The Globe and Mail's B.C. bureau spent the summer examining how Vancouver's increasing density is shaping the city and its residents. This is the last of the series.
Kelly Shoecraft's second child is due in just over a month, but the sprightly Australian immigrant has no problem chasing her two-year-old daughter Amelia as the inquisitive toddler bolts toward the border of the busy park in her trendy Yaletown neighbourhood.
One byproduct of choosing to raise their kids in a two-bedroom rental apartment across the street, she said, is that she and her husband are constantly walking everywhere.
Be it play dates in parks, hopping on a tiny ferry to jet across False Creek or swimming lessons at the local community pool, Ms. Shoecraft said the couple never noticed all the nearby amenities and activities available to parents when they spent several years in their place as busy professionals without children.
"You kind of see it, but you don't register it as much," said Ms. Shoecraft, who grew up in a single-family house in Melbourne. "We have a lot of outdoor activities we like to do and then we meet heaps of people because we're always out and about, rather than just being at home in our garden."
Ms. Shoecraft and an increasing percentage of other young families are choosing to live in a high-rise in or around downtown instead of moving to a place in the suburbs with more space.
Experts say the seeds for this change were planted by Vancouver's planning department in the 1980s, when it pivoted to begin welcoming families downtown.
In the past five years, the City of Vancouver experienced a net loss of 820 children under the age of 15 – a trend mirrored across the country as Canada ages, according to Jens von Bergmann, a local housing researcher and mathematician who analyzes census data. However, from 2011 to 2016, the downtown core and its neighbouring hoods – the densest areas in Vancouver – added 2,420 children while the rest of the city saw a net loss of 3,050 of these children, according to Mr. von Bergmann's analysis.
"The population is increasing faster there compared to the rest, but the share of the population is going up when the general trend countrywide is that the share is going down as the population is aging," he said. "That it's the reverse is really quite interesting."
In the first decade of this century, the number of kids living in downtown neighbourhoods increased by 69 per cent, he added. As a percentage of the total populations, this area still trails other regions of the city in terms how many kids live there. But, "the trends are clear and have been consistent for several census periods" showing more children are being drawn into the centre of the city, according to Mr. von Bergmann.
"In some sense it's an inevitability and of course this is also hastened by affordability issues," he said. "Single-family homes are not in the range of what families can buy."
Ms. Shoecraft, who feels like she has long-term security of tenure in their current apartment, said she feels a pang of jealousy when she talks to her family in Brisbane, all of whom have storage space she could only dream of.
"Our families there have much bigger houses: a garden and a pool!" she said.
The trade-off, she says, is they have to drive everywhere.
"Downtown is good because we're close to everything, we hardly take a car," she said.
One of the two or three times a week she does drive is to meet Cindy Neufeld and her child somewhere in between her friend's old downtown neighbourhood and North Vancouver, where Ms. Neufeld and her husband moved in June into a single-family house they bought and renovated.
Ms. Neufeld said life is much easier on the North Shore, even if it involves a lot more driving. She says walking the three blocks to the nearby seawall, while an admittedly glorious public amenity, became too much of a hassle for her.
"We were up 30 floors, going up and down 30 floors all the time," she said of their time living near Coal Harbour. "I know it doesn't sound much – and it's not much when you don't have a kid – but now it's just like 'Okay, I have a backyard, I can just open the door.'"
For those who do stay on downtown, childcare inevitably becomes a challenge as well, both said.
While the city struggles to meet the demand for more schools, Ms. Shoecraft, a visiting scholar at Simon Fraser University's education faculty, said daycare spots on the downtown peninsula seem almost non-existent.
"When I got pregnant, everyone was telling me to get on daycare lists straight away – everyone was freaking out about it," she said.
"[Friends] have gone on lists when they're three-months pregnant, they have six months until the baby comes, they have another year of maternity leave and they still don't have a spot when they've been on a wait list for a year and a half or more," she said.
Ms. Shoecraft, who works part-time, relies on a Facebook page of nearby parents to share childcare among a group of trusted nannies.
For parents living in high-rises with their children, the most common legal challenge they face is battling noise complaints made by neighbours, according to Paul Mendes, a long-time strata lawyer.
A strata corporation can fine families for their noisy kids if it is beyond the objective standard an average person would consider a nuisance, he said.
A recent case he handled involved a 12-year-old prodigy whose six hours of piano practice each night became too much for those in the neighbouring units, Mr. Mendes said.
"Not everyone wants to live next to a piano genius," he said.
In order to avoid going to court with their strata, the parents agreed to switch their child to an electronic piano so they could play with headphones, he said.
Another issue – banning minors from living in the building – is clearly allowed under the provincial strata law, but is rarely enforced, he said.
Angry neighbours can also try to kick families out of a building by enforcing limits on the number of people allowed to occupy each unit.
"Many of the new ones and many of the old ones will have occupancy limits: two people in a studio or two people in a bachelor," he said of condo buildings in Vancouver. "This then becomes a problem when they have children."
However, he said, few strata councils want to spend up to $25,000 and a year in court to try to enforce their bylaws while B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal, which started handling strata a year ago, begins ruling on this issue.
"Right now, the law around this is in a bit of a state of flux," he said.