Premier Clark Welcomes Phase 1 Agreement for Vancouver Transit Expansion

Premier Clark
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“As more people move here to pursue their dreams, we need to continue expanding and improving transit services, because it plays a pivotal role in creating liveable, affordable, and connected communities,” stated B.C. Premier Christy Clark as the Mayor’s Council voted in favor of Phase 1 of expanding Metro Vancouver transit.

“The provincial government’s contribution of more than $246 million is ready immediately.”

“Expanding transit in Metro Vancouver has never been more important. These investments will help meet rising demand, ease congestion, lower our carbon footprint and further enhance quality of life in what is already one of the world’s most livable cities.

“It means more SkyTrain cars, improvements to bus and SkyTrain exchanges, moving forward on rapid transit in Vancouver and Surrey, and a new SeaBus in North Vancouver.

“British Columbia is in a position to make this kind of investment without going into deficit because we have controlled government spending, and our strong, diverse economy, which leads Canada in growth and job creation. Because we have our house in order, we can focus on investing in the services people depend on, such as transit.”

Vancouver’s Vacant House Tax Approved, But It May Not Matter

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B.C.’s government has said it will go ahead with allowing property taxes on homes left vacant.

The new tax is one that has been pushed for by Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.

The purpose of the tax, according to the government, is to address the housing crisis increasingly affecting Vancouver and cities nearby for approximately 100 kilometers — house prices and availability have been dramatically effected as far east as Chilliwack.

The tax could come into effect some time in 2017 at the earliest.

However, critics are already saying the tax does nothing to deal with the problem. They say that a small property tax will most likely not dissuade buyers in a market where prices are dramatically higher each year, and where many houses are purchased as investments from overseas — most notably, China, where an abundance of wealthy people are seeking investments outside of their nation, and many buyers do not even see the homes they buy.

Currently, property tax is relatively inexpensive in Vancouver compared to other popular North American and world cities. For example, a 2-bedroom unit in Yaletown or Coal Harbor which costs around $1 million has a property tax of around $2500 per year. In many American cities, the property tax would be 3 or 4 to 10 times that amount depending on the city. One reason for Vancouver’s low property tax rate is that the provincial government imposes a high income tax rate, which isn’t the case in the states.

Maintenance fees are also lower in Vancouver. This is particularly beneficial to buyers who resell their house, because they don’t need to invest as much in upkeep.

In Vancouver, an estimated 1 percent of family homes are unoccupied. 7.2 percent of condos and rental apartments are unoccupied. The highest rate is 12.5 percent, for condos alone.

These figures are roughly the same as other Canadian cities.

The lowest metropolitan apartment vacancy rate in Canada is Quebec with 5 percent and the highest is Windsor with 16.5 percent, although London and Victoria also have high vacancy rates.

In West Vancouver “Properties Doubled in Eight, Nine Months”

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According to local real estate agents for Royal LePage, property values have doubled in less than a year in some parts of Vancouver due to foreign real estate investment.

“The luxury market has been driven purely on the demand from investors and the appeal is the perfect storm of geographical appeal,” stated Jason Soprovich, who specializes in the West Vancouver market. “Low interest rates, very low active listing rates and pent up demand.”

“[In West Vancouver] we’ve seen properties double in value over the past eight, nine months,” he said. “In the British Properties, some properties we saw listed 8 months ago at $2.4 million are now selling at $4.5 million.”

Most buying was from a single source, he said, agreeing with other Vancouver real estate agents: Mainland China.

Others have noted that Chinese buyers who live in China make up at least one-third of buying in the area, which is in addition to Chinese buyers who reside in Canada — a demographic for which there are no clear statistics.

The shortage of affordable housing in the Vancouver area is causing people to leave, some creating a notable trend of buying houses as far east as Chilliwack and some moving to other provinces.

Responding to comments made by B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong, who has stated that he was himself “biased” in his belief that foreign buyers are not the main factor in what is taking place in the Lower Mainland real estate market, Soprovich said, “It’s naive to think there hasn’t been a lot of investors moving into this part of the country – there is and it has had a major affect.”

