Frances Bula header image 2

Is our city good to live in or good to visit only?

June 22nd, 2011 · 99 Comments

In our week in Rome, we had lunch with a friend of a friend, an Italian who works in government. He’s not originally from Rome, but has been posted there for the past two years.

His assessment of Rome: A nice place to visit, but a hard place to live in. It’s a large city with an abysmal transit system. (Only two real subway lines and a tangle of bus and tram lines haphazardly serving the rest of the city.) Our friend, a senior bureaucrat, abandoned using his car or transit and, like many in Rome, commutes on a scooter.

He did not feel that way about other large cities he’s lived in in Europe, including London. But Rome, to him, is a postcard that does not allow for regular existence.

Vacation travel always prompts thoughts about what it would be like to live in the place where you had such a good time (eating pasta, check; walking around lively, busy streets, people-watching, until 1 a.m., check; visiting markets and churches and monuments, check). Sure, it’s fun when you have all the time in the world. But what would it be like to actually have to get to work every day, pay bills, deal with phone/electrical/rent and so on.

Our friend’s remark reminded me as well of the observation I heard from a young couple I got to know in Paris 35 years ago. They, living in a very chic attic room behind the Rothschild’s mansion on Ile St. Louis, said that Paris was a good city to live in if you didn’t have a lot of money. There were cheap apartments, cheap food, and a way to scrape a living together, as they were doing (he, an American, was a translator of agricultural manuals that I was typing for him; she, French, a restorer of oil paintings).

But it was hard to have an American middle-class life in Paris. That was very expensive and difficult. On the other hand, they felt that it was hard to be poor in big American cities but much easier to be middle class.

So what about Vancouver? I have a feeling that many people who once thought it was a good place to live are beginning to see it as a good place to visit only — stay a week, visit the sites, and then head back to home. The house prices, the sense of the city as a place where the main economic base is the city itself as a spectacle: those give the sense to some that it’s not really a city to live in any more.

I don’t feel that way myself. I’ve lived in the city proper for more than half my adult life. It feels workable to me, a place with neighborhoods and a sense of civic life. But are those of us who feel that way dying out?

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Ned

    Glissando Remmy,
    Hear, Hear! Right on…on the “China syndrome” , I don’t understand why “mezzanine” claims blindness.
    Michael Geller makes a good point, when it comes to making a quick buck, all guilt disappears. Buy it with 100, 000 sell it with two millions and run.
    Nobody wants to explain to me what happens to your kids and grand-kids, after you split the money with them and they end up with what I see only as a down-payment. And you’ll end up in a place where you have no friends (if you are lucky) and you don’t even speak their language (unlucky). This is just idiotic. If this trend will continue there is going to be nothing left to talk about, not in the English language perhaps. Playing real estate with the Chinese is like playing blackjack against the casino, too many and too loaded. Not a chance in hell.

    Glissando (now is me trying to be funny 🙂 )
    #6, 26, 32, 33, 37, 41, 44
    Being Friday and still having some time left I’m going to purchase a MAX ticket with your posting numbers. If I win I’ll split the proceeds with you. 🙂

  • David Hadaway


    I was thinking of the unpredictable randomness of everyday life being allowed to flourish within the controlled structure of the city. Look at Rome, London, New York. Rougher, dirtier, less controlled than Vancouver but far more vibrant. I had the same feeling recently in Toronto, broken kerbs but lively streets. Here we want everything regulated, usually in the most mundane way. We’re like people who claim to admire their neighbours’ scruffy heritage house, full of mismatched furniture and real paintings, but aspire to live in a squeaky clean, colour co-ordinated show home with reproductions from IKEA on the walls.

    Unfortunately this aspiration is both boring and not really attainable. So we end up, for example, with a designated, licensed, detail designed entertainment zone such as Granville Street on which the worst kind of repressed chaos bursts forth every weekend.

    Organic planning? Pretty much a contradiction in terms.

  • “[T]he unpredictable randomness of everyday life being allowed to flourish within the controlled structure of the city. Look at Rome…”

    DH 52

    Okay, I get it… Maximum freedom within agreed upon limits.

    I have a nasty habit of taking everything as commentary on the urbanism. My preference for urban codes is a belief that unless we structure places for social mixing; we take care to put limits on how close is too close to be up against one’s neighbour’s house; and set counts for how many cars per day are too many for livable streets, then the city we build will not be the city you and I want.

    Yes, lots of choices, lots of urbanity, and a lot less petty regulations as others have mentioned above.

    But folks, the kind of planning that is producing the HAHR and the Mount Pleasant Community Plan should be enough to set our hair on fire. Especially if we can understand and quantify the quality of our neighbourhoods, as say, Dan Cooper’s Douglas Park.

    There seems to be such a gap between the value of what we have, and the options our Municipal Hall is spinning that one is left with no other recourse than to worry. Twenty more years like the last two decades and we may not even recognize this place.

