Most people have a strong attachment to their home. Adopted or native, home is where we build our life, make connections, are part of a community. Home is where we feel safe, where we feel loved, and where we can leave a part of ourselves.
Someone criticizing your home can sometimes feel like a criticism of you. You feel a sense of personal slight, like there’s something wrong with you for liking a place over another that, in your opponent’s eye, is better. It makes me twinge when people say something bad about Montréal, even though I am aware of its faults. Because despite its problems and the bad things about it, it’s still the place that I consider as my home.
The Cult of Vancouver
Vancouverites are fiercely protective of their city. And with reason: it’s beautiful and it has a lot going on for it. But for the last few days, this civic pride has shown a darker side to me: that for some people, criticism is not acceptable. BPOE, they say; “Best Place on Earth”. Questioning this mantra is close to sacrilegious.
I moved to BC in 2008; spent 2 years in Victoria, then 10 months in Edmonton, then 6 months in Vancouver, then back to Victoria. I don’t know what it was like before the hype surrounding the Olympics. Some people tell me they ruined everything. Others tell me they made everything better.
I got caught in the hype too: I WANTED to be in Vancouver, now, because everyone else did. The world watched Vancouver, and Vancouver basked in its mountainous and oceanic glory. Vancouver is modern. Vancouver is hip. Vancouver is welcoming. Vancouver this, Vancouver that. The PR campaign was well executed. It worked. I moved there after Edmonton, thinking “this is my chance. I’m young, I’m smart, I have a lot to give. I can build a life here.” But Vancouver, it seems, had no place for me. It’s not a bad thing–there is one somewhere else. But Vancouver promised, and Vancouver didn’t deliver.
I’ve been flooded with comments about my courage for, somehow, “coming out” about my frustration with Vancouver. But I am far from the first one to express this. Numerous articles from actual objective journalists have preceded me. I did not live this experience in a void; nor was this experience devoid of good things.
If there is anything that my academic experience has taught me, it’s to question everything. I’m not always diligent in this, though; in fact, if I was a police story stereotype, I’d be the “shoot first, ask questions later” kinda gal. Vancouver didn’t force me; I came willingly.
But now, I am asking questions. What does “best place on Earth” mean? Is it the natural beauty? There’s beauty everywhere; one only needs to look. My native valley doesn’t have a mountain range, but it has a peaceful river nourishing a fertile soil. It has a feature that’s unique in the world: random magma bursts in an otherwise flat landscape, eroded by the eons and dotting the valley with small but picturesque “mountains”. It’s beautiful too.
But now, I am asking questions. What should “the premium of living in Vancouver” really be? If the “premium” becomes only accessible to the wealthy, then the city loses the economic diversity that makes it work. I’m no economist, but this is not happening because so many people are flocking to Vancouver, trying to “make it” and take the lower paid jobs while waiting for the good ones. And waiting. And waiting.
But now, I am asking questions. The government has the power to control the rise in rent prices. I hear many community organizations requesting regulations, affordable housing, a moratorium on luxury condos. Why is no one doing anything about this? My analysis of it is that the real estate market is the cash cow of the local and provincial governments–but where will it stop? When Vancouver is a phantom city populated only by those rich enough to afford the inflated housing prices? The people who make a city vibrant–its students, its artists, its immigrants–are not going to stay.
But now, I am asking questions. On what scale is Vancouver rated a “world-class city”? Is it the amount of business done there? Probably not. Where is the “world-class” business being run in Vancouver? Is it the amount of foreign visitors? Maybe, but then on that scale, Cuba can be considered a world-class destination as well. What does “world-class” mean? Does it mean “for jet-setters only”?
“We need? What about you need?”
My expectations were not out of measure. I wanted a professional job with chances of advancement that paid enough to make a decent living. In my head, a decent living means having a nice home for at most 30% of my net income, to be able to pay my debts and save, and to be able to enjoy entertainment and shopping. These expectations may have been too high for Vancouver to fulfill, and I only have myself to blame for that. However, I can also see that a city with which I feel in love in 30 seconds is wasting its potential on trying to look good, but becoming empty inside. The Vancouver Playhouse closing is a symptom of a much bigger problem that everyone notices, but no one dares to talk about.
As I see it, the amount of restaurants is amazing, but it’s also a smokescreen. “Eat”, they say, “forget about the homeless, and the illegal suite you’re living in. Forget about the businesses leaving, about the empty condo tower across the street. See all these tourists enjoying themselves. You should feel this way too! Eat and drink and forget.”
But when you’re done drinking, when you’re done eating, when you’ve digested and sobered up, what is there left? Empty condo towers and offices downtown, arts organizations closing, smart people leaving, and no way to provide for a family. If Vancouver is your home, I’m sorry for saying bad things about it. It’s not about you; in the end, it’s about what I want for my life, my future and that of my family.
My conditions–and they are MINE–were not met. If it meets yours, then I wish you all the happiness in the world. As for me, I’ll be looking elsewhere.