Canada

The Canadian Property Bubble Is So Frothy, Some Now Consider Parks A “Waste”

The Canadian property bubble is at the part where some people now only see the expensive real estate that can be used for housing. One of Canada’s national newspapers recently ran a staff-written piece on why public parks are a waste of space. Instead, they suggest parks should be used for more housing or run as private facilities.

Let’s gloss over whether you think it’s a dumb idea or not, and let’s appreciate how frothy the author’s take is. There are people that no longer see the value in public space, because the expensive land could produce more trade value. It turns out this take comes up during every real estate bubble, and is cyclical. Weird, I know. Let’s dive in.

Some Canadians Think Public Parks Are A Waste of Space… This Happens More Often Than You Think

Real estate is all Canadians can see, as more and more people question the use of land, especially in Toronto and Vancouver. “There’s no doubt that parks have been a godsend for many Canadians throughout this pandemic, offering a place to play and stretch the legs when virtually everything else is closed. But when I see an urban park, I can’t help thinking it’s a waste of prime real estate,” says the author. 

Adding, “Now, we have vast swaths of land smack in the middle of large urban centers that could house hundreds of people, but are instead being used as a toilet by half a dozen dogs.” 

Repurposing urban parks as housing is, uh… an interesting perspective. It’s also a recurring theme that has occurred throughout various real estate bubbles as well. In Toronto for instance, the late 1980s bubble saw people argue plots of land like the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital in Etobicoke needed to be turned into high-density housing. If they didn’t, ever-escalating home prices would collapse the City and produce mass poverty.  

In 1991, two years after the hot topic city discussion, Toronto’s real estate market began to collapse. Suddenly the property wasn’t needed, and it was declared a historic site, with Humber college moving into the space. The green around the historic buildings is still preserved now. 

Parks Make Housing Expensive and Should Be Privatized? Nah, It’s How Value Is Created

The real point of the article finally boils up — it makes new housing more expensive, so it should be privatized. “And instead of requiring developers to set aside valuable condo real estate to build parks, how about flipping the script: let Starbucks or some other company take over a corner of an existing park, in exchange for maintaining the public space. We may have to accept empty patches of grass in our cities, but we shouldn’t all be forced to pay for them,” he writes. 

A lot to unpack there, but the biggest one is the argument developers should build more housing instead of parks. The suggestion is it makes housing more expensive, by underutilizing space. Let’s gloss over the fact that ramping up building occurs near every peak, ironically driving prices higher by placing more pressure on material demand. 

Instead let’s focus on the fact that in a bubble, people completely ignore how price value is created. One of the key factors in establishing price value is the amenities around the property. That park space generates both social value for the community, as well as aesthetic value for the owners. The only way you forget that is in a bubble mindset where you assume prices will grow at this rate forever, regardless of what changes. Which is kind of like taking how much a kid grows from the age of 11 to 13, and using that to project their final height at 86. 

“I would gladly pay $5 or $10 to take my kids to the park if it meant a reduction in my property taxes.” 

Ticketed parks are an adorable idea, but if the park closed you wouldn’t be saving property tax money. You would likely have to pay more — much more. An estimate from American Forests shows trees in cities, and the green surrounding them, save cities $400 billion per year in stormwater retention facilities. Kind of a pillage and plunder mindset. Save now, it’s someone else’s cost later… hopefully. 

People Really Hate Cemeteries During Real Estate Bubbles

The same author also previously wrote a piece on eliminating cemeteries, because it’s valuable property. This was a hot topic in the late 1970s and late 80s. Toronto was supposed to become so heavily populated, the dead would have to commute. After the crash in 1991, you were free to be buried in the city again without anyone throwing you some shade. While I don’t have strong feelings about cemeteries either way, it is interesting to see how market history repeats — even the bad takes.

The bubble mindset appears to be cyclical, producing similar arguments every time it starts to froth. The land is expensive, so it needs to be maximized without any regard for the impact on quality of life. The detachment from fundamental price growth leaves many to think prices will always rise. It doesn’t matter what we do, we just need to fit in as many worker boxes as possible. For the good of the economy. 

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23 Comments

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  • Oldguy 2 weeks ago

    I lived in New York for a few years, in a condo overlooking Central Park.
    Two point related to the park. First, all of the most expensive property in the city is located near the park. A coincidence? I think not.
    Every New Yorker, including those who live nowhere near the park see it as the crown jewel of the city, in every possible respect.
    In fact, most of the great cities of the world are defined by their wonderful green spaces. But of course Toronto is already the world class city, so let’s bulldoze the green spaces and build condos.
    Typical Star garbage.

    • Marco Von Marcovich 2 weeks ago

      Star? The articles are National Post…

  • Oakville Rob 2 weeks ago

    Have you ever looked up the hill at San Francisco? It’s all houses, cheek to jowl, for miles and mikes with one tree. I like the forest that is Canada.

    • Oakville Rob 2 weeks ago

      ‘Miles to Mikes’, no pun intended. Total typo.

      • Pete 2 weeks ago

        Presido, Japanese Tea, Botanical, Golden Gate and so on.

        San Francisco has so many parks and green areas.

  • Kolf 2 weeks ago

    To be fair, parks and graveyards are inefficient use of land near city center. For example, if you analyze numbers of occupied hours per day for a square meter or park land vs housing. You will find that if you convert urban parks into multi storey building it will do much more good. When was the last time you actually went to a park? And for how long?

