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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consumption city : precarious labour and capital in Vancouver, British Columbia Siemiatycki, Elliot


Vancouver is increasingly being recognized as a model of urban development in the 21st century. While much of the attention paid to Vancouver has focused on ‘Vancouverism’ as an urban planning and design approach that encourages high-density, amenity-rich, mixed-use development to reenergize urban cores, this dissertation examines the exceptional economic development trajectory underlying Metro Vancouver’s urban transformation since the early 1980s. The central claim in this research is that changes to the built form of the city over the past three decades represent a fundamental shift in the orientation of the local economy away from export-oriented resource activity and business services towards local consumption in real estate and tourism which is driven by inward international investment and immigration. The single most important outcome of this largely unplanned shift in urban economic development has been the unprecedented increases in local housing prices. Instead of a healthy ‘diversified’ economy, this reorientation of Vancouver as a consumption city has created a dysfunctional ‘hybrid’ economy characterized by significant job losses in key local economic sectors, below average levels of productivity and exports, and relatively low incomes. Through a set of comparative sectoral case studies exploring food and beverage services, legal services and digital media services, this dissertation seeks to understand what impact the rise of Vancouver as a consumption city has had on local workers and firms. This research complicates a variety of conceptual frameworks used by human geographers such as precarious employment, global and creative cities, firm competitiveness, and entrepreneurial governance. Above all, the many paradoxes of Vancouver’s contemporary economic development trajectory are exposed in the words of local workers, firms, commentators and industry experts: Vancouver is simultaneously the most livable and unaffordable city in the world; Vancouver is a leading creative city in which creative firms and workers alike struggle under conditions of precariousness; Vancouver is mythologized as a healthy, sustainable, lifestyle city while these very qualities often must be sacrificed by working Vancouver residents. Tracing the underlying story and challenges of Vancouver’s emergence as a global consumption city provides important insights into 21st century urban development.

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