmore (60%), and District of North Vancouver (50%).
  • From 2014 to 2015, the number of $1 million Single Family Residences in Metro Vancouver increased by 23 percent from 91,000 properties in 2014 to 111,659 properties in 2015.
  • The five largest percentage increases in the number of $1 million and above homes were found in the District of Maple Ridge (96% – 54 in 2014 to 106 in 2015), City of Port Moody (81% – 320 to 578), City of Port Coquitlam (79% – 43 to 73), the City of New Westminster (64% – 308 to 504), and the City of North Vancouver (52% – 1,221 to 1,858) Note that the City of Langley at 150% had the highest percentage growth in $1 million properties, but the growth comes from a small base of 2 in 2014 to 5 in 2015.
  • When transportation costs are accounted for over a 25 and 30 year basis, the number of single family properties worth over $1 million for various municipalities suddenly change.
  • For municipalities in the Township of Langley, the number of $1 million dollar homes increase 25 times from 3 percent to 75 percent, City of Port Coquitlam increases from 1 percent to 35 percent, and now more than a third to over a half of single family homes are now valued over $1 million.
  • When the H+T formula is applied to the cities of Vancouver, Richmond, and North Vancouver, the $1 million nearly disappears as all single family residences are worth over $1 million for the entire municipality.

Data Desk, Observations, Research Papers July 3, 2015

Demographic Correlations and the Metro Vancouver Transit Plebiscite: What the Results Say About Us


Image Source: Vancouver Observer

Andy Yan with Mark Heeney

In the aftermath of the results of the Metro Vancouver transit plebiscite, BTAworks wanted to see what kinds of demographic characteristics were the most correlated to “No” and “Yes” votes for a municipality. We looked at a number of variables such as percent of workers who were reliant on transit, median household income, type of housing as a percentage of city housing stock, residential tax rates, percentages of renters and owners, education levels, and the number of registered cars per 1,000 residents and how each might or might not be correlated with the percentage of “No” or “Yes” votes for each City in Metro Vancouver.

Using citywide data from the 2011 Census and National Household Survey from Statistics Canada and the results of the transit referendum from Elections BC, we performed a basic linear correlation table for the percentage of “Yes” and “No” votes with each demographic characteristic. A special credit to Metro Vancouver for its very rich data site on the region and its member municipalities.

Correlation coefficients of above .7 are considered strong correlations, .5 to .7 are considered moderate correlations, .3 to .5 are a low correlation, and 0 to .3 being negligible (essentially irrelevant) correlations while correlations with a minus sign indicate a negative relationship between variables (eg. the more of x, the less of y). A reference guide on correlation coefficients can be found here. Moreover, the classic statistician disclaimer of “correlation is not causation” still stands. This is also tempered with the caveat that given the small size of dataset (22 municipalities) that is currently available, observations may change such as if the data points and voter turnout increases from citywide characteristics to census tract levels of observations.

Education was the variable that was strongly correlated in our study to the “Yes” or “No” vote in the referendum. The higher a city had in terms of a percentage of population with only a high school education (0.746), the higher the percentage in most cases of a No vote. Conversely, the cities that had a greater population (in percentage terms) with university education (-0.732), the higher the percentage “Yes” votes.

The moderate correlations with a “No” vote were percentages of residential ownership and residential tax rates. Municipalities with high percentages of home ownership (0.608) and high residential property taxation (0.507) had a correlation to a high percentage of No votes.

For low correlations for a “Yes” vote, municipalities with high percentages of apartments (5 stories or higher) (-0.420) as part of their housing stock and a workforce reliant on transit (-0.307), they saw higher rates of a “Yes” vote.

Interestingly, median household income (0.0518), density (-0.106), percent of population renting (-0.148), registered cars per 1000 residents (0.192), voter turnout (0.093) were unimportant, with a negligible correlation for either a “Yes” or a “No” vote.

