Saturday, September 01, 2007

Vancouver Has Lost It's Soul !

It's been a steady decay, not one that happened overnight. But clearly Vancouver has lost it's soul. Not that it really ever had one, in this city of narcissists and "do your own thing" lifestyles. Hedonism is alive in this corner of the world. Don't let the mountains and the ocean fool you. I've been here for over forty years now and never really called Vancouver home. My birthplace is Edmonton, Alberta, and have lived with the constant teasing from the locals as to why anyone would want to be proud of coming from the prairies. I am, and can still have a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever I re-visit my home at 133rd St. and 107 A. Avenue

The smugness and arrogance of locally born Vancouverites has given way to a feeling of "what's happened to our city"?. The answer is simple, if you never build a sense of community from within, you have a city with no heart, no soul. If the sole motivation of your move to another country is to buy yourself in--you bring with you an attitude, not of greatfulness, but of entitlement. The price of homes become inflated, neighbourhoods become ghettos and entire communities turn into that countries territory , rather than becoming part of the local fabric. Vancouver is no longer multi- cultural, it has become bi-racial, Caucasion and Asian.

Vancouver is now a global city that is one stop within the Pacific world. Two thirds of male Canadians of Hong Kong origin between the ages of 25 and 40 live and work outside Canada. Large numbers of Vancouver residents have multiple homes throughout the world, creating great demand for real estate in Vancouver, but also leaving many condominiums unused for portions of the year. Like Switzerland for Europe, Vancouver is considered a safe place for storing money (not in banks, but in real estate) and a good place to send children to school.

In his article of June 30, 2007, "Chinese Vancouver: A decade of change- How the Lower Mainland became the leading Asian metropolis on the continent", Miro Cernetig of the Vancouver Sun writes;

" Remember "Hongcouver?" You don't hear that word much anymore in the polite society of Vancouver, a city that has grown into Canada's - and North America's - most effortlessly Asian metropolis.But a decade or so, ago you could hear the term "Hongcouver" everywhere.
It was an era's impolitic catch-phrase for the xenophobia and palpable occidental unease in Vancouver at the prospect of a profound upheaval in society. A sleepy city had suddenly found itself a magnet for one of the most significant - and wealthiest - immigration waves to ever hit Canada: the Hong Kong Chinese, who sought out Vancouver as a safe haven for their money.

"The Hong Kong immigrants were really a new kind of Canadian," said Henry Yu, a history professor at the University of British Columbia. "They were educated, spoke English and middle class or wealthy. They weren't going to start out as pizza delivery men and working in Chinese laundries."They expected to be first-class citizens, they wanted to live in the best neighborhoods, wanted the best schools for their kids.

Recall the words and debates - now rarely worth a headline - that polarized the city a decade or more ago, when Hong Kong's human tsunami began hitting Vancouver in the mid-'80s and late '90s.There was the volatile debate over "monster houses" - the name for the large homes many Hong Kong immigrants built in such rarefied and resolutely anglo enclaves as Shaughnessy and Kerrisdale, often knocking down trees and old-style houses to do so. Non-Chinese tended to see the word monster as an apt adjective for the grand size of the new homes they thought ugly and out of place; Chinese saw the word as a racist put-down, suggesting that "monsters" lived in such new homes designed to hold multiple generations.

Then there was the "University of a Billion Chinese" as the University of British Columbia was sometimes dubbed. The number of Chinese-Canadians students was soaring at the university, thanks in large part to the new Hong Kong immigrants who brought with them a diligence that made them academic stars and made it harder for the less competitive to gain entry to UBC.Many non-Chinese parents, as University of Washington academic and Vancouver native Katharyne Mitchell chronicled in a paper about the Hong Kong immigration wave, complained the new arrivals were "too competitive" or "too one-track-minded" compared to their own "more balanced" children.

And don't forget the simmering tensions in Richmond, where many of the Hong Kong immigrants first gravitated, radically changing the racial mix of the community in a few short years -- not to mention its shopping habits. Malls opened up full of Chinese stores, in effect creating a new, well-heeled and modern Chinatown on Vancouver's outskirts. On hot summer nights, you could hear the exotic clicking off mah-jong tiles on Richmond's quiet streets, where half the residents were suddenly Chinese.

