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Reverse migration: why are Hong Kong's immigrants leaving Canada?

Hongkongers who came to Canada in search of a better life are now going back to their homeland in record numbers. But why? 

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Hey. If you need me, I'll be in the details.

Livin' in the sprawl

If the rent is too damn high in New York, then surely the same is true here in Vancouver, where we don't have big-city wages to keep world-class talent in town to raise their families.

There's an argument to be made that our desire to live close to downtown drives housing prices up, but such an argument is not very convincing. Look at the arbitrarily small units coming soon to Surrey, and the somewhat unambitious value-to-size ratio offered along the Boundary. These strike me as priced by debt tolerance, as opposed to real-life income.

If we could have slab farms ("like mountains beyond mountains"?), we probably would: there's just nowhere quite far enough in the sticks to build them. Such monoliths are cheap because they're remote and devoid of neighbourhood, but the Lower Mainland is too dense. You get far enough from Vancouver and you're in another city centre, or in the USA, or clicking into your skis.

So, perhaps Hong Kong's diaspora in Canada simply doesn't aspire to debt-load. If that's the case, it's probably applicable to Canadians as well. Vancouver is Hollywood North, but go find a digital-effects artist and ask her about how livable Vancouver is on a film-industry wage. This is a factor in the phenomenon of brain drain, wherein those who are professionally mobile will pick up and leave the city to pursue opportunities that offer a brighter future.

(The question of expectations is one for another day, but is likely a factor here, too: if you feel that you somehow deserve that white picket fence, then you'll be more inclined to seek it out.)

Arcade Fire presents Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) from Merge Records on Vimeo.

So, circling back to livability as an urban-planning issue, would we learn to stop worrying and love the cranes if they were building apartments that we workaday types could afford?

What about those parents who go shopping with their young-adult kids for that first apartment? The Baby Boomers are cooking up their own nest eggs to help their children get into the property market, shifting the tide of wealth (and debt) transfer.

You'd have the demographic that votes handing capital over to the demographic that does not. In that sense, do we, as a city, a province, a nation, get the government we deserve?

More than just friends

I've previously described the argument that Vancouver's (and the rest of Canada's) real estate prices are the result of market forces to be overly simplistic, especially considering the bang-buddy relationship between the real estate industry and City Hall since Vancouver incorporated in 1886.

Just about every city has its version of industry and government getting into bed together: with us, it's the real estate industry. The HBO series "Deadwood" is a decent primer on how this type of dynamic plays out in the early days, but we're currently experiencing that relationship in its mature state every time we look at the skyline.

Again, this is most constructively viewed an urban-planning issue; and again a question asked before: Are we playing checkers or are we playing chess?

The stakes are high, especially if we consider the South China Morning Post study to be the canary in the mineshaft: we as a city, a province, and a nation screw up our urban planning at the peril of our economic future.

Nobody is claiming to have the definitive solution to Vancouver's livability woes, but we have to first admit that we have a problem and be able to frame that problem (or series of problems) beyond "the rent is too damn high", before we can do anything useful about it.

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