PowerPoint Presentation








Data Desk, Observations, Research Papers March 23, 2015

#GenerationTransit – Workers Reliant on Transit by Generation


In our continuing explorations of workers who are reliant on Transit, we look at transit usage by Generation. As with our previous Journey to Work examinations, the Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey Public Use Microdata File serves the primary data source for this brief. In this case, we decided to look at the transit reliant for workers by generations – Millennial (15-30) , Generation X (30-45), and Baby Boomers (45-60).  These generational categories are a bit arbitrary as specific generation definitions can vary from source to source, but we wanted to keep the analysis to 15 year every increments as per their availability on the National Household Survey. This is a survey of workers aged 15 years and older who listed “Public Transit” as their primary means of traveling to work in 2011.

Key results were:


  • About 20 percent of all workers in Metro Vancouver listed transit as their major mode of transportation to work.
    • Out of all transit reliant workers, Millennials (39%) are the most transit reliant followed by Generation X’ers (32%), and Baby Boomers (27%).
  • Transit Reliance by Workers varied significantly within each Generation:
    • Almost 1 in 3 millennial workers in Metro Vancouver rely on Transit to get to work.
    • 1 in 5 Generation X’ers rely on Transit to get to work.
    • 1 in 10 Baby Boomers rely on Transit to get to work

The results were unexpected as generational lines seemed to be very strong. There is, of course, the possibility that the age ranges were too arbitrarily drawn.  Moreover, transit usage may be a stage and related to the age of worker. We’ll explore this question by examining earlier datasets from the 1996 Census; however, given the significantly different methodologies between the Census and National Household Survey, we will proceed with caution as such as comparison has been called “risky” by some.  Nevertheless, some transportation planners and researchers have suggested that Millennial usage of transit represents a distinct and possible permanent trends for that generation in the United States and Canada. Indeed, many professional and journalist articles have focused on this change particularly on Millennials. With the impending transit plebiscite in Metro Vancouver, it is curious to see how these patterns and trends may affect voting by generation in the region.

Data Desk, Research Papers March 20, 2015

The #Hipsterhomelands of #Vancouver


Populations ebb and flow through the life of a City and the City of Vancouver is no exception. . This map as well as an article in the March 20, 2015 edition of the “Globe and Mail” by intrepid reporter Kerry Gold marks the changing settlement patterns of 25-39 year olds in the City. This age range (cohort in demographer speak) is particularly interesting as it is the time that typically completes its formal education, buys or rents its first home, starts households, and begins its families with children. From Hipsters growing into the ranks of the “Procreative Class”, this age range captures important demographic for a City.

Taken from Statistics Canada’s 2011 Census and mapped along dissemination areas (the smallest publicly available geographic unit of information in the census), we looked at where this population was settling and where it was leaving. Surprisingly or not, this population is leaving the neighbourhoods of multi-million dollar single family homes in the Southwest (the area south of Broadway and west of Main Street) in favour of neighborhoods centred around the downtown core and Mount Pleasant areas with enclaves on the Eastside of the City. While the number of 25-39 year olds in the City of Vancouver were stable between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses, this Southwest section of Vancouver saw a 17% decline for age group. These settlement decisions reflect the residential choices and tastes of a particular population, but also the forces of housing affordability, economy, and community in the City and Region of Vancouver.

We’re working on a regional version.

Data Desk, Observations March 18, 2015

A Step Back and One Vote to Go Forward: Numbers and Design for Transit in Metro Vancouver


Image Source: City of Surrey

By Michael Heeney and Andy Yan

The debate on the upcoming transit plebiscite has become a referendum on the management and performance of Translink and the extent to which a sales tax is the most appropriate means to fund transit infrastructure. The organization is not perfect and there is a temptation to use our vote as a protest; it’s worth stepping back and considering what’s at stake.

