How “World Class” Is Vancouver?

One of the favourite justifications for high housing prices in Vancouver is, “we’re cheap compared to other world-class cities like Paris, Tokyo, London, New York, etc.”. In fact, Housing Minister Rich Coleman (following up on his comments from last week) gave this response a few days ago when asked about foreign ownership in Vancouver.

“I believe that the market place adjusts. If you notice over the years, it has fluctuations up and fluctuations down. If you look at the mean cost of housing across British Columbia and you compare it to other major cities worldwide, the reason it is attractive internationally is because it’s actually pretty reasonable compared to other cities like London, Singapore, Tokyo”

But is Vancouver really comparable to those cities?


How does Vancouver compare to those other cities when it comes to metropolitan area population?

  • Tokyo: 34,607,069
  • New York: 20,092,883
  • London: 13,879,757
  • Paris: 11,978,363
  • Western Canada: 10,394,228 (west of Ontario)
  • Pittsburgh: 2,356,285
  • Vancouver: 2,313,328
  • Portland: 2,226,009

When it comes to population, Vancouver is not even close to the usual comparison cities. In fact, Tokyo, New York, London and Paris all have higher populations than Western Canada. On the list of North American Metropolitan Areas, Vancouver ranks 35th — right between Pittsburgh and Portland.

World City Rankings

The Globalization and World Cities Research Network has a methodology for ranking world cities. In their most recent analysis, the top four cities were: London, New York, Hong Kong and Paris. Vancouver ranks more than 60 places lower, most comparable to: Caracas, Riyadh, Chennai and Manchester.

A.T. Kearney compiles a Global Cities Index (GCI), which “examines a comprehensive list of 84 cities on every continent, measuring how globally engaged they are across 26 metrics in five dimensions: business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience, and political engagement”. The usual comparison cities are all at the top. Vancouver ranked 48th.
Global Cites Top 20

The 3 most visited museums in the world are in Paris, New York and London. The Vancouver art gallery didn’t make the top 100.

Of the four major cross-border North American sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS), Vancouver has 2 teams and 0 championships. New York has 8 teams and 41 championships. Vancouver briefly had an NBA franchise, but lost it to fellow world-class city Memphis, Tennessee.

New York has Broadway, London has the West End, Vancouver has Granville Street?

Reasonable Comparisons

Vancouver is simply not in the same league as the truly world-class cities with which it is often compared. Two much more comparable cities are Portland and Seattle (similar populations, weather, natural beauty, etc.). So, how do these three cities compare when it comes to median house prices?

  • Vancouver: $704,800 CAD
  • Seattle: $359,100 USD
  • Portland: $291,300 USD

Sure, Vancouver is cheaper than truly world-class cities. But compared to similar cities, it is extremely overpriced.


9 thoughts on “How “World Class” Is Vancouver?

  1. You completely negate the geographical landscape of the region. And I’m not speaking of Vancouver’s natural beauty. Vancouver is landlocked, that in itself drives land values up. You’re comparing irrelevant points with population and rankings. Geographically Vancouver is very similar to places like New York and Hong Kong where the price of real estate is locked in the limited supply of land, not because it has a popular museum or Broadway.

    • Do you realize that about 50% of the Lower Mainland is in the ALR? There is plenty land left to develop if we decide it’s important enough to do so.

      • More to do with the border, mountains, ocean, and countless rivers. Although, I would argue that preserving the ALR is also an important ideology.

  2. Peopla has been saying the “bubble” in Vancouver will burst since the 70s, haven’t seen it yet!! The 2008 financial crisis barely made a dent in Vancouver, average drop about 10% and shot right back up.

    Those people still waiting to get in the market or will never get it…..

  3. Mentioning the job market would also show that Vancouver is not world class. Vancouver does not have enough high level salaries to support the housing prices. How many multi national companies have headquarters in Vancouver compared to those other cities? What is the diversity of industry?

  4. I used to live in Toronto, moved out to Vancouver 20 years ago and never turn back. Whiners will always complain housing prices are beyond reach! Prices are never in line with salaries in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, New York, LA, Tokyo, HK, etc etc…
    I now own several properties in Vancouver and started with nothing when I came here. Start small and let your equity build.

  5. So when i arrived here in 1999 and a SFH in East Van was $250k or about 5 times median income, a one bedroom apartment on Commercial & 8th was 80k, and a my home in N Burnaby on a 130×80 lot sold for 299k, Vancouver wasn’t landlocked? Back then all the areas i listed were affordable. Sure it was still pricey vs other areas of Canada but a single working professional could buy a SFH. Even houses in Van West were only $600k – well within the reach of a dual-income middle class couple making 75k each.

    Even 15 years ago when apparently we had the ocean, US border, ALR etc etc it was a place regular people could live.

  6. Pingback: Investing, Vancouver Style! | Vancouver Housing Blog

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