Ryan Holmes, CEO of Vancouver-based social media company Hootsuite, says NIMBYs fighting densification in the city are “selling their children’s futures.”
Holmes spoke to Daily Hive at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Seattle, focused on transforming the Cascadia region into the new Silicon Valley.
In a wide ranging interview, Holmes railed against opponents of development in Vancouver, and explained why we need to connect our city with Seattle.
“If we don’t create an opportunity for people, they will leave, and then we just become a city of retirees, or wealthy people who can afford to live there,” said Holmes.
“That’s not really a place I want to live. Maybe selfishly, I want to create a young, vibrant city, which I find interesting and stimulating, and hopefully that’s the direction we head in.”
Holmes said Vancouver needs to get past NIMBYism – the idea of generally approving of measures, just so long as they’re “Not In My Back Yard.”
“[There are] people that have this obsolete idea in Vancouver about densification,” he said.
“You know…’I want a one-storey house and nobody else should be able to live here.’ Those people are selling their children’s futures.”
Building a corridor for tech talent
The second annual Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference follows an agreement made last year between BC and Washington state to work closely on the project.
The main aims of the initiative is to make it easier for top tech talent and startups to develop and move between Seattle and Vancouver.
This year’s conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, one of the hosts of the event and a champion of the idea from the start.
“You can think about it as an icebreaker, where a lot of people are able to slipstream in the wake of what [Microsoft are] doing,” said Holmes.
“The wheels of government and education aren’t the fastest, but I think there is really an appetite and awareness now.”
‘Between cave men and Star Trek’
Holmes also spoke at the conference on Tuesday, taking part in a fireside chat on the future of Hootsuite – and the need for talent in Vancouver.
Holmes says government needs to raise awareness among youth and their parents that there’s a great opportunity to get into the tech industry right now.
“As a fairly good sized employer in Vancouver, I think that we have the privilege of being able to get the ears of politicians and people that have the power to help influence decisions,” he said.
Holmes said creating a workforce is not an overnight thing – you have to catch kids when they’re in Grade 7, then again when they’re thinking of university.
“Four years after that you have a product. So it’s a long term investment,” said Holmes.
“But I think the really good thing about this is that technology is our future, so we sit on a continuum somewhere between cave men and Star Trek.”
Young people need to vote for change
Holmes says that today technology is a bigger employer than forestry and mining combined – and “that is only going to compound and get bigger.”
“So the message to children thinking about getting into STEM and their parents should be that this is somewhat of a future proof profession for them to be thinking about,” he said.
However, Holmes acknowledges that Vancouver isn’t the cheapest place to live, which can make it difficult for tech talent to move here.
If we really want to see change, he says, young people need to get out and vote – and demand the government solve the housing issues here.
“I think it really comes down to the vision and direction of where we live, and that young people need to demand that they have a place to live,” he said.
“I think densification can be done really well, it can be done in a smart way, it is something that has to be on their agenda to happen, so that’s back to your readers.”