Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Maple Ridge planners need to study US demographics and changing urban trends

Certain news stories and commentary this week in the US and Canada discuss the implications for the property markets in North America as the first wave of the aging boomer generation sidles up to the grave.

There are signs that the US is coming off the frenzied highs of this recent property bonanza and that more quiet times lie ahead for both private and corporate speculators and a wide array of boom-beneficiaries such as builders, contractors and building material suppliers, all who have enjoyed several years of unprecedented cash flow. And let us not forget the various levels of government who have benefited from the increasing tax base that filled the coffers over the same period.

One view is that the boomers, faced now as it were with empty nesting, will opt for smaller living spaces. The boomer inventory of single residence, three garage mamoths that served them so well throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s into the early days of this century, will go back on the market causing a slowdown in the urban spillage we have grown so accustomed to.
In an article in the Vancouver Sun, Wednesday July 5, 2006 Patrick Condon, the James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at the University of British Columbia notes that: " If one million housing units were all built at typical single-family detached densities of about 10 dwelling units per hectare, it would consume 1,000 square kilometers of land, an area roughly equal to the size of the region (the Fraser Valley)." It is not surprising to learn that it was Patrick Condon who was a key player in the SmartGrowth on the ground initiative which had as its first urban client the District Of Maple Ridge. Less surprising then to learn that Maple Ridge is currently pursuing every means possible to ensure that future development is focused on the high-density variety which oddly plays directly into the trend of boomers selling off the nest in favour of its replacement - the easily lived in condominium or apartment.
Long viewed by many as a typical mid-sized town in the Fraser valley, a town that would in all probability add up to nothing more than another square in vinyl quilt of the lower mainland's disastrous urban sprawl, it seems that salvation, in the form of a balding, widening, graying and sagging generation of peacenicks, may be close at hand. For Maple Ridge the timing may be perfect.
There will be less demand for the typical sprawler and an increasing demand for the 800 to 1200 sq. Ft. condominium, even here in Maple Ridge. In all probability the curse of the environmentalists in the shape of young families will be lifted.
New young families will simply move in to replace the boomers as they move to high density spaces in the downtown centres. And with the pressures of increasing prices on big city condos it may very likely come to pass that they will opt for the somewhat cheaper versions of this market segment as it may be found in Maple Ridge.