The future belongs to the Squamish
By Scott Sumner
One groups wants to preserve the traditional way of living, with an extended family dwelling in little single-family homes. Another group wants to embrace progress, erecting soaring futuristic skyscrapers:
We’ve seen this dynamic play out over and over again, all over the world. What might surprise you is that in this case the progressive group that wants to build massive skyscrapers is a Native American tribe, while the people who wish to live according to the old ways are the European and Asian residents of Vancouver, Canada.
This reminds me of Connecticut, another state full of complacent westerners that wish to preserve things just the way they’ve always been. A few decades ago, a group of Native Americans saw a huge unmet need for gambling services, and erected some truly enormous facilities in the countryside of eastern Connecticut.
In Vancouver, the residents of the affected neighborhood are fighting the new development, but according to The Economist they will almost certainly lose. You can’t fight progress when someone else has sovereignty over the area in question:
It’s easier to elect a pope than to approve a small apartment building in the city of Vancouver,” says Ginger Gosnell-Myers, of Nisga’a and Kwakwak’awakw heritage, and formerly the city’s first-ever indigenous-relations manager. Such is the power of local NIMBYS that it is difficult to build new homes, and legions of young people are doomed to live with their parents for years, if not decades. But on some land the normal rules do not apply. No one can tell the Squamish First Nation, an indigenous group, what to build on their territory.
One patch of its reserve is in Kitsilano, a ritzy part of Vancouver. Despite being close to the city centre, it is full of single-family homes and duplexes. Residents fiercely resist the construction of tall buildings. But they cannot stop the Squamish from erecting 59-storey skyscrapers. This year could see the ground broken for Senakw—12 towers containing 6,000 flats, mostly for renting.
There is a serious point to all of this. Regulatory competition can be good. It might sound “efficient” to have a provincial, national or even supra-national organization set all the rules. But if they make the wrong call then people have no option to do things a different way. If you have many competing jurisdictions, then any attempt by one area to stand in the way of progress will simply push people toward nearby areas where enterprises are willing to respond to their needs:
In 2019 the city vowed to put up 20,000 new rental units. Senakw would meet roughly a quarter of that target, points out Ms Gosnell-Myers. “The Squamish Nation is more responsive to average Vancouverites than Vancouver city hall.”