City golf greens could be key to solving housing crisis, experts say

Using just part of the Langara course could provide up to 3,900 units



Golfer Han Song says that when he first arrived in Vancouver two decades ago, the public golf courses were bad, but in recent years there have been improvements. Those upgrades have led to a surge in golfers.

“Now on the weekends, no chance. No chance to golf,” he told a Langara Voice reporter as he stood outside the Langara Golf Course clubhouse. “It’s 50 to 70 per cent busier than it was before the pandemic.”

Despite the surge, many Vancouver residents question whether the city-owned McCleery, Fraserview, and Langara golf courses should remain single use recreational facilities or become more accessible to an ever-growing population.

Currently these large green spaces can only be used by golfers like Song who pay between $20 and $62 a round. Some experts think the three courses could help solve the city’s current housing shortage.

According to a 2022 Vancouver report on housing needs, 77,000 city households “are living in unaffordable, unsuitable or inadequate housing.”

But despite the housing crisis, a Vancouver Park Board report from October 2023 stated, “The Golf Services Plan will not consider redeveloping golf lands for non-park use.”

When you think of golf, you may think of Tiger Woods, or The Masters, or Happy Gilmore. You likely wouldn’t gravitate to thoughts around urban planning and golf course design. But an increasing number of people are looking at how to make our cities better, more affordable, and more sustainable.

Urban designer thinks public courses should have housing

Take Scot Hein, who designed the Langara golf course clubhouse, situated in the heart of the Oakridge neighbourhood on the 120-acre public course. He has some innovative ideas that could revolutionize public greenspace use in the city.

“I like to use the Scrabble reference…is there a triple word score win in this conversation? Not to be punitive to the golfers, not to lose control and ownership as a city or taxpayers, but is there a way to think creatively about introducing, I would say, modestly, new housing opportunities on the edges.”

Hein suggested building the so-called ’missing middle’ style non-market housing on the edges of the golf course to address the city’s lack of affordable housing. Missing middle housing refers to the middle ground between single stand-alone houses and multi-level high rise apartments.

One of his proposals for Langara, outlined in a 2020 SFU presentation, is to use two greens, the clubhouse and parking area to build 3,900 units that could house approximately 10,500 people.

“So if you think about the golf course as a big field, and then if you only look at the edges as the frame to that field, then what’s interesting about that is… because you’re on the edge, you’re close to utilities already. You’re close to access for vehicles, emergency [services], pizza. It’s pretty easy to tag in with the municipal systems and so on.”

Hein believes there is a disconnect between the Vancouver Park Board and the needs of city residents.

“The park board has no interest, regulatory responsibility or societal responsibility to deliver housing. So there’s a huge disconnect between these lands and their potential…The housing crisis, which, you know, has fallen a lot on municipal shoulders, but it obviously should be shared with provincial and federal contribution…ever since the federal contribution dried up, we’ve been struggling for affordable housing.”

In 2019, the Vancouver public golf courses made a net profit of $3 million. By 2024, that had risen to $5 million. The Langara Golf Course, according to the B.C. Assessment Authority, is valued at $697,860,000. The course is so large it could fit eight Olympic villages inside of it or two Van Dusen Gardens.

In 2019, a park board report noted that in February of the same year Langara golfers played just 69 rounds in the entire month.

Courses part of park system; should be preserved

Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Laura Christensen said she believes there is other land the city should develop before it touches the golf courses.

“You’ve got a lot of industrial areas that I think would be more appropriate to be converting over to housing or densifying, you know, existing single family housing areas before we should start taking our parkland and developing it,” Christensen said in an interview.

She confirmed to the Voice that the possible development of golf courses had been discussed at the board level.

She does not believe converting the three courses to housing is a good idea.

“Once you’ve converted park space over to housing or some other use, you’re really never getting it back … and we’re so limited in our land area that getting green spaces is really challenging,” Christensen said.

There are ecological benefits to having golf courses.

“It’s home to quite a lot of animals and insects more so than the sort of surrounding areas and does provide sort of a benefit to the ecosystem.”

Vedrana Tomic, president and founder of the Langara Geography & Urban Studies Club, said while having golf courses in the city is nice for some, it doesn’t meet the needs of most residents, including Langara College students.

Because the YMCA and Langara College are so close to the golf course it would be a great idea to have both a public plaza and student housing in the northernmost part of the golf course, Tomic said.

“Having student housing is such an issue that a lot of students brought up over the years…many students have said, ’Oh Langara is such a commuter school. I wish there were more options for student housing.’ And I always think back to the golf course. How could the golf course be revitalized into something that would be useful for the students?”

Club vice-president Brison Chursinoff said, “the golf course should be smaller, converted into more parkland and public housing…public access would probably be the best use of the area.”

Hein said he’s glad there is at least more public discussion now about the future of the public golf courses.

“I was simply trying to get both the park board and Vancouver City Council to at least think about it.”

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