VanCityBuzz – Vancouver vs. NYC – “If Vancouver wants to keep waving the world class flag, she’d better get used to being compared to those with a few hundred years experience, because beauty and access to a lot of natural resources can only take her so far.”



“Vancouver is often touted as a world class city by local boosters. While the costs of living and real estate prices are certainly indicative of that caliber, our culture (or lack thereof) and the locals’ inability to get to know themselves without making a big stink about how dissatisfied we are with one another, leaves us to question whether or not our very young city is really ready to step up onto the global stage. There’s only so many years a city can ride on having hosted the lesser of the Olympics, no matter how many gold medals were won by locals. Only so many venues can close before the so-called ‘creative’ class finally throws in the towel and leaves everything to the mercy of developers, corrupt political parties and their sycophant friends. So since I’ve just returned from a five month stint in New York, I’ve been asked by the good people at Vancity Buzz to write up a piece comparing some of the finer points of life in both cities.” …
“Housing and Real Estate Development
I’m no expert when it comes to discussing the finer points of housing and real estate, however as someone who at this point can never even hope to think of one day dreaming about the mere thought of buying a property in or around Vancouver, it’s important to mention that many New Yorkers are in the same boat. I was warned that everything is much more expensive in NYC, but this isn’t true at all. If anything, prices for lodging are almost exactly the same. My trendy, 1500 square foot loft cost close to, if not slightly less, than what you’d end up paying here, which is about three grand per month. And just like here, it pays to have roommates.
There are always new development projects happening all over the city, with walk-ups and high rises popping up all over New York, like zits on a teenager’s chin, boasting deals “starting at only 500K!” The difference between there and here is less of a marketing push. Of course, there are the requisite flyers falling out of every free weekly, but I didn’t notice such an in-your-face attempt as Vancouver’s to get me to sign over the next 30 years of my wages in exchange for a tiny, poorly built shoebox in the sky. Nor did I see any buildings wanting to have sex with the handsome new 12 story about to go up just off Bedford. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t looking, or there was a lack of real estate focused billboards, I don’t recall.
New Yorkers, while dealing with various gentrifying forces, are less likely to complain about being priced out of their neighborhoods thanks to fairly rigorous rent control initiatives, which, like the subway, place the rich and poor side by side, often in the same building. Still, just like Vancouverites, there are grumblings among Gotham locals about everything going condo and being sold to absentee foreign investors. But boy did they have a laugh when I showed off” …
If New York is a grand dame of the urban world, gaudy, spackled with lights and experienced in the ways of love and war, then Vancouver is like a naturally beautiful teenage girl: not sure of what she yet wants or what she’s capable of, only that she’s good looking enough to, for now, have her pick of suitors at the expense of those who really have her best interests at heart. …
All in all, these are two different places, with their own unique styles, so is it even really fair to compare the two? Well, if Vancouver wants to keep waving the world class flag, she’d better get used to being compared to those with a few hundred years experience, because beauty and access to a lot of natural resources can only take her so far.”

– from ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Vancouver vs. New York’, by Hipster Designer, VanCityBuzz, 6 Mar 2013 [hat-tip proteus]

74 responses to “VanCityBuzz – Vancouver vs. NYC – “If Vancouver wants to keep waving the world class flag, she’d better get used to being compared to those with a few hundred years experience, because beauty and access to a lot of natural resources can only take her so far.”

  1. I just can’t stand Vancouver comparing itself to N.Y. This is just ridiculous and another symptom of Vancouverite’s inability to see the city for what it truly is. This doesn’t even touch on the different types of world class employment opportunities that New York has – something Vancouver does not! Not to mention the numerous cultural venues New York Has – something Vancouver does not! I could go on and on….Vancouver, do yourself a favour and get a grip on reality!

    • paul ->
      Regarding Vancouver’s “inability to see the city for what it is”, see our “What’s REALLY Good About Vancouver?” sidebar.
      And thank you for the link to what I assume are your photos of somewhere in southern Ontario. Windsor? Ottawa?

      • pricedoutfornow

        My American cousins who live in NYC and Washington DC don’t see Vancouver as anything but a “quaint, little Canadian city” with a real estate bubble. Been there, done that. They say things like “poor Canada!” when I mention how expensive housing prices have become and how it all involves debt and the CMHC. They work at international companies (as professionals), making very decent salaries (and yes, one has a rent controlled apartment in NYC). The only reason they would come to live in Canada (they are dual citizens) is to retire or enjoy the easy life (free medical), not to live like one would expect in a “world-class” city.

