Monday, April 13, 2009

Vanpuker: Too Much of a Good Thing

When I moved to Vancouver from Southern California 15 years ago, it was such a breath of fresh air... new and special... that I may as well have just moved to the Moon. I remember, back then, how clean the city used to be... so clean, in fact, that I remember laughing whilst walking down Granville Street late at night because there were actually people power-washing the sidewalk. I remember thinking it was like walking down Main Street at Disneyland... nothing like that ever seemed to happen in California!

Those were good times, back then. Free. Open. Happy.

In California, as I've said a bazillion times over in my life, it always felt as if there was a tension between everybody. If you aren't my friend, you're my enemy... and there is no middle ground. In Vancouver, I discovered that the people didn't care how you dressed, what music you listened to, whether you were rich or poor, beautiful or... not so beautiful. People seemed to co-exist in a near Utopia.

The problem with any Utopia, however, is that it can sometimes be too good. Such has been the case with Vancouver. When you have such a special place, it doesn't take too long before everyone on the planet knows about it. Every visitor who returns home with stories of a 'real life Disneyland' infect every other person they come into contact with. Soon, everyone has visions of Vancouver shaped sugar plums dancing in their head... and the race to get there begins.

Now, I have no intention of laying out a socio-political landscape on the evolution of a city over a decade and a half arc, but I did want to mention a couple of things. The first thing I noticed was the ever increasing rental costs. When I moved here, only 15 years ago which, lets face it, in the history of man, is not a very long period of time, a one-bedroom apartment could be had for $675 per month. With costs like that, the city was flooded with artists, musicians and single people capable of affording a place of their own. In fact, I suspect, it was the low cost of housing that made Vancouver such a diverse and interesting city. When the people most in need of having access to restaurants, museums, theatres, concert halls and cabaret style venues have the resources to afford to live within walking distance of such an incredible hub of activity, a locally flavoured culture is bound to thrive. But when the demand to be in that hub suddenly reached unsupportable levels, real estate in Vancouver fell into the laps and dreams of investors looking to cash in on the new levels of demand for the limited supply... and rent prices began to increase. Today, that same $675 apartment would run you closer to $1,100 per month... in 15 years!

The result of this astronomical increase has been very noticeable. No longer able to afford to live where their culture was thriving, that diverse group of people fled the city like rats leaving a sinking ship. In their place came a culturally dysfunctional group of people who's goals were more independent of the whole. People focused on their careers rather than their culture. Fashion rather than family. Money rather than music. And with the influx of these people came all the things that made Southern California so unappealing to me... the competition. The "me" and "you."

This city is not what it once was. My Utopia has fallen.

On my walk to work this morning, every block along my path smelled as though I were strolling through a dirty ashtray. The only respite to be had from the stench came from the puddles of vomit I had to step around on every block! Garbage littered every inch of my path. Pigeons ate refuse like death row inmates feasting on their last meal. Untrusting and defensive glances were delivered by every person trodding along on an opposing vector. Where were the power washers? Where were the culturally rich people? Where was my Disneyland? Where was Vancouver?

I'm going to wrap this little tale of woe up now... otherwise I could easily extrapolate this tidbit into a 'War and Peace' sized epic... but I wanted to say; I'm leaving Vancouver. I'm not going far... just outside of the city core. I once believed that this would be my final resting place on the journey of my life, but not anymore. This city has run it's course... especially where I'm concerned. And, with the imposing threat of the 2010 Olympics descending upon this necropolis, it couldn't happen at a better time. I loved this city like a surrogate mother... now I just feel like I'm writhing around in her rotten, decayed belly... and... y'know..... that's kinda gross.



  1. i hear ya p! it is definatly changed DRASTICLY since i moved here 14 years ago!
    so much more violence, garbage, homeless people, bitchy people, snobby poeple...i could go on and on!
    when i first moved here man i was going out all hours of the night! walking home in drag...totaly not afraid of anything.
    but now...i definatly would think twice before making the 10 bucks and walk or cab to be safe!
    the city has definatly become "infested" and it's brilliance turned lackluster!

  2. that's exactly what i'm talking about. i used to tell people back home that there wasn't an alley in this city i was afraid to walk down, stumbling drunk at 3am... now, davie street isn't safe in the middle of the afternoon. it really sucks....

  3. You're totally right. The city's changed. The creative types make the city cool to live in and then everybody wants to move here. Fifteen years ago it was easy to strike up a conversation with any stranger. Now you can't get approached by a stranger without fear and dread and suspicion.

    You may be right: the city may have run its course. On the other hand, maybe the real estate crash will end up in some yuppies escaping the city with their tails between their legs.
    Isn't it weird that as more yuppies moved into Vancouver we also got more homeless people?

  4. So very true, Paulo.

    And, in all fairness, Vancouver isn't a terrible place. There's much worse to be had> And, as we well know, there is definitely an abundance of amazing people here... but the overall feeling or sense of the city has become something unlike what it once was. We just need to dig a little deeper and work a little harder to find it.