  • Max

    Off topic, but hey…

    So this ad was posted on Craig’s List earlier today – you would think that after what just happened the biking community would exercise a little respect….(especially since they suck up taxpayer dollars)


    Critical Mass tonight at 5pm we meet at the Art Gallery (The only requirement you need is a bike)

    Date: 2011-06-24, 10:47AM PDT
    Reply to:
    [Errors when replying to ads?]

    Come out and help support the critical mass tonight and have fun pissing off the motorist while riding your bike and if the motorist starts yelling at you telling you to get the fuck off the road just ride up by his car and punch him in the face because you have the right to be on the road just like the other guy…. See you there

    Location: The only requirement you need is a bike
    it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

  • spartikus

    –Mona Charen

    Anne Coulter was unavailable.

  • Bossy @ # 53

    Well, Lewis, I’ll say this for you, you have the crust of a dead rhinoceros. You are Coquitlam thru and thru!

    Pontificating to the gullible and innocent on topics of which you have no experience, no academic training, no knowledge and certainly no insight may be satisfying . . .

    But our place of abode will only come to life when money ceases to be debt and planning is more than Sergeant Pepper in her militaristic approval office.

    Sin embargo, I am sure you will go on blabbering until those over indulged, mindless kids, torching cop cars, come out of jail a hell of a lot wiser.

    My god we live in a weird world!

  • Glissando Remmy

    Il Pensiero Del Giorno

    ‘Salve A Tutti. Dedico questa canzone a la mia primo amore…!’

    Per Ruggero #57,

    Il Volo… Gruppo musicale e bella canzone, il mio Amico, Si…che ma grande Gianni Morandi e fantastica! Guarda questo…

    (the correct English translation for this song title is:
    ‘VISION returns the down on their knees
    COPE … a favor.’

    (and of course, excuse the silly Magyar dubbing over the flowing Italian, but this was the best clip I’ve found, worthy for image and sound, sooo…BTW, for the Urbanists out there, watch the traffic, but more importantly watch for the bike, for the only bike…how many separated bike lanes do you see, only in the movies, ladies and gentlemen, only in the movies, one more thing, filmed on location in Naples, Campania, 1964, a very good year indeed)

    Bellissimaaaa canzoneeeeee…

    Noi viviamo a Vaffanculo e questo ci tiene occupati.

  • The Fourth Horseman


    Go read Bob Ransford’s column in the real estate section of the Sun today.

  • “Greatest Hits Nite” with crooners a-foreign… Take Two:

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Midnight

    “Salvatore Adamo, Gianni Morandi, Adriano Celentano…Azzurro. Frances is in Rome, so tonight, we’ll stay Italian.”

    I can’t believe I’m saying this but I grew up on Jaques Tati movies and on music from this guys.
    Beatles? Yeah, they were ok… What Beatles?

    When I was a few years old my parents took me to see this little gal (as the story goes, they couldn’t afford a babysitter, and the tickets were hard to place, so…cheap, as she was an unknown…at the time… so yeah, Glissando was there, though he doesn’t remember much…)

    “Cerco l’estate tutto l’anno
    e all’improvviso eccola qua.
    Lei è partita per le spiagge
    e sono solo quassù in città,
    sento fischiare sopra i tetti
    un aeroplano che se ne va.
    il pomeriggio è troppo azzurro
    e lungo per me.”

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Tessa

    Good topic.

    I think, as always, it depends. Living on Commercial Drive, I’m within a few blocks of four grocery stores of one type or another, unfathomable numbers of restaurants, shops for everything I need and across the street from a park. I am absolutely spoiled, though at the tip of what I can afford as a renter. At the same time, when I lived in northern BC I earned more money, paid less rent, went on grand camping trips in summer and snowboarding trips in the winter, all of which I can’t afford, not least of which because I don’t have a car here.

    But while Vancouver is expensive, and like your Paris example, tough to have the so-called middle class dream (though frankly, I don’t consider that a problem, but a plus. Those families I know who rent homes in Vancouver do reasonably well), we have, despite all our complaining, a reasonably well-functioning transit system and many other things going for us. Part of the problem may also be the relative lack of middle class jobs, not just houses, in our service sector oriented economy.

    But part of the reason I find it liveable right now is because I have a place I can walk to everything I need. If I didn’t have that, life would be far more challenging. And frankly my experience is relatively rare, confined to the inner city. As well, much of what is within walking distance is unaffordable for me, which I can live with, but in other cities (Portland comes to mind) the poor can much more easily afford the small luxuries of a beer and dinner out on the town and similar urban experiences.

    Still it’s hard for me to judge because I haven’t lived in another major city. I think the stresses people feel trying to make this city liveable and not just visitable will continue to grow unless we are able to keep up in terms of density, and do so in a manner that is community friendly. That’s actually one reason why I’m quite excited about the Cambie corridor plan; I feel it strikes the right balance. Without a pressure valve, the pressure for gentrification I think will be too great, and the affordability of the East Side in particular will suffer.