    • My Dad’s girlfriend is from New York City and was there, and at the right age, during the mid 60s folk explosion in the Village and all that good stuff.

      A few years back they did an apartment swap with a woman from New York. (Should note, their apartment here in Vancouver is right close to all the “action”).

      Anyway, long story short my Dad took his first trip to New York and basically said it was a life changing experience. The woman from New York that came here complained that she got bored.

      Now, I also do remember the stories of New York back in the 70s being a cesspool and basically a rotten apple. That being said, the decision makers in that town worked hard to return New York to its glory. Seems here that our decision makers pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves for passing a bylaw to allow chickens in backyards.

      Sinatra or Buble?

    • I know a lawyer couple that moved here from NY. They can’t believe the cost of real estate here. Both are in their 30s with kids but can’t afford a decent sfh – what chance do the rest of us have, eh ?!?

    • I have edited some tables from The Wealth Report 2012 created by Knight Frank and Citi Private Banking gleaned from opinions of their HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals) aka The Super Rich and you can see that the very wealthy rate New York much higher than Vancouver on several metrics.

      If we look at the top tier cities in these two tables, it’s evident that the Super Rich, the 1-2%, the Go-to-Folks want reliable established proven money and power centric cities (London, New York, Paris) or alternatively they look for emerging volatile liquidity centers (Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore) so they can leverage some change.

      Canada is a nice place to visit and perhaps dabble in real estate flipping during a manic heat wave but the real money is flowing elsewhere.

  2. Good insights, thanks for sharing! Hipster Designer! my 0.02:
    Hi TED, how are you? ( for at least the next few years) Cleantech/Greentech, Social Enterprise, startup accelerators, full- spectrum food innovation, Hootsuite, Lulu, building materials, next generation energy, east meets west retail/restaurant/cultural laboratory of the first Asian city outside Asia.

    Rather than sitting around in leaky condos kvetching about how great other places are and wishing things would crash here in order to buy a mid century modern with a view of mountains, water and city, why don’t people actually recognise and participate in and LEAD some of the good stuff that is going on?

    Rather than being reliant on the past: fraudulent, outdated, old, financial sector-based cities that indirectly support the hipster neighborhood living, shitty culture spewing, coke sniffing, tourist trapping ( hello London and New York). How about looking to, and participating in, writing. leading the future? Leaders make the future, NOT Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan. HSBC, and Barclay’s.
    ( The ONLY reason NY and London were so successful).

    • Great comment; constructively provocative; thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kax.

      We agree that it makes no sense to attempt to emulate something else, something from the past, something we’re not. [Again, see our “What’s REALLY Good About Vancouver?” sidebar.]

      Perhaps unfair of you to characterize all of those “wishing” for a crash as backward thinking (although you only do that obliquely, you say it nonetheless). Most would argue fair-value RE would be a very progressive development for Vancouver; I certainly would.

      As far as throwing our weight behind what you consider the “good stuff that’s going on”: we’ll have to think about that a bit.
      Some of the things you list as examples of good stuff seem to us to be as vacuous as the bubble itself. But others are arguably worthy.

      Our central “kvetch” about the speculative mania in RE has always been that it has misallocated resources on a ginormous scale: it has distracted/hobbled/incapacitated people from getting on with exploring what could be even better. So, broadly, we’re in agreement there.

    • Real Estate Tsunami

      “cultural laboratory of the first Asian city outside of Asia”.
      Just don’t think that the experiments conducted in that laboratory are working. Our attempts of achieving fusion are resulting in the cauldron overboiling.
      Very insightful article, btw.

  3. Comparisons to NYC are plain ridiculous and delusional. Portland with NYC prices and worse weather would seem more apt.

    • Agreed. The author of the article appears to be moved to write it because so many insist on making these comparisons.

    • Portland is right on as far as what I see this city hanging its hipster hat on.

      Craft beer and quirky vintage stores. Both are shoe-ins for long term business success. These types of business hardly ever fail right?

    • What does Portland have that we don’t? Not much, except that instead of a tiny mostly-ignored-by-the majority cultural, foody and craft beer scene, Portland abounds with them, and they do enjoy widespread public, business and government support.
      Oh yes, and they think a historical building or neighbourhood is worth preserving in a real working sense, not just “saving” a facade to build leaky shoeboxes behind.