Soprovich recommended levying an extra property tax on foreign buyers, which would, he said, deter some buying, but, “If this large number of people are influxing into the city are coming to city and using infrastructure, there needs to be some level of taxation.”

How Will The New Mortgage Rates Effect The Housing Market?

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In an effort to deal with “house prices that have been elevated,” the Canadian federal government raised down payments on houses over $500,000. Analysts have questioned whether the new policy will have any meaningful effect on the market at all, while many Canadians say the change only makes it harder for new Canadian home buyers, and may make it easier for what many are pointing to as the main cause of the ongoing massive increases in house prices — foreign ownership.

Beginning this month, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation requires a 10 percent down payment on any portion of a mortgage it insures above half a million dollars. Any portion up to $500,000 will require the same down payment as before — 5 percent.

How this change effects house buyers will likely depend on where those house buyers live. In Canada overall, the average price of a home is under $500,000. Not counting Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto, where prices have shot up 23-35 percent in the last five years, the average house costs $337,000, and if you exclude B.C. and Ontario, the price is under $300,000. In these regions, a $500,000 house would be a more expensive dwelling and would be in excess of what they typical home buyer would be looking for.

Read more: Home Prices Up 12% In Canada, But Down When BC And Ontario Factored Out

However, in Toronto and around Vancouver, the average is above $500,000. Even the Fraser Valley now has an average house price of half a million dollars. In these regions, all home buyers — even new families starting out — will be effected by the change.

There seems to be a discrepancy between what government officials and housing analysts are saying about the new mortgage rate and what Canadian citizens are saying about it, however.

The federal government said of the matter that they wanted to make sure they created an environment that protects home buyers by insuring that they have enough equity in their homes.

Analysis have said that the change will effect a tiny fraction of Vancouver home buyers, and that a strong B.C. economy and high employment rate are the cause of the huge housing price changes in Vancouver.

However, reading the responses to these statements (try either of the above links, or any other news story on housing prices) the most prevalent thread is one pointing at something the federal government and real estate analysts are not mentioning: foreign buyers, especially Chinese buyers.

The majority of commenters on news stories on this subject are to voice this concern. Yet it is not raised by local or federal politicians.

They have also pointed out that increasing the price for houses at this level will only make it more difficult for local buyers to own a house, and won’t effect foreign buyers who are already coming with a down payment that is larger than the required minimum.

What do you think, Canadians? How will the new mortgage rates effect the housing market?

Photo: Brian Fagan

Home Prices Up 12% In Canada, But Down When BC And Ontario Factored Out

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Home prices are up in Canada, hovering around the record 6-year high point, but this is almost entirely due to trends in two areas: Greater Vancouver primarily and Greater Toronto on a smaller but still significant level, according to market authorities.

The Canadian Real Estate Association reported that Canada-wide, the average home price was now $454,000, up 12 percent on a year-by-year basis.

But factoring out the GVA and GTA, the average is only $337,000, up 5.4 percent.

Further, according to CREA, even this rise is due largely to price trends in areas near Vancouver.

Elsewhere in Canada, home prices are flat or declining.

Canadian real estate

Factoring out the provinces of B.C. and Ontario, the average home currently costs $294,000, a decline of 2.2 percent year-over-year.

The VGA home costs $761,000 on average, up 35 percent from 5 years ago, and houses in nearby areas such as the Fraser Valley are also up to nearly $500,000, representing a rise of over 23 percent in the last 5 years. In both of these areas, all types of dwellings are up — two-story single family, one-story, townhouse and apartment.

Canadian real estate

The biggest price rise in the last 5 years, though, was Toronto, where the average house price rose 42 percent to put it at $574,000, still $200,000 cheaper than Vancouver. All types of dwellings continue a steady rise in Greater Toronto — the steadiest rising trends of any market represented in CREA’s chart data.


Immigration Watch Group Criticizes Canada’s Mass Immigration

Richmond Canada
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Canada, the nation with the highest per capita immigration intake per year — adding 1 million immigrants every four years to her now-35 million population, is suffering because of an abnormal and unnecessary mass immigration policy, according to the immigration-focused group Immigration Watch Canada.

“Since 1991, Canada has had a mass immigration policy,” Dan Murray of Immigration Watch Canada told The Speaker.

