Satellites, Sprawl, and City Six-Packs

Co-authored with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath

We’re getting better and more accessible datasets for exploring land use change all the time. We have played with the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) data in the past, where we looked at the population data on a 250m grid to compare how different city’s population distribute spatially, as well as the 1975, 1990, 2000, 2015 time series to see how it changed over time. These GHSL population datasets take a variety of input data to build, one part is census or other population-based datasets, the other is the built-out area derived from satellite data that is used to estimate population data at the fine 250m grid.

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Lots of Opportunity: Estimating the Zoning Tax in Vancouver

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)


We estimate the land value lost by lot subdivision restrictions in the RS (single-family) zoned lands of Vancouver. These restrictions, also known as the zoning tax, subsidize hoarding of land for the wealthy at the cost of those who wouldn’t mind sharing. We conservatively estimate the overall cost of preventing splitting of lots at $43 billion, or an average of 37% of existing lot land value. Alternative formulations enabling deeper subdivisions raise our zoning tax estimates to $146 billion. We provide examples of what subdivision could look like, tally up non-conforming lots by zone, and discuss some of the implications.

The zoning tax is real, and it is enormous. The exact amount of the zoning tax is hard to pin down because we are so far away from the equilibrium of where people would stop subdividing land or air parcels if they were allowed to do so.

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Recent Sightings

A round-up of recent sightings on-line (cause where else am I gonna show up?)

June through July saw me presenting at the Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) meetings, joining a panel presentation with the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC), and giving an invited talk with the QMI / Urbanarium Urban Lunch Series ahead of the forthcoming visit by Alain Bertaud. Details, Abstracts, Slides, and Video Links (where available) below!

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Basement Confidential: Vancouver’s Informal Housing Stock

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at Mountainmath)

Informal housing

While housing is highly regulated via zoning bylaws, building code, and fire code, in situations of housing scarcity we often get informal housing that exists outside of – or only partially covered by – the existing regulatory framework. We often associate slums or shantytowns with the term informal housing, but it also applies to more organized settlements like Kowloon Walled City, or, in the context of subterranean Vancouver, a good portion of our secondary suite stock.

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Manufactured Insecurity: author meets (friendly) critic

So back in the before time, by which I mean somewhere toward the end of 2019, I happily agreed to join an “author meets critics” panel at the Pacific Sociological Association meetings to discuss Esther Sullivan‘s book Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right to Place. The meeting would’ve been in Eugene, Oregon at the end of March in 2020. By February I was already reading the tea leaves and doubting it was going to happen.

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Forced Out in Canada: New Data from CHS

(Joint with Jens von Bergmann and cross-posted at MountainMath)


The new data release from CHS 2018 enables us to return to looking at mobility, with a special focus on forced moves. We estimate and compare the risk of forced moves for renters across Canada. We also provide some evidence for its sharp decline in BC in 2018, following protections put in place by the NDP. Finally, we compare risk of “forced move” to risk of “choice move” for renters. In BC, “choice moves” are low relative to the rest of Canada, illustrating how the high percent of moves that are forced across BC is in part a product of lack of rental options (given our low vacancy rates) and high rent penalties for moving.

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