  • ” I have a place I can walk to everything I need. If I didn’t have that, life would be far more challenging. And frankly my experience is relatively rare, confined to the inner city…”

    Tessa 62

    Here’s a shot of Maple Tree Square last week:

    Tonight, the cars will not be there. Jazz will be in the air. The weather is going to be perfect. And the people and the urban room both with be in action. So will my family and I—see you there.

    Living on/near Commercial you are on one of the 10 ‘Drives’ that fill the area that separates Vancouver’s historic district (roughly Main Street to the end of Water Street) and the original Hastings Townsite (from Nanaimo to Renfrew).

    If you lived closer to Glenn Drive (the first Drive after Strathcona) you would be within easy walking distance of downtown. That would open up a whole new world of possibilities while leaving Commercial still nearby.

    However, Cambie (and the Mount Pleasant plan) won’t hunt. We can do that density without building strata title property that raises your rent with the dread and hidden tax: the condo fee.

    Most often you can’t have a rental in your unit as a mortgage helper, which is bad business for you and bad for the neighbourhood. It means there is less affordable rental property around.

    You can’t paint your door red, or hang your laundry out to dry outside. The sun & air you get comes from one direction. If that happens to be a major arterial—the soot is going to be a health problem and present a constant cleaning chore.

    And since the gardening and the building upkeep chores are all done by hired hands, the opportunity is lost for social mixing while you’re fussing over the petunias.

    You have the right idea. Yet the details are also important.

  • Higgins

    Roger Kemble, Glissando Remmy and Lewis N. Villegas went down the Memory Lane , to the Melancholy piazza…
    Frances must be over the moon with their selection.
    Nice. Very nice. Nice surprise.
    This one is for The Gliss!
    Here is a clip of Rita Pavone today…n bloody color.

  • The Fourth Horseman
  • The Fourth Horseman

    As per the above piece from the Sun online tonight:

    What’s the point in talikng about oyr favourite places, our great restaurants and our favourite walks or lack of affordabilitey when we havet this huge money laundering and organized crime problem??

    Why aren’t we talking about what really drives this town?

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Night

    ‘Max and Lotto 6/49… the financial planing of the future towards house ownership for most Canadians living in BC.’

    Ned #51
    ‘Playing real estate with the Chinese is like playing blackjack against the casino, too many and too loaded. Not a chance in hell. ‘

    I could not have said it better myself, Ned.
    People in Vancouver are a greedy bunch, but also a stupid bunch. As Michael said ‘buy for 100,000 sell for 2 mill. if you can’ that’s a good deal, if you can get it. But I’m asking you, if that cash payment was the result of crime, that transaction should be looked at as accessory to… right?
    Yeah right. Where? In the best place on Earth? As I mentioned earlier #26 :
    ‘What we get, is the Creme ala Creme commie apparatchik & relatives, hiding their loot deep in our land, by buying us out. Period.’
    Don”t get me wrong;

    The Fourth Horseman #65

    Thanks for the link. Well, who knew, eh?
    Tell ‘mezzanine’ and the rest of the ‘believers in fairies’ to read this story in the Sun. Isn’t this story just what the doctor recommended for their Ostrich Syndrome?
    BTW, Johnatan Manthrope must have followed my research during the weekend, and I say to him… good riddance. 🙂

    ‘I haue her lost,
    For all my cost,
    Yet for all that I trowe
    I haue perchaunce,
    A fayre ryddaunce,
    And am quyt of a shrew.’
    (Away Mourning, circa 1525, by John Rastell)

    Higgins #64

    Got me there Higgins! I like Lily Allen a lot, but you are so right, her physical resemblance to Rita Pavone is uncanny. her music though…
    Hey, take Beatles and …Oasis for example.
    (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • mezzanine

    Tell ‘mezzanine’ and the rest of the ‘believers in fairies’ to read this story in the Sun. Isn’t this story just what the doctor recommended for their Ostrich Syndrome?

    I don’t regret anything i’ve said.

    I’ve said that the rise in housing prices are from multiple factors.

    Of those factors, that includes the effect of immigration.

    Of those immigrants a subset is from china.

    Of which a subset have come into money thru nefarious means.


    I’ve also said the way you address this is not with thoughtful dialogue.

    Wear turbans with the RCMP police uniforms because of religious beliefs, renaming ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ … to ‘Snow White’ because it was making fun of the ‘little people’, ban Hans Christian Andersen ‘Ugly Ducking’ from the school curriculum because it was considered racist, stop the Merry Greeting during… Christmas, and more recently divert monies from the already depleted Arts and Crafts and Music programs that are Universal, Yes – U-N-I-V-E-R-S-A-L! and that have no language boundaries, to programs for… Mandarin and Cantonese immersion.

    Change, through time, is guaranteed. how vancouver should face it?

    At least the rebuttal writes itself….