  4. And who does New York compare itself to?


  5. I’ve lived in both cities and there’s no comparison. New York is one of the few places in the world were major centres where art, culture, and commerce intersect. Vancouver is a regional centre with a lot going for it, but… no.

    Let’s see… VAG or Metropolitan Museum of Art? Wall Street or Vancouver Stock Exchange? Carnegie Hall or the Orpheum? Gosh, it is really tough to decide.

    One thing that is worth pointing out is that it is pretty much impossible to get a rent controlled apartment in New York. It’s a category that doesn’t exist anymore. There are a few 80-year-olds who have been living in the same sweet rambling prewar flats for $300/month (market rate $8,000), but to get one, you would have to move in with that old person, live there for a year, and remain after they kick the bucket. There are still some rent stabilized apartments, but this is not the same, it is possible for landlords to wiggle out of the category, and, again, getting one is like winning the lotto.

    I think what the article is referring to is the practice of making developers make a certain number of new units available at below-market rates. But these places are still very expensive, you have to sign up for the program and there is a long waiting list.

    Also worth pointing out that, even with all New York has to offer, I still prefer Vancouver! However, I moved back here because I found NYC too urban, too full of itself, and too obsessed with money. Now Vancouver is becoming the exact thing I was trying to get away from. Just with mountains.

  6. Real Estate Tsunami

    As I said in previous post a while back:
    “You can’t eat natural beauty”.

  7. Ralph Cramdown

    Didn’t somebody once say that Vancouver was like New York run by the Swiss? 😉

    • 4SlicesofCheese

      I think this is a new record, they managed to interviewed every realtor, mortgage broker, and economist from the real estates board all in one article.

    • Most definitely.

    • excellent Yah! what we have here is archetype home buyer: Alice Soo, soon to be age 30 this summer. What are we gonna do? We’re gonna marry her to a mortgage, and not a man. Kill two birds with one stone, load her with debt, and put her [reproductive capacity] out of commission…. there ain’t no way she’ll be able to afford a child until … who knows? maybe never, even better. I could play a little accordion here and get down to the knitty gritty, but no time for dirt bands when Vancouver must fill its condo’s!!!

      • pricedoutfornow

        Someone should send Ms. Soo an email and tell her that prices are no longer racing ahead in Vancouver. I would say no worries about prices going up (esp in the condo market) before she can save enough to buy. I would think she should be more worried about prices going DOWN after she buys, than prices going up while she continues to rent. I’ve been living in a condo in a “nice” building for the past 3 years-and every day I thank God I never bought one (and after living in one, never will).

    • This anecdote will be headlined tomorrow.
      Any mean-spirited, ad hominem, sexist, and/or irrelevant comments will be edited/redacted, as is our habit in these situations.

      • Crashinsky by Susanne, NY

        here, here!

      • Ralph Cramdown

        Allow me to be the first to congratulate Ms. Soo on her excellent choice. I’m sure shell enjoy her wonderful commute between VGH and Burnaby. If I’m right about her salary being about $40k, she won’t be able to pay much more than $300,000 for her unit before bumping into GDSR limits. Oh wait, condo fees? Happy shopping!

      • Ralph Cramdown

        Oh silly me, numbers are given further on in the article. $39k salary, shopping for $300k condo with $30k down. She’s right up against the 40% GDSR limit. And wants a place close to a Skytrain station.

      • Lenders gonna lend. There be slim pickin’s these days, but it’s not like they’re taking much risk…

    • OMFG.

      About 12 years ago, I also made 40k/year and wanted to buy a condo. I had 20 grand saved, no debt, and a fantastic credit rating. I went to my bank to ask how much they would lend me and they pre-approved me for FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS (apparently I was seen as risky because I hadn’t been in the workforce for very long).

      How on earth does that same scenario now get you rubber stamped for $270,000 ? This is really messing with my mind. Even with low interest rates, after taxes and other expenses, I don’t see how she could afford a payment of more than $1,000/month.

      • @Sheesh, Many years ago, I had a similar experience to yours as far as wages vs approved funds. The concern I have with today’s situation is that I believe too many people assume the banks are working in their best interest. These people may not do their homework as to what they can really afford. The banks are interested in keeping you as a customer for as long as possible. They are not about providing sound financial advice. I truly believe that many people do not make that connection.

  8. UBCghettodweller

    >There’s only so many years a city can ride on having hosted the lesser of the Olympics, no matter how many gold medals were won by locals. Only so many venues can close before the so-called ‘creative’ class finally throws in the towel and leaves everything to the mercy of developers, corrupt political parties and their sycophant friends.

