What follows is the Preface of Don Gutstein’s 1975 book Vancouver Ltd., a thorough—and, as it turns out, prescient—analysis of the way in which Vancouver fell into the hands of real estate developers and realtors. I know Don from my postgraduate days at Simon Fraser University. He’s one of very few who has really taken a magnifiying glass to the way money moves in this city, and I think it’s time the book is reissued. Actually, everyone believes it’s out of print, and though it isn’t, it might as well be since no one seems aware that the publisher Lorimer still has a handful of hardcover copies. C$45 each. Very hard to find online but to get one, call or write Formac Lorimer Books. Email is orderdesk at formac dot ca, phone 1-800-565-1975. Mailing address 5502 Atlantic Street, Halifax, NS, B3H 1G4.
Some of the names have changed, but the city Gutstein describes in 1975 is still the city we’re in now—a town whose City Hall is controlled by the real estate industry, and whose every other sector is crippled by the resulting housing unaffordability. The issue of highrises is just at its beginning in ’75; we are now simply at a later stage in the process.
A year later, Harvey Molotch’s seminal and still relevant “The City as Growth Machine” came out. You can read it here (hard to find elsewhere). Gustein’s book can be seen as a companion piece to Molotch’s essay, and an illustration of it.
Fascinating, beautifully written (as you can see from its preface below) and understandable to the layperson, this is required reading for any Vancouverite. Or beyond. It’s a primer in the way in which developers rig the system.
“Far too quickly Vancouver has reached a watershed in its short 90-year history. The choice is clear: to continue on the mindless drive toward a high-density prestige ‘executive’ city — a Manhattan with mountains; or to redirect itself toward providing adequate housing and a decent environment for all classes of people. The first route is being promoted by those who currently control Vancouver’s development. The second route will require drastic changes in the priorities of the decision-makers.
I was more hopeful when I started work on this book four years ago than I am now. Somewhere during those years we seem to have passed a point of no return and embarked on that disastrous journey toward developer city. Yet I may be wrong. The course of Vancouver’s future could be redirected, given the collective will to do so. This book is my contribution to such an enterprise. I hope to show who does control our city, what is the structure of that control, and why decisions are being made that lead to the steady deterioration of the urban environment. I also present some ideas for discussion about what we need to do to get us going in that other direction.
This book is not about the grand abstractions of planners and geographers. I do not talk about pressures for redevelopment, market forces, location theories. In our society development is not caused by pressures. It is caused by individuals and corporations searching for profitable ventures. Neither is this book a biographical account of the lives and loves of those nasty developers. Individuals do appear throughout the book, but by virtue of the roles they occupy—the mayor of the city, or the president of the corporation. To understand these roles we need to look at both the formal prerogatives of the role—the mayor has the legal power to appoint aldermen to committees—but just as important is the informal culture surrounding the role—most recent Vancouver mayors have been millionaires or developers or both.”
Don Gutstein, Vancouver Ltd., 1975
From the flyleaf. Drawings throughout the book are by noted Vancouver artist Eric Metcalfe with Barbara Shapiro. Nice dollar sign sunglasses.