Paul Liberatore

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In Vancouver, young people are fleeing the lush west side

 There was a time when the lush west side of Vancouver was the city’s most desirable place to live. For anyone under 40, those days are over.

The city has undergone a radical shift, with the vast majority of young people moving away from Point Grey, Dunbar, Kerrisdale, South Granville and other west side neighbourhoods. They’ve migrated to the more exciting urban centres, and not just for reasons of affordability. It might have been the initial reason, but now the younger cohort is choosing the east side for its livability and charm.

In those neighbourhoods, professionals, artists, designers, students and young families are revitalizing neighbourhoods. The cultural centre of the city has shifted.

“The numbers indicate that there are people clearing out of the southwest sector of the city,” says Andy Yan, adjunct professor of planning at University of B.C. “You could call this the great reshuffling into hipster homelands.”

His numbers show that the area south of Broadway and west of Main Street to UBC saw a 15 per cent decline in 25 to 39 year olds. Metro Vancouver grew by 16 per cent. But that was data from 2001 to 2011. In the past five years, the number of properties that are valued at over $5-million has tripled. That would mean an even further drop in the number of young people shifting from west to east.


Real estate agent Keith Roy, 33, is catering to the east side client who would have once chosen to live on the west side. But the west side, he says, has lost its cool.

“These buyers are accountants, lawyers, engineers, doctors, tech people and management consultants, and they are double income. So you get two people making six figures,” he says. “But they don’t want to be on the west side any more. They want to be between Fraser and Cambie, they want Main Street, and if they can afford it, they want Douglas Park. And they’re going further east.

“I don’t get clients who say, ‘I wish I could live on the west side.’ They’re not interested in the west side. It doesn’t have the cachet for this type of buyer.”



Samuel Baron, 29, lifts the murphy bed out of the way in his micro-loft at the renovated Burns Block on West Hastings Street. DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Samuel Baron, 29, is typical of Vancouver’s young demographic. He’s urban – as in, not interested in driving anywhere. That means he wants his job, his entertainment and his shopping within walking distance. Gastown suits those needs. Mr. Baron, who holds a Master’s in Urban Planning, works at Emily Carr University. He can’t yet afford a down payment on a condo, so for the past two years he’s happily lived in a 240-square-foot microsuite in Burns Block. He pays $1,000 a month, which includes WiFi.

“The only way this living situation works is the fact that it’s dense, and I can reach urban amenities on foot. I have absolutely no desire to get into my car to get groceries,” Mr. Baron says. “I don’t see the appeal of that living arrangement. I honestly just stop to get groceries on my way home. I stop every second or third day.”

He cycles around the seawall, and he spends time in Mount Pleasant. Occasionally, he’ll venture to the west side for baseball or a bike ride along Point Grey Road.

He came from Edmonton and was initially surprised at Vancouver’s urbanity.

“When I moved here, I was surprised to see more families in apartments. I think we’ll see more of that.”

In a city where everybody obsesses over land values, a key component of quality life gets lost in the mix. Investors aside, most people want community and livability as much as they want their home to have high resale value. For some, community trumps all.

Keri Guelke grew up in Point Grey but she says she wouldn’t want to live there again – even if the houses became magically affordable. Her father still lives in Point Grey, but he is thinking of moving into her large, comfortable east side house near Commercial Drive. She says the west side can’t compare to the east side when it comes to livability.

“I wouldn’t live on the west side because I’ve never experienced such great community since I moved to the east side,” she says. “I know all my neighbours, and we look out for each other. When my twin boys were born, I got dinners delivered to my house for three months straight, from neighbours and friends.

“People don’t seem to know their neighbours [on the west side] anymore.”

Tina Oliver is a real estate agent who used to work at city hall for former mayor Philip Owen. She grew up on the west side and now lives north of Fourth Avenue near Waterloo in a big Arts and Crafts house. Her kids, however, prefer the east side, and not just because of affordability, she says.

“Main Street is the new Dunbar. That’s where all the young babies and strollers are, and the charm,” Ms. Oliver says.

A big part of the problem is that the west side has lost a lot of its character because of relentless demolitions, fuelled by a demand for bigger houses. The insatiable appetite of the global real estate market has had a significant impact. Since 2005, nearly 9,000 demo permits for residential buildings have been issued in Vancouver. An average of three houses a day are torn down, and the majority are west side character houses around Dunbar-Southlands.

In response, the city issued a late-in-the-day temporary demolition moratorium on First Shaughnessy character houses. All other houses built pre-1940 are supposed to be recycled up to 90 per cent. They are also looking into upgrading the extremely outdated heritage registry, which was always far from comprehensive.

“The Heritage Action Plan is a good thing, but it’s too little, too late,” Ms. Oliver says. “The west side is destroyed.”

Mr. Yan wonders what the future looks like for west side neighbourhoods, if they continue to lose their young demographic. And there’s no reason to think they won’t.

“It’s a really interesting population dynamic,” he says. “It’s basically how certain neighbourhoods are losing their diversity, while others are gaining. You want diversity, and along with that, you want community.

“We have to wonder what the west side will look like as it loses this aspect.”


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