“The term ‘mass immigration’ means that Canada has had a continued high immigration intake since 1991. This is an abnormality in Canada’s immigration history. It means that Canada has taken over 6 million people since 1991 and that Canada did not need most of those people.”

Murray said the rates were unnecessary and even detrimental to Canadians. The source of the policy of prolonged high rates of immigration originated, according to Murray, in a Conservative Party move to gain a new voting segment — the immigrant vote — in 1990.

He cited several government studies as evidence that the immigration numbers would not reduce Canada’s average age, would not produce any significant economic benefit, and would be beyond the optimal population based on Canada’s cold, mostly rock and desert land – some of the major benefits of immigration claimed by high immigration proponents.

Murray also cited the costs of bringing in an average 250,000 immigrants per year for 25 years, most of whom settle in the major cities. The cost of immigration for taxpayers — in the hundreds of million of dollars per year – is only part of the burden placed on the Canadian-born population, Murray stated. Two of the most easily quantifiable effects of mass immigration, he said, were in increased labor competition and housing affordability.

“The best friend of any worker is a tight labor market. When high  immigration intake floods the labor market, wages stagnate or even decline and unnecessary competition occurs.”

The extra workers, Murray said, are not needed, and are sometimes given place in front of Canadian-born workers though programs like the Employment Equity Act, which enforces proactive employment practices when it comes to minority groups.

Murray noted the increase in ethnic enclaves in Canadian cities over the past decades as well. A handful 30 years ago has become about 300 today and is increasing, he said.

Richmond demographicsHe cited cities like Richmond, British Columbia, where white Canadians made up 80 percent of the population in 1981. The remainder was a mix including less than 10 percent Chinese. Today, Chinese are the majority in the city, and white residents have left Richmond in the thousands. The same trend exists over all of Vancouver, where nine out of 10 of the population’s additional 30,000 new residents every year are immigrants.

He referred to Canada’s current majority population as “the new First Nations” whose interests are being betrayed by their political parties.

“Even a quick look at a graph that shows Canada’s immigration history will demonstrate that,” stated Murray. “No sane country allows its majority population to be overwhelmed. No sane country forces its majority population to compete unnecessarily for a limited number of jobs or grants new immigrants preference to those jobs. No sane country allows its population to grow indefinitely, particularly when the population growth occurs on its best agricultural land — yet Canada has done this.”

Vancouver Art Gallery: So Far, Biggest Voting Segment “Really Can’t Stand It,” Want It Stopped

Vancouver Art Gallery
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The design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery has been published, and although so far opinions are split widely about designers Herzog & de Meuron’s vision, the largest voting segment on CBC’s poll is, “Really can’t stand it. It must be stopped.”

Of 1,533 voters 532 said they “couldn’t stand” the new design. Very few of those who responded said they were “indifferent” (4 percent). About 15 percent said they were “not impressed” but could live with it. 23 percent said they “weren’t sure yet and needed time.” The same percentage — a quarter of respondents — said they “totally loved” the design.

Some Canadians criticized the design as looking like a pagoda, being outdated in style, and being built “like Lego.” Some also referred to the inukshuk, a traditional indigenous Canadian symbol popular in the city. Those who approved of the design said it was “exciting” and “something cool happening in Vancouver.”

Vancouver Art Gallery

A lot of commenters expressed strong feelings about the designers chosen not being Canadian.

“It does not look Canadian or West Coast! Don’t we have a West Coast architect with a Canadian design?” wrote one such commenter.

The new plan is a 310,000-square-foot wood design 20 stories high, and would be built in downtown Vancouver on the site of what is currently a parking lot at West Georgia and Cambie Street.

The site was donated by the city on condition the Vancouver Art Gallery would raise an estimated $300 million needed for the project. So far, funds raised fall far short of that. $23 million has been vouched by the Vancouver Art Gallery board of trustees.

The designers were chosen in 2014. World class designers Herzog & de Meuron have done a number of famous art galleries and museums around the world, including the Tate Modern in London and the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing.

Participate in the poll (click) or comment (below).

Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibition of Herzog & de Meuron’s dazzling projects

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The new Vancouver exhibition “Material Future” is a great deal more than just haughty architectural designs embellished with simplistic elemental assemblies. It will be, according to the Vancouver Art Gallery, a showcase in “design philosophy.”

The famous architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron, which has given rise to beautiful works of architecture across the globe, currently have their projects showcased in the VAG in a exhibition that opened on March 27. However, what is most interesting, at least to Vancouver residents, is the fact that a portion of the exhibition will focus on the designs, planning, and building of the future Vancouver Art Gallery. The actual conceptual design of the future building will be unveiled to the public in late spring.

Herzog & de Meuron is the Swiss architectural firm that designed the famous Tate Modern in London, the Young Museum in San Francisco, the National Stadium in Beijing, and the Schaulager in Basel, as well as current projects such as a new museum of visual culture in Hong Kong and the much anticipated M+. What makes the firm so well known is its uniqueness with particular attention to the materials, site and context of all of its buildings. It employs an international team of about 460 collaborators which works on projects across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The firm‘s main office is in Basel, with additional offices in Hamburg, London, Madrid, New York City, and Hong Kong.

“The firm is internationally renowned for their attention to materials, site, and context, which defines a practice that is astonishingly subtle and complex.” said a representative of the gallery in an email.

“Herzog & de Meuron has demonstrated their commitment to the new Vancouver Art Gallery project. Their research of Vancouver and British Columbia includes extensive travel throughout the province and significant time spent with Gallery stakeholders, including many artists in the Vancouver art community.”

Interestingly, the VAG has organized the exhibition in three key steps. First a preliminary introduction to the new VAG building project, which will include plans, introductions to the site architects, and different processes. The second will be a meticulous study space which will focus on the strategies and the process behind Herzog & de Meuron, and which will include monographs, as well as a projection room of the firm’s projects. The final step — and I dare say the most important — will be a lobby that will provide the visitors with the “context, plans and statues of the future gallery.”

“It has been a remarkable journey since last April when we started working closely with Herzog & de Meuron on the conceptual design of the new Vancouver Art Gallery building. This exhibition charts the history and the trajectory of the Gallery’s future growth, and it is an exciting prelude to the unveiling of the conceptual design of the new building,” said Kathleen S. Bartels, Director of the Gallery.

“Every step of the way, Herzog & de Meuron have demonstrated their commitment to this landmark project that will act as a catalyst for the city of Vancouver and beyond. Their research on Vancouver and British Columbia has been impressive, including extensive travel throughout the province.”

This whole process began in 2013, when the gallery launched an international RFQ-Request for Qualification — which means a call to firms around the world to step up and show their work so that the gallery could make a final decision on which they saw the best fit for what they wanted. Seventy-five companies from 16 different countries around the world responded to the call, until finally Herzog & de Meuron was given the job, which will work along with the Vancouver firm Perkins+Will.

Material Future Vancouver Art Gallery at 1145 West Georgia Street after refit, 1958 Vancouver Art Gallery Archives

When it comes to architecture the human mind is usually dazzled by the new and the thrilling, yet there is something rather interesting in the fact that the future gallery will no longer be the in the old provincial courts so fashionably renovated by architect Arthur Erikson in the early 1980’s. The art gallery has made it clear that they need more space for the ever-increasing collections. In fact it has reiterated that it needs a space of about 320,000 square feet, and the new location at West Georgia and Cambie is more than adequate.

Now the question remains: What are we to expect when the full design of the new building will be unveiled in late spring? Modern debauchery with cold glass and mystical complexities? Herzog & de Meuron has managed to astound people every time it first unveiled anything new, and even more so once the buildings actually came to life. This has been the case with the Allianz Arena in Munich Germany, and the Tate Modern in London which was one of the buildings that led the firm to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2001.

We have been assured that the gallery is in competent hands, and, I dare say, Herzon & de Meuron are indeed a collection of the best talent in the world of architecture. Yet, as the romantic and classicist that I am, I feel remorse at the knowledge that the art gallery will move away from the old provincial courthouse which I think is much more providential, in the sense that it is more of an appropriate structure to house high works of art.