Using data from a customized query of the 2011 National Household Survey Public Use Microdata, we want to see who takes transit in the region.  In particular and because of data limitations, we focused on workers above the age of 15 in Metro Vancouver who responded with public transportation as the primary means of getting to work. To provide a context, we also looked at similar transit usage patterns for workers in the major American cities that are along the Pacific Coast from the 2011 American Community Survey.  The following are our some of findings

Metro Vancouver faces a generational turning point in how it develops. The expansion of an effective transit system is critical to its continued economic and environmental success as many cities in the region grow and densify. Metro has experienced tremendous growth over the past 30 years and now represents over 50% of BC’s population with 50% of its GDP on a patch that is 0.03% of province’s land mass. With so much on so little, how we get around on our daily commutes between work and home is even more critical than ever before.

One in five, or 20% of all Metro Vancouver workers take public transit to work and is well above the Canadian average of 13%. This is light years ahead of every metropolitan region on the Pacific Coast from Seattle (8%) to Portland (7%) to San Francisco (15%) to Los Angeles (6%) to San Diego (3%). Calgary, by the way, is 16%. If we were to slip to Calgary levels, Metro Vancouver would need to accommodate another 117,000 drivers on the road – imagine the new roads and bridges we would need for that!

Who is reliant on transit is just as important as how many. Over 210,000 Metro Vancouverites have decided to take transit to work instead of driving. This is slight smaller than the entire population of Burnaby (223,000) in 2012 that moves daily by transit to work everyday. Divided by gender, the majority (60%) of workers who take transit to work are women. Divided by age, 60% of these workers are under the age of 40. While a third are either in the retail trade or business services, overall transit riders are spread through every facet of our economy.

An effective transit network is critically important for connecting low income workers to their jobs and about 54% of transit reliant workers have total incomes of less than $30,000 a year. Slightly over 25% of these workers make over $50,000. A robust public transportation system that connects the region is one of the most important economic and social development tools we have.  For all workers, an efficient and robust public transportation system connects workers to their workplaces for those who choose to not to drive and those who cannot afford to drive.

As a region, we have done the right thing by offer workers viable alternatives to the car and need to continue to building this infrastructure to the new communities around Metro Vancouver. What is often missed is how big the Tranlink service area is intrusted to serve — the Translink service area is bigger than the systems found in Chicago, Montreal, and Toronto. While transit in the region is not perfect, Rush Reports reminded twice a day for five days a week on the television and radio about the inadequacies of a car dependent region.


The Metro Vancouver region is more interdependent than ever before. For example, more workers who live in Surrey now go to jobs within Surrey than commute between Surrey and Vancouver. The municipalities surrounding Vancouver have the most to lose in a “No” vote where they’ve seen tremendous amounts of growth in a very short amount of time – growth that is straining the aging transportation infrastructure and in places where there is no alternative but a car today.

From an architectural perspective, a well-thought transit system is the foundation of a sustainable city. Over 10 years ago a decision was made to locate a new university campus adjacent to a transit exchange in suburban Surrey. Students are significant users of transit with low incomes and very limited choices to drive. Today at SFU Surrey over 80 percent of students take transit to campus and Surrey City Centre is emerging to becoming the next great downtown in the region. A “Yes” vote continues a momentum in municipalities outside Vancouver like Surrey, Port Coquitlam, and North Vancouver for the next generation of their residents.

Contemporary architecture and planning use transit as the base of creating wonderful communities that are economically, socially, and ecologically sustainable. However, in order to continue to do this effectively there needs to be more certainty in how, when and where transit is developed — a ‘Yes’ vote in this plebiscite begins to establish this certainty. A protest “No” vote will not ensure that Translink is more accountable, user responsive, and transparent. For this to occur, we need to look to the municipal and provincial elections and those we elect.

Michael Heeney is a principal with Bing Thom Architects and Andy Yan, a planner with BTA, is also an adjunct professor at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia.

Note: A version of this Opinion piece was published in the paper and electronic March 17, 2015 editions of the Province newspaper. To see the piece, click this link.