Patrick Condon is a professor at the University of British Columbia and James Taylor Chair in Landscape and Liveable Environments. Scot Hein is an adjunct professor at the School of Architecture + Landscape, University of British Columbia.
In 2020, our three city owned golf courses could be the solution to Vancouver’s continuing housing problem.
The city’s three courses (Langara, Fraserview and McCleery, totalling 450 acres) could be immediately converted to a mixture of market and non-market housing, with the value of the market housing cross-subsidizing the cost to build the non-market housing. Thus 20,000 non-market housing units could be delivered at no cost to the taxpayer.
At the same time, we propose to retain 50 per cent of these lands as publicly accessible nature parks in neighbourhoods where they are needed most. In this way, we could take a huge step toward solving the housing crisis by building 20,000 non-market, permanently affordable housing units (in the form of housing co-ops, social housing and middle-class rental housing managed by non-profit housing corporations) and have more than 60,000 people enjoying a new home on a park.
If our civic leaders truly want to fulfill their election promises to solve our housing crisis, there is a no-cost solution at hand: put these golf courses in play.
These lands are currently assessed at approximately $1.4-billion. Assembling this amount of land to provide this many housing units at current market prices of about $1,000 per square foot of dirt would cost the taxpayers of Vancouver conservatively $20-billion. No level of government can afford to spend $20-billion to purchase this much land for non-market housing. Do we want to use our $20-billion worth of public lands to solve this crisis and gain 225 acres of publicly accessible nature park? Or do we vote to keep the status quo by providing highly subsidized golf rounds estimated at only 175 players a day? Losing these three courses would still leave four private courses in the city – courses that gladly allow anyone with the green fees to enjoy the links.
The scale and form of new housing could incorporate existing trees, and remain below the prevailing tree line. Further, medium-density housing could be built using wood-frame construction that sequesters carbon and can be erected quickly.
Let’s use this opportunity to make state-of-the-art sustainable parks – natural areas that serve all citizens – parks that could still serve golfers. The Langara Golf Course is 6,261 yards long. A new public park could include a pitch-and-putt course of 1,200 yards, or one-fifth the current length. Just imagine a quick round after dinner in the summer just a few steps away from your front door.
This is not about a disdain for golfers or golfing. We propose a better, more ethical use of taxpayer owned land. Land that can alleviate our current existential crises: the lack of housing for our wage earners, our young families, our seniors. The potential to invent a new intergenerational housing paradigm that unleashes social capital by conceiving such housing as a true “community” is a necessary counterpoint to the tsunami of global capital corrupting our local housing market, producing only unaffordable towers that are nothing more than “safety deposit boxes in the sky.”
And design can show us the way. We are extremely confident that creative exploration of these lands can produce innovative, compact, integrated, sustainable parks and homes – elements of a new, exciting ecological form of city design, while also taking a huge and immediate bite out of our housing crisis.
We bet there is a solution that creatively increases park capacity, while housing our local wage-earning families. Political will is all that is needed. So let’s cut a few ribbons and move a few folks into their new homes before the next municipal election.
And perhaps include a little golfing as well.
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