Before I dive into the title story, I want mention that this blog has not only moved to Thursday but as of today will become a monthly publication rather than weekly. The Couv Life is about to enter its tenth year and I have found I have drifted a little too often into anecdotes about the weather and other commentary that isn’t as vibrant and engaging as earlier content produced here. Part of this could be due to the addition of my Urban Living in the Couv blog and website that produces some content that would also be suitable here. Perhaps too little content for too many blogs 😉 I want to produce higher quality content a little less often. So this will be a third Thursday of the month publication starting with this third Thursday of February today.
OK why is Vancouver USA so popular? Well Vancouver certainly is popular as it remains one of the fastest growing mid-size cities in the US and despite the massive growth in development, housing pressure continues to be high. As to the “why” I’ll consider Vancouver’s somewhat unique circumstances.
Our city combined with its unincorporated neighborhoods has more than 340,000 residents. When the city finally completes its annexations, Vancouver will be a large city rather than a mid-sized city by US Census standards. Those 340,000 people already live here, so we definitely punch above our weight class as a city. Our demographic makeup includes a sizable educated base, a very large skilled labor base, as well as a solid unskilled labor base. All three of these workforce demographics are important to a healthy and vibrant community.
Vancouver has become very expensive as far as real estate pricing goes but we remain a relative value when compared to Washington County (Beaverton-Hillsboro) in Oregon and also versus much of Portland. A great deal of housing pressure is coming from Portland residents looking to escape from serious urban problems developing in that city. For Portlanders looking to move out of the city they have many options within a ten mile radius. One can look at Washington County and Clackamas County as well as here in Clark County. Those other two counties are also seeing upward housing pressure. Washington County is very expensive these days, in fact it is the most expensive county in the region for housing. For many Portlanders looking to leave, we compare very well price wise against Washington County. Not too many Portlanders are moving east into Gresham and Troutdale despite real estate prices a tad cheaper than here. Vancouver is just a better location for most.
We have also seen a surprising number of Puget Sound (Seattle) area residents moving into Vancouver. Housing expenses in that area are among the highest in the country and we are definitely a value comparatively. There are also still Californians moving into the area but honestly they are in third place well behind the others I have mentioned.
Vancouver is also seeing a substantial commercial expansion as companies based in Portland are moving here to escape the same problems the Rose City’s residents are escaping. At last report Portland’s office vacancy rate was at 27%. Vancouver is in single digits. Vancouver has never had the kind of high density office space that Portland does, and likely never will. Portland is however shedding businesses faster than a maple sheds leaves in November. Companies seeking to have their office in a traditional high density urban downtown environment only have two choices in the whole metro area, Portland or Vancouver. Many are coming here. Our city leaders are eager to approve taller office projects should more large companies choose to expand or relocate here.
Vancouver offers an amazing variety of zoning and development from high urban density to heavy industrial, to suburban densities in all three zoning metrics. Nearly any industry could put up shop here and our neighborhoods offer almost every style, era, and density a city can offer. Although Vancouver is not quite the broadly eclectic city that Portland has been, it is the only other city in the region that has similar levels of neighborhood diversity and zoning opportunities.
A very large chunk of Vancouver’s growth is coming from Portland transplants both in business and residential. There are many reasons Portland is seeing an exodus, a few notable issues include an anemic response to the homeless crisis which is spilling into neighborhoods across the city. A skyrocketing violent crime rate is another real issue facing the residents of Rip City. It is important to recall that Portland used to be one of the safest major US cities with a homicide rate well below the national average until recently. Seattle a larger city than Portland had half as many murders in 2022. Portland is now more than three times the national average. Even for a major city, that’s pretty dark.
Vancouver has a five terminal port, a gigantic rail yard, equal proximity to PDX as most of Portland, and every bit as much opportunity for business if not more than Portland. Vancouver has been discovered locally and that discovery process is spreading across the country. On the Waterfront developers from San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, and Chicago have all erected or are currently building large scale urban buildings. We are on the national radar and that is a good thing for our local economy.
Vancouver’s Downtown is becoming a vibrant area with a healthy buzz of activity yet offers a less congested atmosphere than Portland. The original Main Street USA remains as a throwback to a bygone era with mostly older and historic buildings of 1-3 floors lining the corridor. The city has protected the Main Street corridor with zoning that keeps the street light and bright. Taller structures that rise abruptly from the curb are prohibited along Main Street. No matter how dense Downtown becomes there will always be a home town Main Street and I think that is fabulous. Vancouver also has room to expand the Downtown area and build taller more dense projects. We are seeing this not only on the excellent Waterfront but with in-fill development in the Downtown and Midtown areas as well. Much of this new development has been residential and that is a real need, but ZoomInfo is building a gigantic 300,000+ SF high rise office project at Terminal One. They will have some 3,000 employees there by 2025.
With the exception of sun worshipers, Vancouver USA offers something for everyone in a large, but not too large city. We have housing available to nearly every economic segment. Within our 85 square mile urban growth boundary that currently houses about 340,000 people, we could easily have 500,000 residents residing in what would still be an easy to navigate and pretty well designed infrastructure. Vancouver really kills the competition in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties with infrastructure. Seriously we are killing it over here. Sure we have our issues, but take a drive south of the Columbia and you will quickly see that not only is the grass is not greener over there, it is not green at all.
But what about the query about our popularity, “And is it really”? Well Vancouver USA still has its detractors. Scan videos on YouTube and you will find plenty of nay-sayers about life in our city. I have found that most of the naysayers are Portlanders who are trying to poke holes in the phenomenon of Vancouver. Many of these are people that remember not too long ago Vancouver’s urban core was a blight on the city rather than a shining gem. Others are those that prefer the higher density of Portland’s downtown as a true “big city.” Well that argument is fine if you want to live in the biggest city in the area, Portland is the answer. Vancouver’s robust urban economy and skyline filled with tower cranes is making Portlanders get a little defensive about just how ‘big’ we are not. In so doing their kind of making our point 😉
I find the bulk of nay-sayers to be the same people rehashing the negatives of Vancouver from 25 years ago and pointing to the few remaining ‘blemishes’ of that era as “proof” Vancouver is a fraud. Hilarious, since Portland has been on the opposite trajectory of Vancouver since 2000. Where they went from being legitimately one of the coolest cities in the country, to a third world disaster today. Vancouver on the other hand, has risen out of its former urban blight and reputation as the red-headed bastard stepchild of the metro area, into an urban oasis in that same period. We are headed in the right direction, Portland is definitely headed in the wrong direction.
So Vancouver is wildly popular as population trends and billions in economic infusions would indicate. Perhaps mostly because we offer a broad range of opportunity and what we lack in “big city” amenities, we have access to those in Portland as easily as most Portlanders do. We share a 15 mile long border for heaven’s sake. PDX is closer to most Vancouverites than it is to half of Portlanders. We have better traffic, better housing, lower crime, and the same convenient access to the regions attractions. Vancouver offers a nice mix of big city and small town appeal all in one. The grass absolutely is greener over here, and many Portlanders know it. So yes, naysayers aside, Vancouver USA is really that popular.