    So, really, you’re describing Calgary since about 1990 minus the urban sprawl? Granted, the nascent cultural scene in Cowtown has been getting much better over the past decade as Calgarians have realized that they might actually be able to have a metropolitan culture.

  9. Vancouver is best described as an insecure teenager.

    We are bright, young, beautiful, insecure, influenced and misguided. Desperately in need of approval, preoccupied with comparing our selfs to those we admire instead of creating traits worth admiring.

    We have gotten where we are on good looks alone, the next few decades are what will solidify Vancouver as a young successful entrepreneur or a blond bimbo burn out with her best years behind.

    Am I optimistic? Yes.

    But the future we face isn’t without challenges. More than anything Vancouver needs a drastic change in social policy. We spend far too much time, money and effort on the wrong groups of people. We need to invest more in our young, bright and motivated. We need to focus more on bringing families here. Families that will grow, create neighbourhoods, demand services, and create thriving local economies.

    There are bright entrepreneurs here, look no further than Gastown for a real life example of what can become of Vancouver. Young, bright Vancouverties are investing in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada and gentrifying areas while maintaining heritage and unique appeal.

    Its not by accident that Gastown is undergoing this transformation, it all comes down to economics. Rental rates are a 1/10th of comparable areas elsewhere downtown, this allows young entrepreneurs to take risks and create business’.

    Housing is but a tip of the iceberg when it comes Vancouver’s problems. Unfortunately it will take the aforementioned entrepreneurs, the ones being actively driven out, to create change. The incumbents have proven that maintaing status quo is their mandate, lets hope we can all get collectively motivated and create a city we can all be proud of.

    • @ Burt “We have gotten where we are on good looks alone, the next few decades are what will solidify Vancouver as a young successful entrepreneur or a blond bimbo burn out with her best years behind.”

      Unfortunately, I am aware of a show about blond bimbos with their best years behind in Vancouver (Real Housewives of Vancouver) yet I am not seeing much on our young successful bunch.

      The analogy to a teenager is interesting. I liked it. Looking further back on this city’s history I wonder if we aren’t a transgendered lumberjack that injected too much botox and the creases are beginning to show.

      • Yes, I’d agree, Vancouver-teenager looks like those wandering in downtown with pounds of nose-earrings but no-single-thought-on-the-face… 🙂

        In the best case scenario, it would be like one of those no-English speaking-slowly-driving-Mercedes?

  10. matériel deficiency

    i stopped reading at ‘zits’. I doubt the New York Times would describe its urban construction this way. However, I do find the comments on this thread enlightening. New York is super-sophisticated, and Vancouver? Still a ‘Westend rump’ of wannabees

  11. Frankie goes to Guggenheim

    lounging around the suite this morning, plumping pillows, wondering about all that Sabre rattling in North Korea…(hand to forehead), oh! never mind… here’s the story that has me soo upset

  12. American RE having a Dead Cat Bounce

    ‘marketsniper’ at ‘slopeofhope’ is a New Yorker. Check out the thread 6:31am starting with a comment by ‘Wolfie’, American RE dead cat bounce. This is the first time I’ve heard this expression for the post USA housing crash.
    Is it possible that Canada and USA are now synchronous with RE? One country is carving out the downleg of a Top (Can), the other is carving out the downleg of the Right Shoulder (USA)?

    • Ralph Cramdown

      Real estate tends to have a lot more serial correlation, especially in places prone to bubbles, than other asset classes. I.e. when it’s going up, it keeps going up, and when it’s going down, it keeps going down. Google for more.

      As an aside, anytime I thought about buying something, asked someone’s advice and was told “dead cat bounce,” the wee cat just kept going skyward. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

    • Remember all the people saying the US stock markets were in a huge bear and when they rose following the Credit Crisis that it was just a dead cat bounce? Since then they have only doubled and broken to new highs.

      Gee, who saw that coming? (very few, let me assure you). The US Dollar meanwhile has never come close to crashing and burning like all the smarty-pants armchair economists kept predicting. Nor did hyperinflation materialize. And um…..gee we didn’t have a second Great Depression either.

      So now we have a bunch of experts warning that US Housing, after taking its worst decline in history on a national average basis, is just experiencing a “dead-cat” bounce.

      That same pack of geniuses are the same ones who encouraged people to sell into devastating stock market weakness thus locking in permanent losses and permanently jeopardizing their retirement plans.

