Vancouver is pretty, but it’s not for me

Mon pays

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.

On my second visit--I was already in love

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.

Coming out

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.

From the top of Mont St-Hilaire, looking at my native valley.

Asking questions

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.

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6 Comments

Filed under British Columbia, Life, Personal, Thoughts

6 responses to “Vancouver is pretty, but it’s not for me

  1. Pingback: “Don’t Move to Vancouver”: Why I Changed My Mind After 6 Months « Anabelle's Blog

  2. VanAddict

    Well said Annabelle! I couldn’t agree with you more. I have had similar feelings as you have regarding real life in Vancouver. It’s really unfortunate that such a beautiful city is so unlivable. I have lived there off and on over the past 18 years. Whenever I hear that it was voted “most livable city”, I always know better.

    Your recent blog posts outlining your honest feelings towards Vancouver are very refreshing for me to read. We left Vancouver for the last time in the fall of 2010, for a more rewarding life in Ontario. By rewarding I mean, decent paying jobs, a house with a backyard and garden, and a lifestyle that we can both afford and enjoy. Our story is long and a bit complicated but I feel like I can really identify with your point of view.

    We often look back at our time in Vancouver and wish we could have found a way to make it work for us. It’s a bit of a head game because we love the natural beauty so much and genuinely wanted to live there. However, after reading your honest account of what life in Vancouver can feel like for many, it brings a great sense of peace and closure to our difficult decision to leave Vancouver and never go back.

    All the best to you in finding a place to truly call home.

  3. VanAddict

    Sorry Anabelle for misspelling your name!

  4. I chose to live in Vancouver 10 years ago and am still in love with it. But I spend a lot of time telling friends and family who I’d love to have join me why moving here might not be a good idea for them. It was solely the “who in their right mind would live here” part of your original post that was off-putting to me, so it’s disingenuous to say you’re only expressing your truth.

    • Anabelle

      Diane,

      Thanks for your comments. I do admit that sometimes my words can go beyond my thoughts. It’s something that I do in person as well, and I’m trying hard to work on that. I wrote that post about a month ago, feeling a bit angry that I couldn’t reach my objectives there. And I certainly did not expect it to go viral as it did. It’s dying down now and I’m pretty glad for it… But you’re right, this bit was mean. I’m sorry it put you off.

      That’s why I wrote this new one–a bit more balanced, a bit less harsh. I’ve had time to reflect and think on everyone’s comments and put my experience in a wider perspective.

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