For all its hype as one of the world’s best cities, you don’t have to chat to Vancouverites for very long to hear frustration bubbling underneath. This past week, the topic of Vancouver’s shortfalls has come up five times, which inspired me to write this piece. Nobody denies the city’s beauty and quality of life, and while we’re mostly in the realm of “First World Problems”, it’s worth recognizing the issues that hold this city back. Having previously explored what makes Vancouver great, I asked myself one simple question: What should change for Vancouver to truly be the world’s best city? Here’s what I came up with.
Nobody can just relax in this city, because everywhere you go, the clock is ticking, and the dollars add up. Parking rates are outrageous, as is the fact that parking meters run to 10pm, even on many streets that are mostly empty. Good luck finding street parking in the West End or Kits (goodbye dinner parties) and confusing Residents Only signs in the suburbs inhibits social visits. Sure, a lack of parking encourages public transit, but buses and the Skytrain are not convenient when you have kids, multiple destinations and chores. Meanwhile, Easypark and Impark gouge our wallets with malicious glee. Paying by phone is super convenient, especially for Vancouver City Hall, which double dips when 2 or 3 cars pay for the same space in an hour.
Solution: Lower street parking rates, more lots at transit hubs, return parking metres to 8pm. Increase 2 hour limits to 3 or 4 hours. Hey, I can dream.
Look, compared to many other cities in the world, it’s not too bad…until you get stuck in it. The condo explosion brings with it a traffic mess. Marine Drive and Cambie was already a nightmare before they decided to build a new city above the intersection. Roads are choked, which means people drive like maniacs, and who can admire the cherry blossoms with stress burning the eyeballs? There also needs to be more left-turn signals. I’ve never understood the high-risk gamble of turning left with a car opposite (also turning left) blocking oncoming traffic.
Solution: Better street planning to accompany new condo developments. Better transit options. More left turning arrows. More incentives for ride share.
The biggest issue on the list, especially for those priced out of the city’s obscene housing market. A glut of overpriced one and two bedroom condos sold off to international buyers who don’t live in them; million-dollar tear downs (also driven up by international buyers) and a real estate boom that benefits the few at the expense of the many. I want to raise my kids, not lust for overpriced real estate while watching real estate agents tear each other’s throats out. Vancouver homes are more expensive than New York, but we don’t earn what people in New York do. This city’s unquenchable real estate boom is squeezing out its citizens, and suffocating its culture.
Solution: Make Vancouver a city for the people who actually live in it. Tax the hell out of non-resident owners, which will fund subsidies and new infrastructure while cooling off the market to something approaching reality.
$1200 a month x 2 = $2400. Monthly salary after deductions and taxes: $2600. How the hell is this supposed to encourage dual income households, women in the workforce, and a positive birth rate? Raising kids is tough and expensive as it is. There are not enough daycare spots (we waited 18 months to get my daughter in the nearest daycare) and what’s available is still the most expensive in the country. This became a political issue in the last issue and rightly so.
Solution: Subsidized daycare, with more community daycare programs.
A major issue in this city, the political hot potato, one that burns across the spectrum of mental health, underfunded community programs, social security, and crime. As someone who travels around the world, you should know this: Vancouver is often compared to Melbourne, Vienna, Perth, Auckland, Geneva – and none of those cities have anything close to the homeless crisis in Vancouver. Hastings and Main is NOT normal. Finding the solution involves more than just building new homes - it’s about looking at the issue holistically – the economy, healthcare, social programs, drug laws. There are smarter people tackling these issues, but for all the millions of dollars spent, it does not appear to be improving.
Solution: Improve mental health facilities, manage public housing efficiently, subsidize public education programs, create jobs, update drugs policy, your solution here.
Despite what cruise ship tourists think, just because someone told them the time outside Pacific Centre does not make Vancouver a friendly city. It is polite. Vancouverites are as mild as the weather – blowing neither hot nor cold. Not returning emails or phone calls, not inviting people to houses, bailing on plans at the last minute – this is a cultural norm in the city, acutely felt by immigrants from countries where such behaviour is deemed rude. Vancouverites (myself included) are self absorbed, busy with our lives, trying to keep our heads above water. There’s a perception here that making and maintaining friendships requires intense effort and sacrifice, and isn’t worth it. Garbage, but nevertheless entrenched in Vancouver culture, despite what tourists think.
Solution: Teach your kids that it’s not OK to keep options open so they can cancel plans at the last moment. Teach your kids that it is OK to invite friends over. It will take a couple generations to burn off the sludge of Vancouver’s social disinterest, but it can be done.
OK, it rains. Not much we can do about this one. Comes with the package. Certainly it appears that Vancouver is #winning as the world adjusts to climate change. The best thing we can do about the weather is to stop whining about it. We don’t live in Arizona, but Arizona doesn’t have coastal rainforest.
Solution: Get over it.
LIQUOR PRICES & LAWS
The current mayor has improved things considerably, but this is still a city that would rather chop down the tree than risk one bad apple. Our liquor laws are pathetically archaic. We have “medicinal” marijuana shops blossoming on every block, you can smoke your vaporizer walking down the street, but it’s illegal to open a bottle of wine on the beach. Big changes are underway, but we’re years away from what you might see in Montreal or Europe. There’s still too much red tape to set up an event, which is why public events are so few and far between. I admit it’s getting better (fifteen years ago this city was alarmingly dull) but Vancouver needs to be culturally progressive as well as environmentally progressive.
Solution: Streamlined application processes, alcohol in grocery stores, alcohol consumption in public (the sky won’t fall), investment in more community events.
COST OF GOING OUT
What a great lifestyle Vancouverites have, and boy do we pay for it! This is a city that wants you to kick the crap out of your credit card so you can go out for dinner, see a show, visit a museum, or take a yoga class. Admission is pricey all round, and don’t forget the parking! We have fantastic community centres and dine-out festivals, and I know that things today aren’t cheap. But the increasingly high cost of everything benefits a minority of the city’s wealthier population, shooting everyone else in the foot.
Solution: Heavily discounted, subsidized museum entrances for locals (or free altogether). Discount days for theatre, opera, ballet etc, encouraging family visits. Crackdown on price gouging for events, (aka TicketMaster). Extending nightclub hours, more all ages events.
Proud Vancouverites will scream: If you don’t like it, don’t live here! But that’s like telling someone to eat cold soup in front of a microwave. We know it’s good, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make it better.
It feels increasingly obvious that Vancouver is transforming into a Have/Have Not City, ironic given that its greatest asset is the free-as-air nature that encompasses it.
Ironic that Traffic is an issue, and so is parking. That homelessness is an issue, juxtaposed against the inflated value of homes. That it rains so much, and yet that rain gives us our gorgeous coastal rainforests.
Maybe I just need to accept the fact that unless I earn significantly more income, Vancouver is no longer an ideal place to live. The average two-household income is a struggle, as it is for not-so-average incomes. Maybe I should forego a view of the mountains for a big enough house to raise a family, without the stress of intense debt. Maybe I should be the change I want to see in the world. Maybe I should just shut up.
And that’s why I wrote this, to start a debate, to get the bitching out in the open. Vancouver doesn’t suck. It just needs a few tweaks. What do you think ?
ps: I know I should have titled this: "How Vancouver Can Be Better?" but clickbait is clickbait.
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After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your love.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.