      The fact is that following a massive price decline there is not usually a tendency for another massive price decline to follow. More typically the time to buy is when sentiments are at their lowest and that time has already passed. Momentum meanwhil (as pointed out by Ralph) can easily carry the day as prices are again ramping up and inventory drops to surprisingly low levels. Surprise!

      US real estate is now cheaper than it has ever been in recorded history when inflation adjusted and considering the extremely low interest rates. If only more potential buyers had better credit ratings they would already be back on track to creating a new bubble in some US cities.

      I do not buy the dead-cat bounce theory for one damn second.

      • Real Estate Tsunami

        I believe that QE in Canda and in the States has only bought us some breathing room IMO.
        I just can’t see how getting into debt to pay off debt will get us anywhere.

      • Try not to be shocked when I say that housing is the key to the US recovery and that it is one we in Canada depend upon to succeed. Past housing bubbles be damned…..we are trying to engineer a recovery and it is more important that we arrive than what happens along the way.

      • Real Estate Tsunami

        I think all this “engineering” has gotten us into this mess.
        Time to get out of the way and let the chips fall where they may.
        This destination needs a new journey.

  13. I don’t know a single person in Vancouver who compares this city to NYC. Aside from RE marketers, realtors and occasionally the media, but I highly doubt they actually believe it. Seriously do you all hear regular people on the street making such a delusional comparison??

  14. Carioca Canuck

    I lived in Vancouver or two years.

    I visited NYC for two weeks.

    I am not planning on going back Vancouver. The time spent in NYC can be best described as life changing……………Vancouver on the other hand, what a waste of time.

    • DouglasCoupland/Vancouver’s turn…

      [NoteToEd: I do believe I’ll stick with Woody, Gershwin and Gotham]

  15. At the considerable risk of pointing out the obvious…

  16. They only compare the RE prices between Vancouver and NYC. What about wages? The one in NYC is making way more than what we make in Vancouver.

  17. You don’t have to go as far as New York to see higher wages. I have been doing freelance work my entire working life of 30 years. I worked in Vancouver for 6 years but moved back to Toronto. Similar work in Toronto pays 2 to 5 times more than what I would have billed in Vancouver. The math was easy. The move back to Toronto easier. The networking is easier as well.

    • But..but..but..It is the best place on earth. Where I could ski in the morning and surf in the afternoons. Who cares about wages!!
      I am a Vancouver hipster and debt doesn’t matter!!

  18. Vancouver is the most immature, vicious town i’ve ever seen. only in Vancouver do homeowners make vicious insults about renters, such a childish, immature city…. in New York nobody makes fun of renters if you did people would look at you like your a goof …..2 different worlds

  19. Manhattan is 80% renters…are all the proud Vancouver homeowners gonna make fun of them too….for being inferior to the great Vancouverites

  20. Robson Street might not be quite the equivalent of Fifth Avenue (or whatever) but I always remember Vancouver city as being clean, condensed and fairly efficient with transport. Stanley Park and sandy beaches were accessible to hundreds of thousands of people within an easy walk when it was not raining. Is is casual getting close to beaches in New York that are safe, clean and easily accessible by bus to just about anyone who wants to go? Obviously there is more to a city than a waterfront that is public and unhindered by industry, private estates and commercial docks but it sure makes your daily life more comfortable. In times gone past I used to walk from downtown across the Burrard bridge to home on UBC and most of the walk was near the ocean, through pathways along the park belt most of the way up to the old military hangars (long since dismantled and now home to the annual Folk Festival). Good thinking time even if it was a long way. Vancouver might not be New York but it has quality of life aspects that are not found elsewhere.

    • “It has quality of life aspects that are not found elsewhere”

      Couldn’t disagree more. There are dozens of fantastic coastal cities the world over. Parks the world over. Mountains the world over. Vancouver may have NYC beat on these points, but it is by no means unique.

  21. Real Estate Tsunami

    I remember when Boris Yeltsin and Clinton had their Summit Meeting at Canada place.
    The reporters kept on pressing Yeltsin: “Isn’t this the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?”.
    And I was just thinking: How pathetic.

  22. Yawn.

    Seriously, almost every thread tends to degenerate into some bitter ex-Vancouverite ranting about “how much better off he is now that he’s out of this hellhole”. And yet people still keep coming. Too much blurring of the lines betwen legitimate complaints about overheated real estate and folks bitter they couldn’t make a go of it here.

  23. Leaving 604 very soon! :P

    I see couple of delusional Vancouverites commenting here…

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