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Density map shows where Vancouver’s people live — and where they don’t

Least dense neighbourhoods take up a third of Vancouver’s land, but house just 9% of residents

A map of Vancouver neighbourhoods by density (occupied private dwellings per hectare) based on Census 2016 population and dwelling data. Industrial land around Vancouver’s port and False Creek Flats appears as low density, but few people live there. Very dense spots in otherwise low-density areas correspond to recent condo developments.

Andy Yan, Simon Fraser University

A map of Vancouver neighbourhoods by density (occupied private dwellings per hectare) based on Census 2016 population and dwelling data. Industrial land around Vancouver’s port and False Creek Flats appears as low density, but few people live there. Very dense spots in otherwise low-density areas correspond to recent condo developments.

Vancouver’s least dense neighbourhoods occupy a third of the city’s land — but house just nine per cent of residents.

That’s an inequity the city is going to have to address, but it’s not going to be easy, said Vancouver urban planner Andy Yan, who recently mapped density levels across the city using data from Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census.

The least dense areas correspond to areas on the southwest side of the city the census shows lost hundreds of people between 2011 and 2016, and where property values for single family homes went through the roof between 2015 and 2016. Homes in the neighbourhoods are regularly listed between $2 million and $5 million.

Dwelling unit density as a proportion of Vancouver's land mass

Andy Yan, Simon Fraser University

Dwelling unit density as a proportion of Vancouver's land mass

“It’s Humvee of housing,” Yan said, referring to large single-family homes. “The Humvee was brought in as a symbol of status. Now it’s a symbol of scorn, and how does society adjust itself towards realizing that?”

The census data has led to renewed calls to allow denser forms of building in the single-family neighbourhoods. A “teardown” analysis by Jens von Bergmann, a Vancouver-based data analyst, and Joseph Dahmen, a professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia, calculated the number of houses in Vancouver that are at risk of being torn down because the land they sit on is worth so much more than the structure.

What percentage of people live in each level of density, and what percentage of land mass do those types of density occupy

Andy Yan, Simon Fraser University

What percentage of people live in each level of density, and what percentage of land mass do those types of density occupy

They found that if the trend of inflated land values compared to the falling value of structures continues, 25 per cent of houses in Vancouver are at risk of being town down between now and 2030, with many of the houses on the most expensive lots being replaced by a single large home.

The call to allow more density in single-family neighbourhoods has been growing from both academics and citizen groups. To von Bergmann and Dahmen, the solution to avoid the wasteful “teardown cycle” is to allow denser buildings, like four-plexes or townhouses, on single-family lots.

But Yan thinks that calls to rezone family neighbourhoods are overly simplistic and don’t take into account transportation planning, community amenities and urban design. It could also lead to rampant speculation and displacement of the elderly, he warned. 

Yan pointed out that density levels also vary widely across single-family neighbourhoods, likely the result of those property owners adding more secondary suites and laneway homes.

“There is some good news in this data — there is still a middle here,” Yan said. “It’s probably not enough.”

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