    • Paul 2 weeks ago

      You most likely have a back yard and don’t live deep in an urban environment. Just because you haven’t walked in or used a park doesn’t mean other people don’t. Parks as the article pointed out bring value.

      I don’t own a car. I think we should get rid of parking in the city centre, I mean who uses it? It would be a better use of space for parks…

      • Kolf 2 weeks ago

        Dear Paul, thats why its almost all underground or multi storey parking downtown.

        Im just looking at this purely from maximizing good of all parties involved. Besides, we can learn from Asia where they have roof top parks.

        • Oldguy 2 weeks ago

          A short rejoinder.
          Short list of world class cities with famous parks/gardens: London, Paris, Amsterdam, Moscow, Rome, New York, Tokyo… and on and on. Even Vancouver!
          If you really care about most profitable use, make the whole city a casino.

          • Daniel 2 weeks ago

            The whole city already is a casino 😉
            Just look at housing auctions.

    • Smaug 2 weeks ago

      Because clearly the value of land can only be measured by the density of people (and dwellings) you can cram onto it. You didn’t provide an alternate viewpoint so much as miss the point entirely. A greenspace – even if all you ever do is drive by it or look at it out your window – has value that cannot be measured in monetary or density/usage terms. Not everything can be valued simply by how many people are on it 24/7, or condos you can build on it.

    • JT 2 weeks ago

      Pre-covid, most of the hours people spent at home were sleeping. Not an efficient use of residential real estate. We could juts have rental pods with bed and washrooms.

      You need to read up on storm water runoff implications of removing green space.

      A city like Toronto would probably have to double water pipe capacity if it paved over all the parks. That’s an expensive endeavour for a city that’s still dealing with removing lead pipes in old parts of the city and backlog of replacing upgrading old water mains.

    • CK 2 weeks ago

      Judging by your comment, you don’t live downtown. Here in Toronto the parks are packed, especially in the summer days and evenings. I live in the heart of the city and it’s a vibrant experience. There are picnics everywhere, groups of people chit chatting, playing games (frisbee, slack lining), guitar playing, walking their dogs, going for bike rides, etc. [especially pre-COVID days] Simply put, you cannot assign a dollar value to the health/mental wellbeing benefits so easily and it sound’s like you don’t get out much outside.

      I’m in city parks a couple times a day. In the morning cycling through High Park, in the afternoon walking through Christie Pits and in the late evening near the Grange. The city is alive and bustling… it’s a fantastic way to enjoy the seasons in Toronto!

    • Marco Von Marcovich 2 weeks ago

      Roughly 1-1.5 hours per day at the park here.

    • Sam 2 weeks ago

      Hmmm… Even with that kind of “analysis”, parks will beat single family homes every day of the week!

  • Herry 2 weeks ago

    Staff at a national newspaper !?!? Fake news or not, leave the parks alone, you stupid bunch of morons !!!

  • Smaug 2 weeks ago

    After Hurricane Hazel killed 100 people in the GTA in 1954 (no, not the former mayor of Mississauga – she never killed anyone – the actual hurricane), urban planners realized how important forests and wetlands were in serving as water retention areas during nature’s occasional deluges. Thus, from that point on, an effort was made to create a greenbelt, and to set aside parkland along with development. Now these idiots want to backfill the parkland with condos. They do this in part because they know they can always wash their hands of the results. The resulting floods will be blamed on climate change.

    (Note: I am not a climate change denier. I am simply annoyed by how many local/regional problems could be solved with local action, but instead politicians focus on climate change to the exclusion of everything else. I suspect it offers politicians a convenient means of washing their hands of any responsibility, and also allows them to remain in the pockets of developers while pretending to be environmentally aware.)

    • Ottawa Resident 2 weeks ago

      That doesn’t sound like climate change denial. There are some interesting research papers on microclimates and precipitation. People think only at the high level are things impacted (“what about China?!” but don’t think about why some regions are impacted more than others, and the ones that are have the least amount of natural habitat remaining over its arae.

  • eped 2 weeks ago

    I think we should get rid of parks personally. Who needs trees anyway. I mean what do trees do but replace reduce carbon monoxide which poisons us. We can replace parks with houses built in top of the plastic waste we already throw into the ocean. Why not just go full assault on any natural environmental setting while building “green” homes which are better for the environment.. Cut it and pave it.. note to some…. Note the sarcasm

    • Samson 2 weeks ago

      Indeed ….and in parallel you can also get rid of the maple leaf in your national flag and replace it with a brick….or just throw your flag into the dump which it then deserves once your nature is gone.

  • Noah 2 weeks ago

    When ever I went to buy property (home) I will check how many parks in the area and near me, green space. school, hospitals. and once a wise man said you measure civilized nation with the amount of parks and green in their cities and towns. and I believe it

  • Noah 2 weeks ago

    When ever I went to buy property (home) I will check how many parks in the area and near me, green space. school, hospitals. and once a wise man said you measure civilized nation with the amount of parks and green in their cities and towns. and I believe it

  • Panther 1 week ago

    Don’t think getting rid of parks is even a convo to be had but cemeteries…. Waste of prime land. I’m sure there are better ways to rid of a decaying body like the human compost facility in Seattle. 8 weeks and you’re top soil!

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