Rotberg, Howard. Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada's Lotus Land.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 19 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada's Lotus Land (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Rotberg, Howard|
Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada's Lotus Land.
Brantford, Vancouver: Canadian Values Press, 2008.
Exploring Vancouverism represents Howard Rotberg's attempt to understand what he sees as the prevailing ideology and values of Vancouverites. Using Alfred Tennyson's poem "The Lotus Eaters" as a metaphor for Vancouver's culture, Rotberg portrays Vancouver as a city of greed, narcissism, and consumerism whose inhabitants exhibit an inauthentic progressivism that ignores issues of morality and social justice. In his view, Vancouverites lack "traditional Canadian values" such as "fairness and modesty" and are instead obsessed with protecting and promoting Vancouver's image as a "global city." To promote this image, he argues that decision-makers in Vancouver spend millions of dollars bringing the Winter Olympic games to the city and planting trees in parks, money that, in his opinion, should be spent instead on affordable housing for young people and the working classes.
Rotberg presents affordable housing as an issue of social justice, and identifies multiple aspects of Vancouver policy and culture (legal or otherwise) that he believes are responsible for unnecessarily high housing costs. Two particular policies will be of interest to those involved in urban planning and policy, namely Vancouver's "developer pays" approach to financing new development, and the so-called "EcoDensity Charter" that is intended to promote environmental sustainability.
The "developer pays" approach to financing new development requires developers to pay for costs associated with providing certain types of amenities in conjunction with new development, such as parks and other facilities. Rotberg (himself a developer of affordable housing projects) argues that these costs are ultimately not paid by the developer, but are instead passed on to buyers of new residential units in the form of higher selling prices, thus making housing more expensive for newcomers. He believes that the cost of new development should be borne instead by existing (wealthy) Vancouver homeowners in the form of higher property taxes, thus helping to reduce the selling price of new homes.
Vancouver's "EcoDensity Charter" purports to incorporate environmental sustainability into all city planning decisions, and calls for increased development densities to further various sustainable development goals. In Rotberg's view, however, the EcoDensity Charter overlooks the difficulties young people face in entering the housing market. He contends that increased residential densities are insufficient to keep housing prices in check, noting that housing prices have continued to rise in recent years despite increased densities. He concludes that words such as "sustainability," "livability," and "affordability" are meaningless when used by Vancouver politicians, who (in his view) act as "shills" for real estate developers by promoting development patterns that do more to make developers (and existing property owners) wealthy than to help young people buy a home.
Overall, while the book is entertaining and potentially illuminating for those who look no deeper than Vancouver's natural beauty, it suffers from a general lack of convincing empirical evidence to support the various conclusions reached regarding Vancouver's problems and what causes them. Rotberg has a tendency to present statements as facts that would be more appropriately treated as research questions to be addressed in a more rigorous, objective fashion than is utilized in this book. While his conclusions are not necessarily incorrect, they are typically only a subset of all plausible conclusions, and he does not always succeed in convincing the reader that his conclusions are more plausible than the alternatives. As a result, the reader cannot reasonably conclude (for example) that Vancouver's developers, politicians, and property owners are greedier than those of other cities, or that residents of other Canadian cities have stronger values relating to modesty and fairness.
But there is little question that Vancouver is an expensive city in which to purchase a home. One of the book's strengths is its eleven-point plan (drawing on both the author's experiences as a developer and insights gained from other cities) for promoting housing that is more affordable and ending what is, in the author's opinion, an outright "fraud on the young."
School of Community and Regional Planning
University of British Columbia.
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