UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The cultural economy of urban development : density and the politics of affordable housing in Toronto and Vancouver Hyde, Zachary


In the face of a growing housing crisis, since the early 2000s cities throughout North America have created various policies to encourage urban developers to build affordable housing in exchange for extra density. This phenomenon has produced novel public-private arrangements and prompted some developers to take on a dual identity of luxury condominium builders and partners in solving the housing crisis. Considering this significant shift in the responsibilities of the private sector, how can we understand the new role of developers in providing affordable housing through density? What are the motivations and justification of actors in the industry, government, non-profit, and public sphere in supporting or challenging these arrangements? My dissertation draws on 100 qualitative interviews with politicians, developers, and other actors in the field of urban development in Toronto and Vancouver, two years of ethnographic observation, and frame analysis of over 500 newspaper articles, to address these questions through three standalone yet interrelated papers. Drawing from work in cultural sociology, geography, and anthropology, which emphasizes the role of meaning, symbolism, and different forms of non-market exchange in the economy, I advance an urban cultural economy approach for the study of urban development. First, I argue that the exchange of density between the private sector and the state takes the form of gift-giving and reciprocity and this has a consequential impact on land-use decisions. This finding adds nuance to debates on urban neoliberalization. Second, I argue that giving back through density agreements allows developers to accumulate symbolic capital, which is simultaneously altruistic and profit-oriented. This finding advances understandings of non-economic capital in the field of urban development. Finally, through an analysis of Canadian news media, I show how exchanging density for rental housing relies on cultural understandings of housing tenure and fictional expectations of the future of housing markets. This finding contributes to recent work on the role of narratives and storytelling within the capitalist economy. In addition to advancing theoretical conversations in urban, cultural, and economic sociology, my dissertation also provides suggestions for how to improve urban development policy in Canadian cities.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International