  • Michelle

    mezzanine #69
    You are one of the three: Real estate developer; Realtor; or one of the people in this audience:
    Change is coming, OK, but you don’t have to be an ignoramus, and accepted as is… No wonder the things in Vancouver are the way they are.

  • Tessa

    @Lewis. Generally yes, agreed on the details. On that aspect, newly built parts of Vancouver is fare much poorer.

  • Yep, Tessa. The last 20 years—for the most part—have been a bad ride.

    I like the towers downtown. I just don’t get it when they go to the Safeway sites (&etc) at Knight & Kingsway; Main & Broadway; Granville & 70th; Arbutus Village; etc.

    The one resounding chord for me is that wedo not understand urbanism… that is—how to live in a place where the car is not King.

  • Hazu Chan

    Being of Chinese descent, I don’t feel like a “minority” in Vancouver. The texture of how I feel as I walk down the street is a completely different feeling, than say, walking in Manhattan.

  • West End Gal

    LOL@ Hazu #73
    Sooooo true. Not a shy one in sight, inside that “texture” either…

  • Sean

    “Vancouver ranked ‘nicest’ Canadian city despite hockey riot” –

    What’s telling to me is that 94% of people who live in Vancouver picked Vancouver as the “nicest city”, higher than the percentage of residents who picked their own city anywhere else. That tells me that the ranking isn’t just due to “the grass is greener” sentiment, but that people who live here actually like it here.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Day

    ‘Birds of a feather flock together. In Vancouver the most popular birds are from the Corvidae family… aka Crows. ‘

    I wonder where and who was polled for this …

    Sean #75,
    Look again at the picture featured in the National Post.
    Postcard. Picture perfect!

    What you cannot see or smell though, are the DTES, the disenfranchised, the addicts, the back alleys, the Top in Canada (for the past 10 years in child poverty) Title, thanks to the now… Great Commissar Gordon Campbell, the lack of housing affordability, the totally corrupt municipal and provincial governments…shall I go on?
    And stop me from laughing out loud, MSM reporting ‘real news’ is like winning at 6-49 Lotto, 1 chance in 14,000,000.

    Nobody can live in a Postcard from Portlandia. I’ll also let you in a little secret, all Norman Rockwell paintings were staged as well.
    What, you didn’t know that?

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • MB

    Just came across this article on Stockholm published last week on Citiwire. Sweden’s main city was recently voted the first European Green Capital. Comparing Vancouver’s accomplishments to Stockholm’s is a very interesting way to measure Vancouver’s progress, and also as a way to define how much farther we have to go. We brag about a 25% reduction in traffic to/from downtown. Well, how about a 66% decline, like Stockholm’s? Mind you, part of that was assisted with new road infrastructure at the urban edge, but I’d bet a toonie it wasn’t the major reason they’ve experienced such a decrease in car dependency.

    It’s obvious we need to attain a deeper enlightenment and urban maturity compared to European urban and public culture paradigms. Having said that, we shouldn’t neglect emphasizing our accomplishments (hopefully with a sense of humility) to people who come here from other young North American cities to learn. I’ve always said Vancouver can teach Calgary much.

    The central Stockholm planning process differed from Vancouver’s in several ways, notably by excluding developers from the planning process until the vast amount of public consultation was completed (significantly, lower building heights were preferred), and by deeper environmental considerations, like sea level rise (as opposed to chicken coops).

    Here’s the link:

  • MB

    A little more elucuidation on ” I’ve always said Vancouver can teach Calgary much.”

    First they’d have to listen, and that’s not automatically guaranteed in a wealthy one horse town.

    But then again, almost every Calgarian I know expends a great deal of energy getting out of town (vacations, retirement, etc), and big chunk of them end up on the Coast.

  • IanS

    @ MB #77:

    You write: “It’s obvious we need to attain a deeper enlightenment and urban maturity compared to European urban and public culture paradigms.”

    Without commenting on your points re Stockholm, I think it’s worth mentioning that Europe is a continent, containing a number of different countries and cultures. I don’t think you can generalize like that, at least in respect of the specific instance you give (ie. a “green” accomplishment in the form of reduced car loss). Indeed, in Frances’ original post, she mentions her friend’s assessment of Rome as having an abysmal transit system.

  • spartikus

    notably by excluding developers from the planning process


    I don’t think you can generalize like that

    Sigh, probably not. How about “Central European” then?

    Swedish being Swedish for common sense.

  • MB

    @ IanS #79. Fair enough. Permit me to reword:

    “It’s obvious we need to attain a deeper enlightenment and urban maturity compared to MANY European urban and public culture paradigms.”

    Rome may be one of the few exceptions regarding transit, but one thinks of many European cities we can learn from like Copenhagen, Strasbourg, Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Freiberg and just about any city connected to high speed rail network spreading across the continent.

  • IanS

    @MB #81,

    Fair enough, though I suspect, when viewed a little closer, there are many European cities with different strengths and weaknesses in different areas, some of which Vancouver could learn from and some of which could maybe learn something from Vancouver.

