Struggling with problems from unaffordable housing to the opioid crisis, British Columbia’s largest city still has much to recommend it
Vancouver is a city of contrasts: cradled by mountains and ocean, but engaged in a frenzy of building; cosmopolitan and progressive, yet still finding its place in the world; home to hordes of real estate millionaires but also to what is probably Canada’s poorest neighbourhood. Some see it as a glorified resort town for foreign moneybags; others, as a high-tech hotbed that could one day rival Seattle or San Francisco.
The truth falls somewhere in the middle. For all its faults—mind-boggling housing costs, intractable homelessness, a devastating opioid crisis and a willingness to demolish its history, to name a few—B.C.’s biggest city remains a desirable place to live and work. It finished third in the latest Economist Intelligence Unit ranking of the most livable cities, and HR consulting firm Mercer recently named it No. 5 in a similar survey.
When the sun is shining, it’s easy to see why. Downtown glitters with glass office and condo towers. The entire peninsula is walkable: just follow the seawall to Stanley Park. You can eat well at restaurants serving dozens of cuisines, often for relatively little. Residents temper their mania for physical fitness with a craft beer on a patio, and though this is no Manhattan, nightclubs and bars stay open later than they once did.
The metropolitan region drew a record 10.3 million visitors last year, according to Tourism Vancouver. The city at its heart does much more than welcome cruise ship passengers: home to a burgeoning technology sector underpinned by the likes of Microsoft Canada Inc. and local success Hootsuite, it’s also a mining, forestry, real estate development and financial hub. With North America’s third-largest port, it makes the most of its strong ties to Asia, where the global economy’s centre of gravity is shifting.
From trendy Yaletown to hipster Main Street to beachside Kitsilano, Vancouver is a series of villages, each with its own character. Outside downtown, neighbourhoods tend to be leafy, even if redevelopment has thinned the tree canopy, and many have their own park and community centre.
The catch: who can afford to live here? Vancouver’s biggest problem is providing homes for working people. Among nearly 300 metropolitan areas worldwide, it’s the third least affordable relative to local income, according to the most recent annual survey by research and consulting outfit Demographia. Meanwhile, the downtown office vacancy rate is the second-lowest in North America, reports real estate services firm CBRE Group Inc. All of these challenges threaten the city’s prosperity. Still, don’t bet against Vancouver, whose appeal will only grow in these uncertain times.
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 44.8%, 35.2%, 20%
University grads: 41%
Average household income: $95,583
Average household income under 45: $86,180
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 13.7%
Five-year population growth: 6%
Benchmark detached home price: $1,560,400 (East Side); $3,500,600 (West Side)
Benchmark condominium price: $565,300 (East Side); $835,800 (West Side)
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,860
Average annual household spending on shelter: $23,550
Key industries: Hospitality and tourism; science and technology; retail; film and television; telecommunications; health care; construction; shipping; forestry; mining; finance
Notable employers: BC Hydro and Power Authority; Canfor Corp.; Concord Pacific Developments Inc.; Finning International Ltd.; FortisBC Energy Inc.; Goldcorp Inc.; Hootsuite; Jim Pattison Group; Lululemon Athletica Inc.; Microsoft Canada Inc.; Teck Resources Ltd.; Telus Corp.; West Fraser Timber Co.
Regional unemployment: 4% (February)
Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $3,089,429,925
Change from 2016: 13.6%
Average processing time for a building permit: Varies by scope of project
Cost of a business licence: Typically less than $170
Business property tax rate: $12.44 per $1,000 of assessed value (2017)
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $30.52
Average retail lease rate: $15-$140
QUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: Emily Carr University of Art and Design; Langara College; Simon Fraser University (SFU); University of British Columbia (UBC); Vancouver Community College; Vancouver Film School
Major recreational amenities: BC Place stadium; Rogers Arena; 240 parks; 24 community centres; eight skating rinks; nine indoor pools; five outdoor pools; three public golf courses
Key annual events: Vancouver International Wine Festival; Vancouver International Children’s Festival; Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival; Vancouver International Jazz Festival; Vancouver Folk Music Festival; Honda Celebration of Light; Pacific National Exhibition; Vancouver International Film Festival; Vancouver Writers Festival
Average annual household spending on recreation: $4,559
Residents who walk or bike to work: 9.4%