Five Trends of Change in Urbanism – by Larry Beasley, C.M.

In my work in Canada, the U.S. and around the world, I am seeing the emergence of new trends that in most cities have not yet hit the urban agenda in a significant way.  While the philosophy and practices of sustainability and green urbanism have enjoyed more and more focus, so other trends may be sneaking up on us that need just as much attention.  Following are five of those trends.  These are not the only surprising shifts to be expected as cities moves forward but they are certainly important ones.

Spontaneous Migrations – destabilization or malaise in some parts of the world

Whether for fear, opportunity or adventure – whether legal or illegal – whether by chance or planned – the people of the world are massively footloose.  Population groups and individuals in vast numbers are moving away from places they don’t want to be to places they do want to be. Target destinations are successful cities in sanctuary societies.  Such cities should expect unusually high growth trends that are sustained.  High demand will not be a bubble, it will be real.

-For Vancouver, this creates vibrant and new economic opportunities that Vancouver’s economy is already starting to be built upon and our city is very dependent on this kind of growth as the traditional resource sector becomes less important.  But, this is already putting sharp pressure on the housing market, creating a crisis of affordability that cannot be solved by conventional means. We will either start to punish those coming in, which will be negative and very short-sighted, affecting our world image, or we will find a way to give locals a leg-up in the market.  We have to start seeing the land and housing market in Vancouver as a two-layered market – the general market and the local market – that must be managed accordingly.  Immigration also puts growth pressures on all public facilities and amenities and, therefore, tax dollars, so alternative funding sources are more important than ever.  The system of Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) from new development that has been so fully realized and exploited in this city should be treasured and protected, not demonized.

Rise of the ‘Share Economy’

The idea is sweeping the world that the conventional reality of ownership or rental of services, property and things is too limiting and that a vast equity is embedded that can be tapped in new ways to the benefit of those who possess them and those who want to use them.  Northern Europe is a hotbed of initiatives to share and barter, thereby stretching resources and bypassing government regulation and taxes.

– The high value of the equities in Vancouver along with our being part of the international network of ideas will set off a similar trend here. We are only now beginning to understand the pros and cons of Uber, Air BNB and similar out-of-the-box market sharing initiatives.  We are already one of the leading car-share cities in North America. We are on the cusp of bike-share. Implications for traditional retail are simply not yet understood.  This is the tip of the iceberg of what we should expect from the share and barter economy – almost every commodity and service will be affected.

Growth and Diversification of Digital Business

Every year consumers worldwide buy more and more of the things that they need and want on-line.  This is setting up a new pattern of product flows and a new constellation of support services and facilities. Commodity trading is digitized with significant goods movement implications. Every year more business is conducted digitally, rather than in face-to-face meetings and events.  Information is accessed and shared instantly.

-In Vancouver, conventional retail has to re-invent itself to compete and the local governments in our region  have to support this process. Not only may local retail growth flatten, but independent retail could be very hard hit unless local business finds the edge to allow them to compete with digital business.  The need for distribution facilities will expand and new patterns of distribution may emerge. Facilities for digital engagement will development and new service businesses will develop around these.

Generational shifts in consumer preferences

Demographic  trends are not working in the predictable ways of the past.  Young people are selecting new and contrasting lifestyles rather than taking up where their parents left off. People are inventing new arrangements and settings for work, shifting commercial real estate trends and the very definitions of land-use.  New kinds of households are forming.  Older people are retiring earlier than expected and accessing their pent-up wealth to re-invent themselves in the last quarter of their lives – setting off unexpected demand profiles.

-Vancouver Downtown, as a diverse, contemporary, healthy and wealthy community, is a crucible for these redefined citizens, their economic activity and alternative culture. As Millennials join the workforce and create new business ventures, demand for traditional offices is flattening while that for alternative workspace flourishes, setting off revitalization in unexpected places.  From both young ‘gig’ workers to retired ‘consultants’, the rise of live/work is challenging our land-use and taxing definitions.  White-collar industry is confounding both the imperatives of organized labour as well as the need for the old industrial land base. Adult living/learning aspirations is already transforming our educational campuses.

The Rise of Autonomous driving

One of the biggest technological changes on the horizon for cities is the evolution of autonomously driven vehicles.  The implications will start to express themselves long before we have complete autonomous driving because every year more aspects of human control of vehicles is being turned over to computers. The implications are so vast and pervasive that almost nothing about cities will remain as we know it today. Cities need to start strategic planning now for these changes and setting up the financial capacities to support what needs to be done.  Is this a 5-year problem or a 20-year problem?  Well, that is the immediate question.

– Vancouver will not escape the tidal wave of impacts and implications that this new transportation invention will spawn. Not only will the automobile infrastructure of our city become obsolete and need to be re-invented but so will our arrangements for movement of goods and delivery of services. The scale of Vancouver streets, the management of the interface of vehicles, pedestrians and other modes, the nature and demand for public transit, taxis and car hires, the amount and location of parking – these will all be fundamentally altered.  The entire industry of human driving and all the jobs associated with it will come apart.


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