    IMO, it’s inaccurate and potentially misleading to lump Europe together into one homogenous entity.

  • We had a family birthday on Spanish Banks last Sunday. We approached along Cambie and thru the UEL and left over Burrard Bridge and along the causeway.

    The traffic was bumper to bumper every which way: despite the hyped up new technology. The parking was . . . well . . . we eventually found a place.

    What is most destructive to me personally is how the ubiquitous presence of so many badly designed chunks of metal does damage to the ambience of the city!

    Pretensions of Green Vancouver are just that. Off shore in English Bay there was a huge blue and tan ro-ro that I assume had just dumped another load. So much for pretensions . . .

    I know very little about European traffic other than as a tourist but I read their newspapers: there is a significant difference between our approach and theirs. Vancouver’s uses some 50% of media space flogging real estate and cars.

    Europeans are much more frugal.

    There are five tiers of TX on our streets: people, bikes, transit, emergency and goods.

    I suppose the latter is a nocturnal occupation . . . biking seems to be hazardous: one little girl fell off just in front of us . . . luckily we were able to stop . . . as for emergency on the west side on a sunny Sunday . . . good luck!

  • Sean N.

    @Roger Kemble #83

    “What is most destructive to me personally is how the ubiquitous presence of so many badly designed chunks of metal does damage to the ambiance of the city!”

    I gotta tell you that cycling down to and around False Creek or Stanley Park on a bicycle is a wonderful, enriching, enlivening experience. Cars are convenient to get you from point A to point B, but they’re no way to enjoy the city!

  • Everyman

    Anybody who thinks Canadians would accept European levels of taxation to achieve these “utopias” is dreaming in Technicolor.

  • Norman

    I have lived in Vancouver and Rome. Vancouver life is easier in finding and buying things (if you want them), but Rome has something I don’t think we will ever have – authenticity. We Vancouverites lack self confidence, and it shows. We seem to be trying to act like other people, or rather, what we think other people act like. As a result, we look provincial and shallow. We say things about ourselves that even we don’t believe. Italians don’t run around copying how other people do things, they “Italianize”. A good idea is how we behave at Starbucks. Italian tourists must have a good laugh when they get a load of that.

  • . . . I don’t think we will ever have – authenticity.

    Well said Norman @ #85

  • IanS

    @Norman #85:

    You write: “Rome has something I don’t think we will ever have – authenticity.”

    I think I know what you mean, but I wouldn’t call it “authenticity”. I think of it as texture or, perhaps, history. Places like Rome, they’ve been around a long time as human settlements. There’s layers upon layers of history there, which, IMO, gives it a depth and texture which a much younger place – say, Vancouver – just cannot match.

    Who knows.. if Vancouver is around in a couple of thousand years, maybe it will have that kind of feeling to it.

  • There is no doubt that many Swedish and German cities are much further ahead than Vancouver when it comes to ‘greeness’ and we will not catch up to them by 2020 or whenever it is we are supposed to be the greenest city in the world.

    We may not even catch up to Valencia, where I recently visited, or Seville, where I am at the moment. Indeed, the greening of downtown Seville is something to behold with it’s car free zones, streetcars and extensive bicycle paths.

    Like many European cities, it too has a bike share program called CycleCity which seems to work since helmets are not mandatory. I must say, I am most intrigued to see how someone is going to make a bike share program work in Vancouver with mandatory helmets….although to be fair, perhaps they can come up with a new helmet design, similar to Toronto’s Rogers Stadium roof that folds into itself. I’m waiting.

    But back to Spanish cities and Rome….there’s no doubt that when a city was planned many centuries before the invention of the automobile, there is a great advantage when it comes to sustainability. But Europeans also seem to have a greater sensibility about resource conservation, reusing the old, and minimizing waste. Perhaps I’m just imagining it, but I sense a different attitude that’s quite important.

    By the way, if you haven’t been to Seville, put it on your list. I must confess, I was blown away by the delightful and architecturally rich streetscapes I discovered this morning upon leaving my hotel in Santa Cruz and heading towards the cathedral.

    Why haven’t more people been raving about this city? After only a day here, I think it’s phenominal.

  • Michelle

    Glissando Remmy #76

    Thank you for being so candid Glissando with this:
    “What you cannot see or smell though, are the DTES, the disenfranchised, the addicts, the back alleys, the Top in Canada (for the past 10 years in child poverty) Title, thanks to the now… Great Commissar Gordon Campbell, the lack of housing affordability, the totally corrupt municipal and provincial governments…shall I go on?”
    Absolutely right. We created this image about ourselves here in Vancouver, where we believe that we live in a picture perfect Postcard!
    Tomorrow is… Canada day. For some this means just another day of survival and hope and broken drerams and promises. Nothing more, nothing less.
    But we continue to talk about Rome, Valencia, Seville…wow, I’m happy for you all but how about go back to talking about Vancouver, Canada and about our leader’s arrogance and incompetence and misogynist approach (Hello Mr. Robertson, Hello Mr. Meggs) . If I needed travel information…Expedia is just a click away.
    Happy Canada Day Everyone!