One thing which must be said is that perhaps what is more important to the Vancouver Art Gallery is the procuring of more works of art, that allude to greater artistic tendencies, rather than the formal and costly construction of a new building — one which will still undoubtedly be beautiful and worthy to be called an art gallery. Still the question remains: What will the art gallery fill it with? Even the recent Cezanne exhibition has proven in my view to be rather tediously discouraging.

It might be just my travels within the European landscape, in fact it might simply be my half-European lineage speaking out, but I assure you the collections which have graced the Vancouver Art Gallery throughout its existence, at least in my own opinion, are not much when compared the halls of art that fill Europe’s museums, and palaces.

Although I welcome the relocation with great delight, undoubtedly at the pleasure which will be procured from seeing a beautiful Herzog & de Meuron building in Vancouver, I will still feel almost as if the more important purpose of an art gallery is to grace its viewers with more alluring pieces before superb buildings. Infallibly, perhaps even in the context of art galleries what is on the inside is far more important than the outside, as the old bromide goes.

Preferably both, yet the reality of the situation is that this is not Europe, and its halls are very far away. We must satisfy our visual needs with what we have. This will not be the the first physical move of the VAG as we all know, and although we might have mixed feelings in regards to it, we must support the gallery’s decisions, for it is the most important source of the promotion of visual arts in Vancouver.

The exhibition is scheduled to run until October.

By Milad Doroudian

Feature Image Source: Installation view of Material Future: The Architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and the Vancouver Art Gallery, exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, March 27 to October 4, 2015 Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Second Image Source: Vancouver Art Gallery Archives

Museum of Vancouver’s upcoming exhibition asks the question: What is happiness?

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — We usually ask ourselves, “How can we be more happy?” Rarely do we find the answer to this challenging question. Yet, Stefan Sagmeister’s “The Happy Show” will try to solve some of the most onerous dilemmas of happiness.

How can one be more happy? I for one have not one perceptible clue. Do we find it in things, people, or something as simple as a good cup of coffee?

The exhibition will be featured over two floors at the MOV, making it one of the largest to ever be put on in the museum’s history. It will be constructed of video screens, info-graphics, interactive machines, and even a bike that powers a neon sign. All of which have been designed to discuss issues such as mindfulness, well-being, and even sex, and according to the MOV, ” transcend the boundary between art and design.” Visitors will also be able to enjoy an extended preview of Sagmeister’s soon-to-be-released documentary “The Happy Film.”

“’The Happy Show’ arrives as the wellbeing of Metro Vancouver residents is at the forefront of attention. The Vancouver Foundation has recently reported that Lower Mainland residents feel lonely and isolated. Our local and provincial governments are now recognizing that social connection is crucial for personal happiness and for a thriving city,” says Gregory Dreicer, MOV Director of Curatorial and Engagement.TheHappyShow-SagmeisterWalsh4

Stefan Sagmeister, born in Austria in 1962, has been studying the meaning of happiness for the past 10 years as he struggled with alcohol, drugs, weight gain, and even depression. He has called this exhibition an amalgamation of all his beliefs and experiences that he gathered in those 10 years. In fact, his upcoming documentary will chronicle his various attempts at bettering his own state of joy, through different techniques, including cognitive therapy, meditation, and mood-altering drugs.

Sagmeister published numerous popular books, and is the winner of two Grammy Awards, the Lucky Strike Designer award, among a great deal more. He is also the co-founder of the New York-based design firm Sagmeister & Walsh.

The question of happiness, rather forcibly, make us think of what it might mean to us personally. Surely it cannot be something fully objective, as happiness is an individual thing that is different for each one of us. Yet, at the root of it all we might be surprised that there is a lot of common ground in what makes humans happy, regardless of gender, and background. I guess we have to wait for Sagmeister’s exhibition, and we might just find out.

In case that you do not have the patience to wait you can take a sneak peak at Sagmeister’s blog, that features some of the works and ideas that will be presented in the show.

The Museum of Vancouver is an award-winning authority on Vancouver’s history, sharing the region’s stories from its Aboriginal beginnings to contemporary topics. “The Happy Show” is set to open on April 23, and will run until September.

Images by Museum of Vancouver.

By Milad Doroudian.