Ken Lum’s ‘Vancouver Especially’ – “Two of the city’s great crises: Homelessness and Obscene Real Estate Prices”


A man who appeared to be homeless offered to sell me a tiny house – actually a new art installation by Ken Lum, which I was looking at – for “a good price:” less than $1-million (which would be a good price, considering the tiny plot of land, on the edge of Vancouver’s Chinatown, is alone assessed at more than $1.7-million).

The exchange exemplified two of the city’s great crises: homelessness and its obscene real estate prices. Lum’s installation, Vancouver Especially, speaks very much to the latter. The work, with its faux brick and stucco, replicates the mass-produced, no-frills house known as a Vancouver Special, scaled to its 1973 property value ($45,000 – Lum’s production budget), then enlarged eightfold, because the installation would have been too small otherwise.

There’s a house-shaped cut-out in the base at the front that Lum says represents what $45,000 would buy today. Growing up in East Vancouver, Lum watched Vancouver Specials popping up everywhere. Built with working class and immigrant families in mind, what they lack in architectural significance they make up for in square footage – and are now out of reach for the common home buyer.

Beyond the obvious economic commentary, the work, at 271 Union St., addresses the transformation in this specific neighbourhood. “I find it shocking that Chinatown may lose its special, ethnic character,” says Lum, who now lives in Philadelphia.

– excerpted in total from ‘Ken Lum’s new art installation tackles Vancouver’s real estate crisis’, Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail, 2 Mar 2015
– images from, G&M, Vancouver Sun



Art as a beacon of sanity in insane times.
Very well done, Ken Lum.
– vreaa

34 responses to “Ken Lum’s ‘Vancouver Especially’ – “Two of the city’s great crises: Homelessness and Obscene Real Estate Prices”

  1. You call that public art, IllustriousEd?… Now this… This!… Is public art [even if, no – especially if, you know who doesn’t get it]…

  2. Art as a beacon of sanity in insane times.
    Very well done, Ken Lum.
    – vreaa

    That is a generous, socially aware review.
    The message from the artist is straight forward. However, obsession with Vancouver wacky real an art reflects the city as overtly materialistic. It is like the masterplan finally pans out and the greedy city is on its way to become a world-class city of 5 million tax-generating dwellers. Actually, it will be 3.5 million dwellers + 30% offshore owners. 🙂

  3. Same story, different headlines, presumably for two different sets of readers.

    Canada as ‘New Switzerland’ Driving Toronto Condo Market

    Immigrants bring on housing boom ~ Canada is the new Switzerland

    • We have heard of the Ordos City

      China’s Manhattan (Yujiapu Financial District).

      And more ghost cities. Notice all the buildings are concrete and ceramic roof-tiles, not wood-frame and wood-shingles often associated with poverty-stricken shanty towns in Asia.

    • So, what is the psyche of these real estate scatter hoarders, who ditch their own unpopulated towns and invest in multiple residential SFDs and condos per investor abroad? Of course, a family of 6 consists of parents, 2 children and grandparents, they can claim 6 principle homes among themselves and save a bundle on capital gains when they sell their houses. Or they can use a shell company to purchase one $50M SFD, and minimize the nasty capital gains. Let’s keep an open mind. Anything is possible. Even a duck farmer can switch trade to become a submarine communications cable expert.

      Bo Xilai’s French Villa was a gift from businessman Xu Min, and it was registered under a shell company, with one of Bo’s girlfriends as its legal representative. Sydney’s “Mandalay” mansion sold recently has a Chinese (foreign) owner hiding behind a trust with an Australian resident as one of its trustees.

  4. YVR Housing Analyst (@YVRHousing)

    Insane yes, and I’m still hoping a group of frustrated Vancouverites buy land somewhere and build a housing complex called Botany Bay.

  5. vancouver isnt mind-numbingly boring… can have a picnic in the park, then go for a walk in the park, go for a walk near some mountains go for a walk near an ocean , go kayaking, snow shoeing, ice climbing ,
    roller blading , jogging , hiking, biking , golfing ,

  6. rod_jonsson_pmd

    all_this %
    mutate(CBs = “gone_wild”) %>%
    mutate(leverage = “gone_wild”) %>%
    mutate(markets = “full_casino_mode”) %>%
    filter(real_economy == “rolling_over_now___again”) %>%
    mutate(positionthyself = “neutral_safe”) %>%
    filter(until == “shtf”)
    # pffft! …

  7. Everyone will sell their houses, stocks, and art at the top of the market:

    And the bears will run in and scoop up everything for pennies on the dollar. Just as soon as they ring the bell.

  8. CNNMoney (New York) May 11, 2015
    “Buying and selling top art is a business with lots of secrecy and little regulation. That makes it a possible destination for people trying to avoid paying taxes or even launder money. ”

    • I mentioned earlier of China’s plan to flush Hot Money into global real estate parkades.
      As China is mounting its anti-graft campaign against kleptocrats comprising corrupt officials, their children and relatives, and crafty businessmen, why would they allow more capital outflows. One good reason is to suppress underground intermediaries and shadow banking.

      Point is, when supposedly legitimate funds reached Vancouver, why should M$ properties, land & assets be registered under the names of BC residents who are unemployed or have only a couple hundred $ in their bank accounts to finance multiple M$ mortgages?..

      WSJ has an article dated May 28, 2015, “China to ease limits on overseas investments”.

      • I don’t know, if you read most of what’s posted here, there is absolutely nothing to worry about from foreign money. No matter what China decides to do, it is all locals splurging on real estate. We have a lot of locals who all run around with 2 million dollars of down payment and have incomes to take out a 8 million dollar mortgage to buy a place from a chinese agent (I am sure this is coincidence of course) at 10 million dollars on the westside. So we have nothing to worry about because Vancouver housing is in no way tied to anything to do with China apparently. Let China flush their hot money into the world markets, because of course we know none of it will be in this market right?

      • WSJ article is a good read.

        The original version of WorldJournal’s article reflects the local Vancouverites’ view on this matter. This goolge-translate version is straight forward..

      • Here is the direct link to the WorldJounal’s said article.

      • Well I for one think there will be an effect. Maybe El Ninja will now agree that this is what he classifies as an unforeseen event? I agree with what China is doing. The money will go out of the country legally or not, it doesn’t really matter. But first, they need to relieve the pressure on the domestic currency rather than simply buying more US debt all the time to keep the RMB low.

      • I do concede that the amount of Chinese money going into Vancouver RE was to some extent unforeseen. However, I think current prices reflect an overly optimistic expectation re: future demand, Chinese or otherwise, and therefore wouldn’t be surprised to see prices fall even if buyers don’t dry up.

      • Brian Chen

        See I don’t mind that at all. I think that we aren’t accounting very much for the Chinese money particularly what is about to come. But neither of us have numbers to back up our claims here. It is just personal opinion. I just think that people need to recognize that there is an effect, whether that has been fully accounted for its anyone’s guess. That’s really what we are betting on here.

  9. Ken Lum had to leave Vancouver to further his career

    that says a lot about vancouver right there

    • In Ken Lum’s case, it doesn’t. His bio says that he used to work at UBC Arts and now has gone to Philadelphia in search of a more advanced faculty position. It’s one of those things like a soccer player has to play in Europe, nothing to do with the city. Let’s say he was from Seattle, he would still have to move because what he does is very specialized. So while what you say may be true in many cases, I don’t think it is in Ken Lum’s case.

  10. maybe a license plate change from best place on earth to 46th best place in Canada

  11. More fodder. I am actually impressed the depth of Ian Young’s research. It’s quite compelling. This is worse than I thought.

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