Vancouver BC and Portland Oregon are known for their beautiful and livable downtown districts where people live, work and play. But are these downtowns so great because they are so important economically? or, is it because they are less important to the region economically, they have become urban playgrounds with office space?
Intriguingly enough, both the Portland and Vancouver metropolitan areas (cities and suburbs combined) share a high ratio of industrial space to office space (over 4 square feet of industrial to each 1 square foot of office, using CBRE statistics). Most of this industrial space is not downtown, but in more suburban areas.
In the case of Vancouver (and likely Portland, but I’m not an expert on the Portland economy), this industrial space supports a crucial import-export and logistics sector. Trade between Asia and North America comes through these west coast ports and it drives a substantial part of the Vancouver economy, directly and indirectly.
With so much of the economy dependent upon industrial lands, did this allow–or even force–more people to live and play in higher density urban areas?
By contrast, places like Seattle and Calgary have traditionally been less known for their downtowns, although this is changing, and both have a much lower ratio of industrial to office space (approximately 2)–or put in reverse, a higher ratio of office to industrial than Vancouver and Portland. Could it be that office space is–or has been–so important for the economies of these cities that perhaps it crowded out residential, retail and other uses?