What city am I in? I see an amazing beach, trails for walking/running/biking, mountains for hiking, great cafes, and shopping; Vancouver, you say? Actually, I write to you from Santa Monica, California. Surrounded by star studded, Malibu, Westwood, Century City, Beverley Hills, Venice, and Marina Del Ray, Santa Monica is part of a beautiful city plan that makes for a sought after place to live and visit, along with housing values that can weather economic storms.
Santa Monica has retained a small town feel, despite its higher population. Its residents seem to thrive on living a truly, relaxed, beach lifestyle. Houses are relatively modest and well kept. These houses tend to be accessorized by nice vehicles with brands that let the cat out of the bag; there is money in this city. However, money is not flaunted in your face. Other than beautiful vehicles, opulence seems to be shunned here, similar to Kitsilano, in many ways. Santa Monicans are highly fashionable and appreciate unique styles and experiences, as opposed to a big box bore. I have never considered, “laid back,” to be an appropriate description of Vancouver, and my time in Santa Monica reinforces how much the label doesn’t suit us, compared to them.
In researching the housing market here, it seems they have defied the slump that many U.S. cities still find themselves in. They have a hot seller’s market now, with little to no foreclosure and short sales available. Well priced houses are selling for over asking. To me, this is a testament to buying as close as you can to the area where everyone wants to be. It is not about the house alone, but rather, is about the lifestyle that the location of the house or condo can provide the owner, and all potential owners in the future.
The closer you can buy a home to trails, parks, water, community centres, and a great shopping district, the more likely your area will weather economic storms. This should remind current home owners in all Canadian cities to support their local, owner/operated retail district that services their area, as these are the businesses who will try to weather economic storms with you, instead of cutting their losses in lean times, to head back the USA. The more that those businesses prosper, the more your home value will tend to stay strong. If businesses are left to die, and vacancies are slow to fill with desirable tenants, the entire community suffers. Retailers are large supporters of kids’ sports teams, silent auctions for schools and charity, and for beautifying an area through their Business Improvement Association.
Being a retailer for the past fifteen years, I am always interested in seeing how owner operated stores in other cities are doing. Unlike Vancouver, Santa Monica has many retail districts that are several blocks long, similar to Toronto’s Young or Queen streets. Their retail runs east-west on a grid system with residential dwellings running north-south. This results in all retail blocks being surrounded by residents to support them, and vice-versa. Overall, Vancouver has a relatively small amount of shopping districts for a city of its size, and many of those districts are less than five consecutive, blocks long. Areas such as Robson Street and South Granville have also been taken over by large chains in the past several years, as owner/operated businesses cannot sustain the constant rise in rents. As we have seen in the news lately, high lease rates have forced even large chain stores to vacate Robson street, leaving the community surrounding this area without a thriving retail area. This hurts housing values in the long run for sure, because it can take years to grow a retail district to a thriving state.
I have been to Hawaii, Montana, Las Vegas, Calgary, and now California in the past four months for business and some beach time. I sense a feeling of optimism and strength from retailers and business, as a whole, in those cities. There is no question that the United States is fantastic at supporting the United States. Vancouver is also great at supporting the United States, as our two to four hour cross border shopping line-ups confirm each weekend. It would be prudent for Vancouverites to take a page from the United States’ sovereignty etiquette book, and try to support our own too, as it will help our beautiful city to weather economic storms, just as Santa Monica has seemed to succeed at. In doing so, we will become more of a community, I believe, getting us closer to that, “laid back,” status that we are labelled with, from afar.