  • Derp Derp

    thank you all for the most insightful vancouver thread i’ve read in a while.

    first, the city is noticeably less pleasant to live in than when we first moved here in 1988.

    secondly, Norman @ 87

    Vancouver, specifically areas of the Fraser river mouth and Stanley Park have been settled by the first nations for possibly up to or exceeding 15,000 years.

    THIS is history, but let’s be honest about why it’s not considered as such.

    we’d be wise to investigate the money laundering problem more. but since we’re not…

  • Michelle, we’ve been completing a look-see study of the urbanism in the historic neighbourhoods in our city. What stands out is not the gentrification, the poverty, or the lack of a “middle ground”.

    What jumps out at us is that Vancouver’s Historic Quartiers are as walkable as Rome, Sevilla, Valencia—and many other places that were built before the automobile—but that we are not taking that into account. In other words, we don’t understand the urbanism of the DTES. Never have and never will unless we change paradigm.

    Why is that important? I’m beginning to suspect that we can’t grow an urban culture in a petri dish. We have to evolve it right on site, one neighbourhood and one quartier at a time. The young whipper-snappers and the old-hoots alike have to find common ground on the simple, concrete, and wholly ignored facts of urban places.

    Here’s an example. We heard a lot of talk about the “Freeway Fight” and how a freeway was stopped from being constructed wiping out Strathcona before turning right and destroying Carrall and then on to the wreak havoc and blight on the waterfront. But, we heard no narrative about the fact that the cars came anyway.

    Instead of being put on a freeway they were put on Powell, Cordova, Hastinsgs, Prior/Venables and First/Terminal. The numbers on those streets today are staggering. Something like 130,000 vehicles per day ride on those streets driving past what is in most cases severely impacted single family residential homes (we checked Vanmap where we found 2006 vehicular counts).

    A process known as “disinvestment” was also underway at this same time. The banks didn’t lend home mortgages in the “inner city”—lands slated for freeway construction and more—from the 1950’s, right through the 60’s and 70’s. Major developers also stayed away.

    Another major initiative that was not completed was a scheme to wipe out the historic quartiers and build social housing in towers. CMHC’s McLean Housing Project in Strathcona was the “model” of what was to follow.

    Instead vast tracts of these urban neighbourhoods were re-zoned “industrial”. As a result we got the cheap one and two storey concrete block warehouse buildings we see there today. Some neighbourhoods clung to life and fought to survive. Thus, we have Strathcona, Vernon Drive, the 600 block E Cordova Street, and a sprinkling of houses here and there.

    Beginning in the 1970’s government policy located in this place, and in great concentrations, the most at-risk segment of our population. Social housing was built in the “industrial zones” among warehouses and chained off yards. No neighbourhood infrastructure. No urban design to support social functioning, and replace the stuff that had been there but was stripped away.

    It is still hard to understand why. Walking around today in the Oppenheimer district (on Cordova and on Powell Streets) what I see are poorly executed social housing schemes surrounded by warehouses. Except for the Sunrise Market, Oppenheimer Park, and a few other places, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Then, there is the day-long buzz of high traffic volumes travelling at very high speeds. Pedestrian-automobile incidents in this area I am told are the highest in our city.

    That’s why, Michelle, I feel that it is important to be knowledgeable about these other places. Better to go, study and absorb their lessons even if it will be a Dickens to figure out how to apply them here. And don’t go just as a tourist. Photograph, sketch, measure, listen to the locals and think, “how would I use this back home?”

    For example, the notion of social mix is alive and well in many places outside Vancouver. In our historic neighbourhoods putting a stronger middle between the Woodwards-gentrification, and the mediocre-standard social housing would go a long way to attracting the critical mass necessary to support a truly diversified neighbourhood economy. One that might cater to low, medium and high incomes in meaningful and substantial ways.

    The governments would once again play the leading role as they should. But the approach and the results would be different. For example, a logical choice would be LRT on Hastings, usurping up to 200,000 vehicle-trips per day and returning neighbourhood streets to safety and social functioning.

  • Lewis @ #90

    Allow me acquaint you with the ambulatory public amenity of the DTES. To wit: Gassy Jack’s Square, Pigeon Park (arguably one of Vancouver’s best public and most used, places), the desecated Goaler’s Muse, Blood Alley, Oppenheimer Park, Crab Park, close by Victory Square and their connections.

    Way back in 1968 The Community Arts Council of Vancouver arranged JJ walks.

    Since then, DTES has fallen prey to predatory attention. The place has been done to death: sin embargo nothing has changed!

    Your oleaginous approach, i.e. to Michelle, hasn’t improved the area one wit. Paris and Rome are hardly role models for local developers and approval offices: they have other agenda.

    Those cities came into being hundreds of years ago, long before the current destructive system of financing and fractional reserve banking.

