Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My first day out and about. The dance that is pedestrian traffic is different here than it is in Berlin. Vancouverites are slower and slinkier, while Berliners have a slightly more mechanized gait. A gross generalization, to be sure, but one I was not looking to make.

Since my return I have heard further tales of development and the City's role in it. Vancouver has always been run by developers, only now the means have changed. Not so long ago I believed that the difference between developers in the 1970s and today is that the latter care about what people think of them. I would modify that to say that these people only give the appearance of caring. The City is complicit in this because their role is not merely to approve development applications but to sell them back to us (something that became apparent around the time Bob Rennie transformed himself from real estate agent to Rennie Marketing Systems). Under the current council, everything approved comes wrapped in "green"; under the previous council, the EcoDensity stamp of approval. Both are window-dressings.

Something that has not changed, something I am noticing more of, are the many young people moving through the city strapped to larger and larger knapsacks. Years ago a young person carrying a large bag on their back was headed to the laundromat; today these people are more often than not bussing from one part-time job to the next, between which they might squeeze in a course or two. They carry their day on their backs because they are living at the edge of the city. Not because they want to but because that is all they can afford.

And what of those living spaces? Back in the early-1980s, when I was a full-time university student, three people could rent a five bedroom house near the centre of the city and pay 25% of their student-loan-and-grant-subsidized income on rent. Today that person is a part-time student working two-part time jobs, collecting a student loan (the provincial non-repayable grant was abolished in 1984) and paying close to half their income on a three-bedroom house rented by five. Making matters worse, many of the young people I talk to have accepted this as a reality, and are looking not at critique and activism to change their situation (and those following them in age) but how to maximize their market potential, a sensibility encouraged by cultural brokerage houses like the Cheaper Show and the gang that turned Pecha Kucha into a market-state Nuremberg Rally, Cause + Affect.

Whither Vancouver? I don't know. But the way things are going, I am less and less optimistic that the city can afford 99% of its youth. The only recourse for those younger is to leave. But to where? Other cities?

Three years ago, en route to visit friends on Hornby Island, I took the Sunshine Coast route; partly for a change of scenery, partly because I wanted to check out property in Powell River. What I found in Powell River, in addition to its mill and the generations who grew up working there, were young people who had left the city to open cafes, make their art, take part in community related activities. Those that I talked to all had similar stories about Vancouver and where they thought it was going. When asked where they thought they were going, most were happy to stay in Powell River, participate in the cosmopolitan city through social media, but live and work within a (rural) community whose growth they could contribute to without it rolling back on them, crushing them, leaving them in its wake. There were knapsacks everywhere that day, but they belonged to those like me who had just pulled into town.


  1. Nicely put Michael. Too bad social and creative capital couldn't be accounted for in the decisions that seem to be made on our behalf in this city. The other aspect to living outside of the economic fear-zones of speculative real estate is that people tend to take more chances; take your kids out of school for a year and travel, open that restaurant, leave work to go to band practice. People in Van are so busy hanging on by their fingernails, hoping that the mortgage gamble pays off that the feeling of the city has been compromised.

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