In Focus: Local Interest vs Global Capital

A key issue for Canada’s larger cities, and in particular for Toronto and Vancouver is that the interests of the local population are frequently in conflict with those of a business or the global capital.

In Toronto, we have entire buildings that are sitting empty as investors use them as a place to park capital. In Vancouver properties will be marketed first in Asia and investors will buy twenty units off plan. I know you have a similar issue in London at present.

Government can put in place policies which ensures only five percent of a building can be sold to investors and one investor can own no more than one or two units. With this policy we are able to cut the problem at its knees.

Personally I feel those in power must call out these type of issues and intervene; it’s an absurdity that an asset is under-utilised while at the same time there are residents who are under-housed.

We need the private sector to build out our cities using a model which all of us are working within. But there is a natural tension between the role of private capital, the private sector and the role of government, which is representing different broader interests. In the city of Vancouver, the former Chief Planner Larry Beasley had a wonderful, really philosophical approach to this conversation which was that coming into our city is a privilege, not a right. You’re welcome to be a part of our vision, but if you’re not a part of our vision then we don’t want you.

I face this tension every day. We have many excellent developers going well beyond what we’ve asked of them in terms of thinking about social equity and creating a community that lifts people out of out of poverty. But then we have a whole other tier of developers who are consuming a tremendous amount of our time bringing forward proposals, who are in it to make a quick buck.

So how do you finance public infrastructure like parks and schools? Because the risk – and I understand that London is experiencing this – is that if you see the development industry as a partner in delivering your public infrastructure, because the government has withdrawn from delivering it, then you become much more beholden to the project that is being proposed. It’s then far harder to negotiate better design because the politicians are saying ‘hey I need this project – if I don’t get this project I don’t get my subway station built’.

As the Government has retracted a very tangled web has been woven. Knowing that we can’t call the shots as much as we would like to, we now must focus on collaboration and the development of a shared vision to grow our cities.

Jennifer Keesmaat
Chief Planner, City of Toronto

This is an extract from AoU Congress 2016: The Future of Urbanism

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