COLUMN: Stunning lack of scrutiny in this ‘study’

The Frontier Centre it appears, believes that unchecked and encouraged urban sprawl will reduce density and make housing affordable

“Pave paradise, put up a parking lot” should be and perhaps is, the title of a study by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, published last week in the Vancouver Province, that calls for “liberalization” of the housing market by converting Fraser Valley farmland into residential lots.

The Frontier Centre it appears, believes that unchecked and encouraged urban sprawl will reduce density and make housing in Vancouver affordable.

Yessiree, why spend $2 million on a water-view condo in the West End when you can buy a $200,000 lot with a view of the dairy barn’s manure pit?

And all that flat farmland will greatly simplify the installation of streets, sewers and waterlines. An additional benefit of urbanization, of course, is that due to impending complaints, it will put an end to most of the annoying flies, and the pervasive odour of manure we out in the country occasionally have to put up with. The thing about our dairy air, however, is that it is “the smell of money” that keeps our economy stable.

I have to assume Frontier study author Wendell Cox was encouraged by the provincial government’s decision to alter the ALR, slicing it into two zones. From what little I understand about the legislation, nothing really has changed for the prime farmland within the Lower Mainland – the same land Mr. Cox suggests be converted to housing.

Granted, even for housing, Yarrow farmland will be a lot less expensive than Yaletown, but it is not just the price of land that measures the cost of residential development.

Building prices throughout the Lower Mainland are virtually the same from Horseshoe Bay to Hope. Finding a plumber or a carpenter, the cost of cement or structural wood, at a marginally lower rate anywhere in the Fraser Valley is as scarce as the hens’ teeth Mr. Cox wants to displace.

And in case his study overlooked it, might I remind that there are still many thousands of acres/hectares still undeveloped for residential housing – Sumas Mountain being one area, the forested valleys and hills north of the Fraser another  – without paving a single acre of farmland.

Might I also point out that cheap and available housing isn’t the only factor in the high cost of Vancouver’s livability. There are things like jobs, shopping and transit. Vastly increasing sprawl will dramatically affect one’s ability to move throughout the Lower Mainland. And move people we will need to do because homes without nearby jobs means commuting, and in no time Port Mann’s fancy new 10-lane widest-bridge-in-the-world will soon become as jammed as the old one.

And without industrial contributors to municipal coffers, lots might be cheaper but residential taxes will be ridiculously high to pay for the needed service infrastructure and transit requirements.

All of the supposed financial benefits of Mr. Cox’s study are immediately cancelled when the loss of food production enters the equation.

What good is a cheap roof when you can’t afford to put food on the table?

Destroying forever what is some of the finest agricultural land in the world to make livability, in the very short term, a little less expensive or Vancouver a little less dense makes absolutely no sense.

Mr. Cox is obviously no rocket scientist. Equally obvious is the fact that he used no science whatsoever.

Anyone could have in five minutes written a “study” claiming converting farmland to housing is cheap. What gives studies meaning is the thought processes, and the long-term impacts and benefits, that go into them.

This study had none.