    Traffic, Lewis is a symptom, not a cause!

    Now let me direct you to page 10 of the Cambie Corridor study . . .

    Lots of pretty coloured pictures. Lite on substance . . . note the diagram of the study area: there are three designated loci and two possible. The text describes the familiar, by now, 400m walking radius etc.

    And that is where a sense of urban space stops. No urban design concept to visualize space as amenity?

    The pretty coloured illustrations show what has been there for decades.

    Build-to lines are not prescribed, no description of how these circles can become living places.

    Why? Because land costs money and borrowing money costs even more money.

    So, apply your condescension to the destructiveness of fractional reserve banking: take on the big boys . . .

    Vancouver has an approval office, not a planning office! The Bank of England is Vancouver’s planning office!

    Oil that!

  • Having travelled during the past two weeks to Valencia, Seville and Granada, I would like to highlight one area in which Vancouver excels, and these cities, and far too many other European cities fail….the management of grafitti.

    I spent Canada Day touring the Alhambra, a wonderful complex, and parts of Granada, a most beautiful city, with wonderful sidewalks, parks, canopies over the streets to provide shade, etc.

    But so many buildings are covered in grafitti…it breaks my heart to see it…. and these cities seem to have lost control…indeed, from my travels, most major European cities have lost control over the taggers and grafitti hoodlums…

    I call them hoodlums, not ‘artists’ since although there is some great grafitti art, what I see on buildings is vandalism.

    So congratulations Vancouver for the policies City Councils have put in place over the years, and let’s do everything we can to avoid the defacing of our city like the defacing of cities over here.

    Now as for what European cities can do, I have a solution…but my wife doesn’t like me to talk about it…so instead I’ll simply suggest that those caught defacing buildings should be required to clean them up…incessantly, until the buildings of Granada and Seville and Rome and Athens are as clean as those in Vancouver.

    A belated Happy Canada Day to all my friends and colleagues back home.

  • Alistair

    Having grown up in Vancouver (spent my first 35 years there), I was quite happy for the change and moved to Europe. I thoroughly enjoy visiting Vancouver for 2 weeks each year, but as a place to live it has its pros and cons.

    The one city which captured my heart and soul completely is Amsterdam. Never have I found a city which captures everything; true beauty (buildings, people, nature), culture, lifestyle, entertainment, weather and transportation all in one multicultural world-class city. And it doesn’t hurt that it is less than 2 hours to fly to every/any other European city. The cost of living and taxes are fairly high, but that is the cost of living in a city which offers everything.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Night

    ‘The first recorded prehistoric art dates back to the Stone Age. Preferred themes: Hunting, Farming, Women. Sometimes combination of two or more…Hunting Women; Women Farming; Women Hunting… From Homo erectus, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Sapiens… to Homo Graffitiens.”

    Michael #92,

    I have a better idea. Why don’t the Vancouver City Hall sends David Cadman on a European Tour of Cities affected by graffiti, to share from his vast experience on graffiti removal!? And in return he may get some tips from the Greek and the French and the Spanish police squads on how to deal with Rioters.
    Quid pro quo.
    Just saying…:-)

    However, IMHO what they need in Europe is… better critics.

    What we need in Vancouver is… better architecture. One needs to get inspired, eh?

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Michael @ #93

    But so many buildings are covered in graffiti . . .

    ¡Bien allí es quizá una razón de todo el pintada . . . Quizás el país está en dolor y usted esté demasiado ocupado divirtiéndose notar.

    Usted debe haber faltado esto . . . . . .

    Tourists on vacation: huh!

    Most of the buildings we admire in Europe are covered in graffiti: religious icons, Kings and ladies carved beautifully in stone!

    Vacations present opportunities to learn how others live.

    ¿Sabe usted hablar español?

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “What you cannot see or smell though, are the DTES, the disenfranchised, the addicts, the back alleys…”

    “Allow me acquaint you with the ambulatory public amenity of the DTES.”

    Roger and Glissando, two commentators I normally love to read, are spouting drivel here. 1970 is a lifetime removed from 2011, gents.

    Roger, I realize you are working on memory and nostalgia, rather than day-to-day experience of place, so let me RE-acquaint you with the public spaces you list (and noting that Lewis was talking specifically about the DEOD sub-area, not the whole DTES). But I hope I sound even more bloody condescending than you… if that’s possible.

    “Gassy Jack’s Square”
    Is actually called Maple Tree Square, or the Native “Luck-Lucky” of beautiful trees. Great square for the jazz fest 10 days ago, when the cars are blocked from entering, of course. But the tour buses that park on Powell beside the Europe made me take my life into my hands every day, blocking the view of traffic as you cross the street. A very tentative first step…

    “Pigeon Park (arguably one of Vancouver’s best public and most used, places)”
    Surely, you jest? It got a makeover during the Olympics that made it much worse. It now sits mostly vacant, abandoned even by crackheads.

