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“Compact City” – Density With Urban Amenities The Original Vancouverism

October 17, 2016

Was Henry George, who as a lad came north in search of Fraser River gold in 1858, the forgotten architect of Vancouverism?

More than a hundred years ago critics argued that Vancouver’s partial adoption of Henry George’s  “single-tax” system was the cause of increased density and more public parks.

It was said that a Georgist-influenced tax regime — weighted toward taxing land value and reducing—ideally eliminating– any levy on improvements—“tended to increase congestion” in cities.

Owners were induced to maximize the size of their buildings—taxed at a lower rate—in order to increase the value of their estate.

“It would lead in New York, as it has led in Vancouver, to intensive development. The natural result of increasing the tax upon the bare land is to cause higher buildings to be erected thereon so as to carry the heavier charges.”

 – Allan Robinson, President of the Allied Real Estate Interests, New York Times, October 19, 1913.

Local critics blamed the tax-shift for increased density in Vancouver, a trend to taller buildings and a shortage of vacant lots, resulting in the city having to develop more park land to compensate.

“One of the great advantages claimed for the exemption of ‘improvements’ is that it ensures a compact city,” wrote FC Wade of Vancouver, who quoted the city building inspector:

“‘From returns at hand I find per square mile of area, Vancouver leads every city on the continent of America.'”

“This is his proud boast,” Wade continued sarcastically:

“This alone should condemn the system. That it has the effect claimed for it, no one can deny.

The tax on gardens, lawns and open spaces are prohibitory.  

Everything must be built up.Every open gap must be closed.

We must have a compact city.

Rather than expand our area let us build 200 feet in the air and immure our wives and children in apartment blocks and deprive them as far as possible of every beautiful and healthful natural surrounding.”

“The cry for open spaces is a necessary result of the stupid policy pursued. Park sites and improvements have already cost $1, 260,600, notwithstanding that we have in Stanley park a recreation ground said to be equal in value to the national debt.”


Opponents of density successfully lobbied for a 10-storey building height restriction. Later planners traded relaxed height boundaries for open space in the form of plazas, parks and view corridors.

“Trading density for amenity is the Vancouver formula in a nutshell.” – Trevor Boddy

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