Then there was, of course, the unforgettable Hong-Kong effect on the local real estate market.Billionaire Li Ka Shing started it by buying the Expo 86 lands and transformed them into a miniature version of the towering condos of his hometown Hong Kong. That accelerated a radical change to the city's skyline, with the luxury condos of Coal Harbour following, along with a profusion of downtown condo towers that have densified and energized the city's core, and made it more congested.

Predictably, real estate prices skyrocketed as the Hong Kong arrivals put their money into city property, new and old, often astounded at the houses they could get on the West Coast for the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Hong Kong.

Old-time Vancouverites who owned homes generally liked that consequence of the new Asian money. But even here there was a new angst that lingers on: those who didn't own property suddenly wondered how they could ever keep up with this new monied slice of Canadian society from across the Pacific."

The whispers at cocktail parties and behind closed office doors today is "how come I feel like a visitor in my own city". Not all immigrants who come to Canada or Vancouver for that matter have the kind of money brought by wealthy Asians, nor do they have the same sense of entitlement . My parents were poor Jewish immigrants who came with nothing and were just happy to have survived the Nazi concentration camps. They were so grateful to Canada that they made every effort to assimilate. What happens is that when you come here with an attitude of entitlement and there is no demand on you to assimilate and you are given the same privileges and access as others who have worked their whole life to value, then its no wonder that local Vancouverites will feel resentment, threatened and angry.

Add this to the Olympic nightmare, cost overruns, broken government promises, no help or compassion for the suffering of the merchants on the Canada line corridor, huge traffic jams, construction delays at every corner with every new development, no solution to massive homelessness, warring gangs, fueding drug lords, and epidemic breaking and entering of cars and homes, and you have "sin city", not the jewel of the Pacific. But don't bother calling 911, they'll just add you to the list of complaints that gets as much attention as committing jaywalking.

Here is the reality; we have a police force that is severly under manned and underfunded, with a mayor that can't organize a parade with one car., a mayor who is single handidly responsible for a 6 week garbage strike. Don't ever question the huge social benefits of the 17 day pep rally in 2010 in this town or you'll get a slap in the face from the Campbell Gestapo. Vancouver has sold whatever was left of it's soul to the people who care little for the soul of others. If you can buy a home in Kerrisdale, have a charge card at Tiffany's, own a BMW, lavish yourself and your children with clothes from Holt Renfrew, than you can have the "Vancouver dream", and enjoy the good life without feeling any guilt or remorse for anyone you might hurt. You've made it, heck you'll even get written up in Malcom Perry's column of the rich and famous. You won't however find any columnist covering the poor and ugly.

It is this attitude that has spilled over on to the streets of Vancouver. There is a simmering anger and distrust from people, who instead of talking openly about how they feel, swear at you and give you the finger in traffic, and murder each other at the slightest provocation. This is a city rotting from within it's core, and nothing can stop the juggernaut. Even a dose of "Zen" will cost you, they're called Spa Salons and Resorts, a refuge from reality. Maybe the Dalai Lama had a reason for wanting to have the worlds' first Centre for Peace here in Vancouver, he intuitively knows something we are not admitting, that Vancouver has lost it's soul!

1 comment:

Bruce Stewart said...

Oh, heavens yes! - Vancouver is running on empty.

The Campbell Gestapo, as you put it, can come and snark at me all they like. I didn't like the idea of the games here (I didn't want them in Toronto when I lived there, either!) but I was willing to go along with the whole effort if that's what the community wanted. But there has been such a mess made of this burg that as far as I'm concerned the bloody games can be cancelled today - just tell the IOC to stick it somewhere else - and let's let all the two-bit small-time CEOs, penny-stock-manipulating clowns, small-town politicians, etc. whine with a great public "waaaaaaah", because, guess what? None of their dreams are coming true anyway. All that will be left as a legacy is a great gaping set of holes in the social fabric of this city.

I can't wait to leave. "The best place on earth", as the clowns in Victoria want us to be known? Sh'ya'right. There is less "here" here than Oakland enjoys.

As for that idiot in the wheelchair rolling around from press conference to press conference, if he wasn't known to be a Conservative supporter I'd suggest he actually was one of Ignatieff's well-stacked puffin turds. You got us into this mess, Sam, so either get us out of it, or resign and let someone with a full wit solve a labour situation that everyone around us managed to do mostly without an hour off work.

I am so disgusted with this place, I lack the words.
The only thing Vancouverites know is taking money, preferably with as little work as possible.