    “the desecrated Goaler’s Muse (sic)”
    Yes, I agree, utterly destroyed by the glass condos and excessive density piled onto the west side. Facadism at its absolute worst.

    “Blood Alley”
    So much potential, slowly coming back to life, but yeah, Glissy, still hard to walk down without holding yer nose. City plans a makeover, but…

    “Oppenheimer Park”
    Another unwarranted, and unwanted, Olympic makeover that did little to improve, and it didn’t need it anyway. Lewis is bang-on that the one-way Powell-Cordova coupling keeps this area as a low investment zone, despite the great potential and excellent urbanism. 130,000 cars a day through a residential neighbourhood? That’s not worth noting? And the guy who collected bottles at my door on Tuesdays lives in social housing behind the poultry factory a block north, can’t open his windows for the stink and flying molt. Again, Lewis is bang on about the warehouse/social housing mix. It’s death by planning.

    “Crab Park”
    1988, not ’68. A gem most Vancouverites have probably never visited. Screaming for a connection at the foot of Carrall and west to connect to the seawall. Besides the jaw-dropping view, probably the most interesting social mix of any Vancouver park.

    “Victory Square”
    I have never found this to be a good public space. Too steep. Now becoming a doggie-doo park for the Woodwards yuppies.

    Roger missed: Keefer Square, Sun yat-Sen, McLean Park, etc…

    So yes, Roger, your list proves the point perfectly: the DTES has an incredible underlying urbanism, built pre-automobile, with a number of interesting public spaces linked by easy walking distances. There’s much to be learned here. And JJ walks were restarted a couple years back, ya know, coz some of us weren’t born in 1968…

    So, what? We subscribe to Glissando’s shallow “the alleys are full of addicts and piss”, or the world’s financiers will dominate, therefore we should just let it all rot and build condo towers to screw the urbanism? Wow. Were you guys such patsies in the 60’s and 70’s, too? No-one said it would be easy… So why don’t YOU solve the world financial scam, and let us worry about our shitty little neighbourhoods, then?

    Woodwards has made most of my old Gastown haunts close. $30 barber shops and furniture stores and trendy boutiques just ain’t my thing. I can’t afford to live here anymore. Vancouver is on a downward spiral in my opinion, and it’s really sad. I’ve spent 2 days in my new home of ______ Village, centered on two pollution spewing arterials. Some village. Some depressing life being labelled the “working poor”, when you can’t even afford to live in the city’s poorest neighbourhood.

    So, in good faith, Gassy Jack’s Ghost is forced, by geography, to retire. I can no longer live the lie that is Vancouver. So later skaters, and thank-you Frances, it was fun while it lasted.

  • Glissando Remmy

    GJG @ 96,

    You got it ALL wrong! Just WRONG!
    I was…as always, sarcastic!
    Read my words again (I assume you are referring to my comment #76)…
    Here, explanation is in ( ):

    “The Thought of The Day
    “Birds of a feather flock together. In Vancouver the most popular birds are from the Corvidae family… aka Crows.”

    (meaning that after one despicable Riot, the official word coming out of the City Hall is that we shall flock all together as if nothing had happened, and everything is just fine…NOT)

    “I wonder where and who was polled for this …
    Sean #75,
    Look again at the picture featured in the National Post.”

    (That was in re. to the National Post article linked in #75 and to the main article panorama picture of Vancouver)

    “Postcard. Picture perfect!”
    (this was pure sarcasm)

    “What you cannot see or smell though, are the DTES, the disenfranchised, the addicts, the back alleys, the Top in Canada (for the past 10 years in child poverty) Title, thanks to the now… Great Commissar Gordon Campbell, the lack of housing affordability, the totally corrupt municipal and provincial governments…shall I go on?”
    (And this is the TRUTH the way I SEE IT. BTW never mentioned …piss, OK? Read my words again, I actually tell the same story as you do, the one no one seems to be bothered with)

    “And stop me from laughing out loud, MSM reporting ‘real news’ is like winning at 6-49 Lotto, 1 chance in 14,000,000.”

    (Is MSM ever going to report the Reality or the Fiction about any subject they want it pumped up?)

    “Nobody can live in a Postcard from Portlandia.”

    (that is exactly your own conclusion GJG. No one can live in a fake postcard, from an imaginary city, so they are forced to find a real place…)

    “I’ll also let you in a little secret, all Norman Rockwell paintings were staged as well.”

    (as in all ‘feel good” 1950s postcards by Norman Rockwell, where everyone was imagining the American Dream, here we have this amazing Postcards from Vancouver telling us a different story that has nothing to do with the Reality and everything to do with Fiction. That’s why, I called it ‘staged’, because it is ‘staged’… for the tourists and for the buyers and for the ones that just found out..)
    Hence the:

    “What, you didn’t know that?”

    Gassy Jack Ghost,

    I hope you’ll read this.
    I wish you all the best. You’ll be OK.
    We have no other choice now do we?
    Be well.

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.