Apr 8, 2019


Event Description

Beginning in 2013, SFU’s Urban Studies department has organized this day-long event to stimulate thoughtful dialogue on the “big picture” issues facing the City of Vancouver and the greater metropolitan region. It is intended as a forum for elected officials, urban practitioners, policy-makers, and academics to think about the major cross-cutting issues facing Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Previous event themes have included: housing affordability, citizen advisory bodies, urban inequality, and economic development.   

Host: Simon Fraser University, Urban Studies Program


The City of Vancouver enjoys a global reputation as one of the best places to live. Because municipal Vancouver is only the 10th largest city in Canada (after Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Hamilton, Winnipeg), questions linger about whether amalgamation with the broader metropolitan region is more advantageous. While mega-cities offer specific advantages (ie., economies of scale, political capital), they also include disadvantages which may not be fully appreciated (ie., community disengagement, “hidden” administrative costs). Because well-governed cities are critical to Canada’s economic and cultural vitality, these challenges need to be carefully considered.  

VSIR Thinking Points

  • Metro Vancouver (ie., 21 municipalities, one Electoral Area, and one Treaty First Nation) has worked well as a regional governance model for the past 50 years. In fact, the Vancouver regional “model” is often praised for the degree to which informal governance practices (ie., “gentle imposition”), flexible jurisdictional boundaries, and “healthy competition,” are interwoven into long-term planning vision documents (ie., Regional Prosperity Initiative). Nonetheless, many core planning assumptions need to be revisited in the context of US-China strategic competition, rapid demographic shifts, formidable urban sustainability challenges, resource-intensive infrastructure requirements, and non-traditional security threats (ie. money laundering, cybercrime, right-wing populism).
  • Like any forward-looking municipality, the City of Vancouver (pop. 630,000) requires adequate resourcing to optimize synergistic relationships between sustainable land-use development, multi-modal transportation planning, policy innovation (ie. digitized public service delivery), and community engagement initiatives. Managed effectively, shared service models (ie. interprovincial collaboration agreements), the Mayor’s Council, and regional bodies (ie., Regional Prosperity Advisory Group) can facilitate regional coordination, knowledge sharing, and local capacity-building. In many ways, form follows function when it comes to effective urban governance.    
  • A coastal city, Vancouver’s urban planning process will increasingly be driven by environmental and bioregional constraints imposed on its economic growth. If leveraged effectively, Vancouver could accelerate Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy, while securing its global leadership position in the highly innovative “green” technology sector. Designing forward-looking and purpose-built planning processes (ie., a recently announced city-wide planning exercise) capable of harnessing Vancouver’s urban soft-power advantage (ie., Vancouverism 2.0) will undoubtedly require a strategic culture that actively promotes smart governance, intercity-collaboration, discovery-driven learning, as well as distributed knowledge-sharing networks at scale.

Concluding Remarks

Advancing regional economic prosperity in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland is a responsibility shared both vertically (ie., provincial and federal governments) and horizontally (ie., Tsawwassen First Nation). It begins with the knowledge and understanding that enhanced urban governance may include a combination of small-city amalgamations (ie., White Rock, Township of Langley) in the short term. Over the long term, the proposed Cascadia Innovation Corridor (ie., Vancouver-Seattle-Oregon) could be the catalyst for unleashing Vancouver’s “alpha-metro” potential.   

Agenda and Speakers: http://www.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/urban/documents/RTR/2019/Alphametro%20Vancouver%20RtR%20Schedule.pdf