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Vancouver I love you but you’re bringing me down

Vancouver skyline

Editorial – down and out in Vancouver

- by Shawn Conner

There’s something deeply wrong with this city, and I’m not sure it can be fixed.

After living here for 23 years – half of my life – I am coming to the conclusion that Vancouver’s glory days have come and gone.

I say this not with an old fogey’s nostalgia for the good old days (which I was too dumb or too stoned to fully enjoy at the time anyway) but because of what I’m hearing.

The closure of the Vancouver Playhouse. The closing of the Ridge Theatre. The battle for survival of East Van’s Rio Theatre (which only wants to be able to sell booze and show movies, not even at the same time). The housing prices that make it impossible for young people and couples to afford a home. The Rize condo development in Mount Pleasant (Tim Hortons was only the beginning.) Even the hockey riots; say what you will about it being the work of  a few bad apples from the suburbs, the riots were just a large-scale version of what downtown has become – a weekend playground for rowdy suburbanites.

More and more, Vancouver is a city run by developers for the very rich.

Artist's rendition of the Rize development proposal for Mount Pleasant in Vancouver.

Culturally, Vancouver is bankrupt. We’re barely holding onto the few remaining venues and artistic avenues we have. Toronto has always beckoned for the city’s musicians, writers and artists, but never more so than now, with opportunities dwindling and rents sky-high.

In a few weeks, the TV series Real Housewives of Vancouver is going to premiere on the Slice Network. I have seen the first two episodes, and they are not pretty. I expect Vancouverites will turn away in disgust, even as they can’t stop watching and discussing the excesses on display.

Real Housewives of Vancouver promotional image.

When I first came here, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had very little knowledge of the city; all I knew was that it didn’t snow, and that was good enough for a Winnipeg boy. In the early ’90s, at the time at least, Vancouver seemed like a pretty cool place – affordable, somewhat, and full of people from other cities who’d come West for the opportunities to do things they couldn’t back home. There was some sense too in the ’90s of the city waking up to its potential, a self-awareness that this was, or could be, a great city. Vancouver was livable; it was even affordable. Downtown, and especially Granville Street, was a mess, but it had character. It was our mess.

Admittedly, I have no idea what it’s like to be 24 (my age when I moved here) in Vancouver now. It’s probably pretty good if you’re a video game developer living in Yaletown; probably not so good if you’re a musician or actor or anyone in an entry level job or just coming out of university. CIty councillor Peter Ladner was on CBC Radio the other morning, complaining that if all the young people left, who would make his latté? This man is an elected official (which is more than I can say for Christy Clark, whom no one voted for as premiere yet is still running this province).

B.C. Premier Christy Clark

B.C. Premier Christy Clark. WTF???

Perhaps I’m just disheartened over what I perceive as the dwindling influence of what used to be one of the city’s strong points, its arts and culture. Maybe theatre closures and condo complex attacks and unaffordable housing are just growing pains for the city. But I can’t help thinking we’ve passed the tipping point, to use that already-clichéd term; the struggle for the Vancouver’s soul is over, and those of us who wanted more from the city than a giant investment opportunity, have lost.

Oh well, there’s still Wreck Beach – for now.

16 responses to “Vancouver I love you but you’re bringing me down

  1. 2 years ago  

    I agree that something is going on with our city, but I wouldn’t lay all the blame at the feet of developers and self-interested politicians–that’s too easy.

    A fact check item – Peter Ladner is a former City Councillor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Ladner). Mr. Ladner has done a great a deal to help build a better Vancouver, so let’s not let a quote, taken out of context, colour his contribution to our city.

    It sounds like your glass is half empty my friend. Signs of the apocalypse are everywhere if you want to see them. You see the obvious downside of the hockey riot as a sign of our decline. I see the coming together of citizens, who said “this is not my Vancouver” and then went downtown to volunteer their time to repair and clean up the damage done.

    The demise of The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company hits close to home for me. I worked there for five years and I am still in touch with many of my former colleagues.

    The Playhouse experienced a steady decline in its patronage over the past 20 years. There are many factors that contributed to its debt spiral, but hopefully something good can come of the loss.

    When an institution like The Playhouse fails it is a wake up call for all us. Culture isn’t something that lives on a shelf that you can take down and look at when you feel like it. Culture is a living breathing thing that requires the participation of an audience to enable it to thrive.

    The Playhouse is symptomatic of the historic challenge of producing arts programming in this city. Blame the rain, the outdoor lifestyle, transient population or whatever external factor you want, but it all adds up to the same thing—Vancouverites fail to connect/invest/support the arts en masse.

    If we truly value our city’s culture and we want to see it thrive and not just survive then let’s start by doing the things we say we hold so dear. Make a commitment. and subscribe to a theatre company’s season. Become a member of an art gallery. Buy tickets to experience the Symphony, Bach Choir or Ballet BC–just make sure you make a commitment to that organization and show your support by putting your bum in a seat.

  2. 2 years ago  

    Thanks for your comments Shawn, and the correction! I agree, for the most part – but I also don’t see things getting better, if by better we’re talking about a more livable, affordable city.

  3. 2 years ago  

    Right on! Ive seen the shift dramatically over the last five years.

    But the city is not a lost cause, despite of all the legalities frustrating the masses, there is still a lot of underground culture hoping to get noticed.

