UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban land development system : land speculation and other built-in problems (a case for public acquistion of land and development control) Matharoo, Gurdarshan Singh


Since the mid-sixties, and more particularly, since the beginning of 1972, housing prices in major urban centers across Canada have risen so sharply that it has become almost impossible for most Canadians to acquire adequate housing accommodation within their means. The rate of increase in the cost of land for housing, in comparison with other housing cost components, has been tremendously high. Why is the cost of land and housing so high in a land-rich country like Canada, and what could be done to control the rising cost of land and housing is the concern of this study. This thesis argues that the existing system, whereby, land is owned, planned, serviced, developed, and marketed, has built-in drawbacks and weaknesses that give rise to many problems which contribute to the high cost of urban land for housing. It is suggested that the value of urban land mostly represents the value created due to the general growth of the urban community and public development planning decisions. The benefits from such value increments in urban land rightlyabelong to the urban community. But in the existing system, in which land is predominantly owned by private owners and developed at the will of private owners and developers, these value increments in urban land remain in the hands of the private owners. It is argued that such profits from increments in land value due to community growth attract all forms of speculative practices that, to a very large extent are responsible for increasing the cost of land for housing. This is also responsible for the problem of conflict of interest at all levels or public development planning decision-making. It is further argued that in the existing system authority for public planning and development control is too fragmented in the light of present-day regional urban reality. It is irrational, inefficient, and costly to the public interest at large. The thesis suggests that to control the high prices or urban land and housing, the existing system must be modified so that the benefits from the socially-created value in urban land can be channelled back to the advantage of the community instead of being left to the sole advantage of the private owners. It argues that this can be achieved by large-scale public acquisition of land far in advance of need for its development, comprehensive planning on regional scale, servicing, and selling or leasing of such public land for development. Acquisition of land far in advance of need for development by public agencies will eliminate speculation and reduce the cost of urban land for housing. The thesis presents a general description of the existing urban land development system with particular reference to the Greater Vancouver Region in British Columbia. The system is identified as consisting of two main components: one being the private market mechanism in which land is privately owned, developed and marketed; the other being the public development planning, development controls, and development decision-making process. The role of private development market and the role of various public agencies in the development of urban land is described. The effects of public development planning decision-making at the general urban growth on the value of land is discussed. The problems of land speculation, conflict of interest at all levels of public development planning decision-making, and fragmented public planning authority and their effects on the cost of land and housing described. The experiences of Edmonton, Red Deer, and Saskatoon with public acquisition and development control of land and their success in keeping the price of land and housing under control are cited. In conclusion the concept of public involvement in the ownership of land and its development is recommended and some measures and steps to be adopted for successful implementation of public land assembly, land banking, and development controls are suggested.

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