Getting a grip on the vacant housing problem (plus: urban geology!)

Urban geologist? What's that?

Urban geologist? What’s that?

A new City of Vancouver proposal to start addressing the city’s scourge of speculation-driven housing vacancy is in the news. The municipal government wants to comprehensively identify vacant houses throughout the city, building on important work being done by the grassroots group Beautiful Empty Homes but leveraging governmental data (namely from BC Hydro) that the public doesn’t have access to.

I spoke to a number of news outlets about the proposal yesterday, starting with the Vancouver Sun, which focused on the spectre of xenophobia in discussions of Vancouver’s expensive property market. As I argued, though, the major issue here isn’t whether it’s foreigners buying houses or other Canadians, it’s that Vancouver’s housing market isn’t strongly connected to the local economy, and speculators buying properties but not living in them just makes that problem worse:

“The problem in Vancouver is that demand for housing doesn’t have that strong of a relationship with the local economy, which means that prices are out of whack with what people who live and work in the city can afford.”

CTV News Vancouver ran a good summary of the proposal to start counting vacant housing, and paid good attention to the connection between housing affordability and housing vacancy:

“The crisis of housing affordability is also a crisis of vacant buildings.”

Finally, as pictured in the screen cap at the top of this post, Global News bestowed on me the dubious title of “UBC Urban Geologist” in their newscast. No doubt this is some cutting edge new subfield in the discipline, but alas not one I am actually acquainted with.

See more: Vancouver looks to gather data on vacant homes; Vancouver to count empty housesWebsite could be in the works to identify vacant homes in Vancouver

Municipal mergers in Metro Vancouver?

Should Vancouver municipalities merge? (

Should Vancouver municipalities merge? (

Over the weekend, The Province ran a front-page story about a new opinion poll suggesting strong public support for municipal mergers in Metro Vancouver. I was interviewed for the piece, and spoke about the decades of austerity and fiscal tightening city governments have been subjected to, and the wastefulness of economic competition between municipalities:

“The more separate municipalities you have competing over jobs and investment within a single metropolitan region, the more corporate giveaways you see, and the fewer benefits communities actually achieve.”

See more here: Residents have big appetite for merging of cities in Metro Vancouver

The metropolitan owl of Minerva

9783837620436_720x720Urban Studies recently published a review I wrote of Thick Space: Approaches to Metropolitanism (Transcript Verlag, 2012).

As I say in the review, the book is frequently fascinating, but seems torn between a retrospective analysis of the metropolis as a vital historical urban form and a desire to project that form onto current (arguably post-metropolitan or at least non-metropolitan) processes of urban change. The result is that the book is something like a metropolitan owl of Minerva:

The book begins with the observation that ‘it is hard these days to ignore the growing buzz about metropoles’ (p. 9). Is that true? Is the buzz growing? A careful reading of the last decade of urban studies would suggest instead that it is a new set of polycentric and unruly urban forms – megalopolises, mega-cities, megaregions, city-regions, mega-city regions and the like – which are ascendant, and which indeed are actively transforming yesterday’s metropolises into something new and not yet properly understood. Hegel famously observed that the owl of Minerva only spreads its wings at dusk. Thick Space may be the metropolitan owl of Minerva, shedding retrospective clarity onto an urban phenomenon even as the latter evolves beyond recognition.

The full text of the review is available at Urban Studies.

Urban Entrepreneurialism in an Era of Growth Coalition Instability

What does urban entrepreneurialism look like if we get away from the global cities?

Can we take a less global-city-centric approach to urban entrepreneurialism?

The annual meeting for the Association of American Geographers is coming up in a few weeks, and I’m getting my paper presentation prepared. The talk I’ll be giving is part of a paper session titled “Revisiting Entrepreneurialism: The Logics of Urban Governance in Systemic Crisis”, and looks like it will be an interesting set of papers.

My contribution is “Urban Entrepreneurialism in an Era of Growth Coalition Instability”, and here is the abstract:

A key premise of urban entrepreneurialism is the ubiquity of local growth coalitions—the fact that a coherent group of local elites is able to assemble to advance its common place-bound interests through market-oriented governance strategies. And indeed, much of the explanatory strength of theories of urban entrepreneurialism derives from the historical unity of cities in the Global North both as common labour and property markets and as institutional arenas for local politics, a unity which has traditionally given rise to strong local growth coalitions. But in this paper, I argue that this unity is disintegrating, and is giving way to conditions of endemic growth coalition instability. Despite the persistence of imperatives towards local entrepreneurialism, local elites are increasingly forced to look for new institutional configurations to address the regulatory problems they encounter at the local scale, and the result is a proliferation of governance strategies at multiple spatial scales. This paper explores the contours of growth coalition instability through a comparison of emerging multi-city economic partnerships uniting growth coalitions across multiple cities and regions in the United States, and concludes by taking stock of what we might term a new “post-city politics”.

The session is Thursday, April 23 at 8:00 AM in Skyway 272, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

I’ll also be a panelist later that day on a similar theme: “The Entrepreneurial City Reconsidered: New Agendas and Diverse Geographies”. The panel is Thursday, April 23 at 1:20 PM, also in Skyway 272, Hyatt, East Tower, Blue Level.

Finally, I will be a discussant for one session of a multi-session extravaganza on “The Urban Political at a Time of Late Neoliberalism”, organized by Theresa Enright and Ugo Rossi. My panel is called “Repoliticizing the Urban Political”, and it is Thursday, April 23 at 5:20 PM in Columbus G, Hyatt, East Tower, Gold Level.