  4. 2 years ago  

    I’ve lived in Vancouver (and a couple of its suburbs) my whole life. I agree the 90s were pretty great here – especially the indie/hardcore music scene. But beer sucked in the 90s – gotta love the local craft beer – as did food (it seemed like it was all family restaurants & chains back then, but maybe that was all i could afford). And local politics were just as bizarre (vander zalm, glenn clark, etc) and there were hockey riots too (but not as many cameras to catch the idiots).

    It’s great to feel nostalgia for a previous era but everyone thinks they’d rather live in another time (as a good example, watch Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris). There are a lot of great things happening now and if you want more, create the culture you want. Contribute something to Vancouver culture and you’ll have no reason to complain… Well, except for housing prices. That’s just crazy.

  5. 2 years ago  

    Hi Chris, thanks for the comment! Not sure if it’s nostalgia or just a growing realization as to the changes this city is going through… it’s not like there are one are two theatres that are going to pop up to take the place of everyone we lose. That said, I agree there’s still lots of cool stuff happening in the city (and I’d like to think we’re doing our small part!).

  6. 2 years ago  

    The playhouse was in business for 49 years. That’s a pretty good record, really.

    It didn’t make money in any of those years, as far as I understand. Not once.

    It was essentially an institution entirely dependent on tax dollars for it’s livelihood. Entirely.

    It’s time was up a long time ago.

    I fundamentally agree with the premise though: either Vancouver is done, or I’m done with Vancouver. I’m out…in 2014 probably.

  7. 2 years ago  

    Yup, theatres are closing left and right. Culture is dying.

    Wanna know why?

    Because this place is expensive. Arts and culture, though nourishing, are expensive. A glass of wine is $9. A late night burger-joint with a $5 burger made by some guy with sweaty forearms named Nick the Greek doesn’t exist here – but an organic bison burger topped with blue cheese made from the milk of ayurvedic yoga-cows might be an option, if you can afford a $30 burger.

    This is not an easy place to live, sorry.

  8. 2 years ago  

    Rachel needs to get a job.

    Bon’s on Broadway is still plenty busy, and there are lots of low cost options in the city.

    As for the price of a glass of wine: blame a taxation regime that while set provincially, is pretty typical of the entire country.

  9. 2 years ago  

    Not sure if the status of Rachel’s employment is pertinent… it’s an expensive city no matter which way you look at it.

  10. 2 years ago  

    When people complain about the cost of things, their employment status is very relevant.

    One of the problems with this city is the rise of the Hipster Slacker class. Main Street has become almost a Nirvana for these folks.

    The same people who complain about the 700,000 strong city of Winnipeg being “fly over country” move out here and get serve industry jobs, don’t pursue an education then complain about the cost of luxury products like dining out at expensive restaurants and hand crafted lattes from Gene and its ilk, while deriding things they consider to be beneath them. The ‘working class’ of the city spends much time consuming those things.

    That daily Americano habit at $3 a hit is $60/month for 20 working days. Run the calculation on how much money you could put towards your downpayment on a home if you skipped it an invested it instead. It’s substantial.

    Focus on education when you’re young, get a job in a field you like (or be entrepreneurial and start something like The Snipe!) and save. Aspire to more in life than “Barista” on your business card, and you might one day be able to afford that $30 burger too.

    I’m going make a movie called “Vancouver: Rise of the HIpsters.” Wait…no one’s going to pay to see that, they’ll just steal it on bittorrent.

    Damn Hipster class.

  11. 2 years ago  

    Bill, great comment, excellent satire! You really did a great job trying to emulate an old elitist Vancouverite who has no interest whatsoever in giving genuine thought to the all-too-real social issues encroaching the city. Bravo!

  12. 2 years ago  

    @ Bill,

    I think your comments are ignorant and from what you’re saying and your attitude I can stereotype and generalize where you live and what you do.

    What Shawn says is true, “it’s an expensive city no matter which way you look at it.”

  13. 2 years ago  

    I recently moved to Vancouver from Toronto. The main reason for My move was purely professional. I work in film, the Vancouver film/TV industry is much larger then Toronto’s. However, Toronto has a huge thriving theater industry ranging from the Canadian opera company and the national ballet to many smaller local theater companies. All of these places receive grants from the government and strong box office revenues. That revenue only covers about half of their operating costs. All of theses Toronto based organizations are non profit and receive millions of dollars in donations from Toronto’s wealthy citizens. In fact theaters in every major city in Canada and around the world receive donations and endowments from local wealthy citizens….considering how many wealthy people live in Vancouver I’m surprised none of them have stepped forward to save the Vancouver playhouse.

  14. 2 years ago  

    Great article! It confirms how I have felt since I moved here. I have lived in many different countries and cities around the world and Vancouver by far is the most difficult, unfriendly, soul-less city I have ever lived in. Apart from no business district, the arts are lame and the people are so pretentious. It is a beautiful city, but that’s all.

  15. 2 years ago  

    Vancouver does have a business district: it’s centred around Georgia & Howe.

    The problem is that the typical Vancouverite has no desire to have a career oriented job. (To be fair, there *is* a lack of head offices in Vancouver: it’s a branch office town.)

    I wouldn’t call the arts here lame. I’m not sure where you people get that. Comparing it to Toronto selectively is disingenuous: there’ve been plenty of Toronto theatre companies that have failed over the years too, and independent bookstores in that city aren’t exactly thriving (Pages closed a few years ago: it was the best bookstore in Canada.)

  16. 2 years ago  

    Bill -

    Please expound upon your understanding of the “typical Vancouverite.”

    Your analysis is impressive.

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