The fight to “save” industrial land is really all about jobs, that forgotten priority of “city-building”

Suddenly, after months and years of obsessive coverage of Metro Vancouver’s red-hot housing market, we get two in-depth probes of the region’s dwindling industrial land base, that forgotten step-sister of the affordable housing debate, one with a Vancouver focus, by The  Tyee’s Christopher Cheung, and a regional take by Frances Bula in The Globe.

The “industrial land” debate is really about jobs. If you don’t have stable, well-paying jobs in your city the future will be bleak. But the jobs issue is always the forgotten priority of “city-building.”

Metro Vancouver has seen much of its industrial land base move to residential development in the last 50 years. (All of False Creek, for example, was heavy industry until after the Second World War.)

Yet “industrial” lands that formerly housed machine shops, saw mills or manufacturing can still be very intensive job producers in the modern economy, as Cheung notes. The lands between City Hall and Second Ave., a low-rise industrial neighbourhood where the city has broadened permitted job uses and allowed slightly more density, is seeing strong growth  on an existing base of 8,000 light industrial, commercial and office jobs.

A moratorium on condominium development in the Central Business District has seen seven new office towers committed or under construction, enough to ensure that area and the Broadway Corridor remain the heart of the province’s financial sector for a long time to come.

As Michael Geller notes in Bula’s piece, the new Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy goes a long way to locking in the remaining industrial land for the long-term.

But remaining job pressures come from two directions. On the one hand, Port Metro Vancouver is acquiring all the land it can, including agricultural land, for future port expansion. This activity supports jobs, all right, but mostly in other parts of Canada and the world. Metro Vancouver has recently begun studying options like inland terminals to help relieve that pressure.

The other pressure comes from owners of former industrial properties — think St. Paul’s Hospital, moving to the False Creek Flats, or the former Canada Post building on Georgia — who believe some residential in a mixed-use project makes for a better development and improved financial outcomes. Those are the tougher calls that Metro and city council will be called upon to make in the future.