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University Endowment Lands
Expensive land that can only be used for houses on very large lots
Danny Oleksiuk and Peter Waldkirch of Abundant Housing Vancouver led a walking tour of the University Endowment Lands on Sunday. It’s eye-opening to see how we reserve so much scarce and expensive land for single-detached houses: outside Area D, the lots cannot be subdivided.
Using scarce resources more efficiently
The picture I always have in mind looks like this (from Alain Bertaud’s Order Without Design). You have more people who want to live close to work (or school), so land prices are highest there. Allowing higher-density housing, like apartment buildings, means that people can economize on expensive land.
Over time, the way we get richer as a society (“productivity improvement”) is that we find ways to make more effective use of scarce labour. To take a concrete example, ICBC now allows you to renew your auto insurance online, instead of having to visit an office. It’s expensive to maintain a dense network of auto insurance offices, where you don’t even need to make an appointment because someone’s almost always available. You need to pay people to work in these offices instead of doing something else.
In Vancouver, the single biggest source of inefficiency is the way we use land. Height restrictions, floor space restrictions, minimum lot sizes, and mandatory setbacks all result in housing in Vancouver having to consume a lot more scarce land. Thus housing is much more scarce and expensive than it has to be, making us all poorer; if we can use it more efficiently, we’ll be much better off.
Walking around the University Endowment Lands reminds me of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). It’s set in a post-apocalyptic desert world where water is extremely scarce, but there’s a scene where the warlord opens up the pipes and suddenly there’s water spilling all over the ground. Why?!
Photos from the tour
Danny led our group. Apartments are only allowed in Area D.
The UEL is basically land that wasn’t included in the City of Vancouver, and that’s not under the jurisdiction of UBC (which has been building a lot of housing). It’s administered directly by the province.
Lelem Village, a new Musqueam-led development, still in Area D.
Across University Boulevard, in Area A. These lots can’t be subdivided. This looks completely suburban, even though it’s down the street from UBC.
In Area A
A house for sale. The lot is 12,000 square feet. The floor space limit in this area is 0.27 (about 3,000 square feet). $10 million.
Boundary between UEL (on the left) and UBC (on the right). UBC is free to build as much housing as it wants, and it’s been doing so.
A house on a 50,000 square foot lot.
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