I live in Kits, on 4th at Macdonald. I’ve only been there for about 4 months, but I’ve spoken to more of my neighbours in this place, than in the entire four years I lived in an apartment in Burnaby. I still don’t own a tiny dog or any Lululemon (because seriously, $90 for sweatpants? I have other priorities). Everyone I’ve met seems perfectly down to earth. Sure, there are lots of muscle-bound meatheads, and fake-breasted tarts I end up wandering past, but I rarely actually encounter them doing anything other than working on their tans – our paths rarely cross in any sort of meaningful way.
When Neil and I go to the beach or dog park, people are really friendly, exclaim over how pretty Sasha is, and all the dogs play together – instead of people sneering at us as we pick up after her, or shying away from her because she’s not a handbag dog.
When I walk into a store in the neighbourhood – chain or otherwise – I’m generally welcomed and the staff make small-talk with me about the weather, the neighbourhood, or whatever’s on their mind. I’m remembered after one or two visits, and they’re helpful (and not in that “commission making” way) more often than not.
I feel like I belong here.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that Neil and I are bona-fide, certified yuppies. dinks. grups. We have a combined income that affords us a nice rental apartment now as well as the purchase of a new home next year. We can take modest vacations, eat at nice restaurants every once in a while, maintain somewhat expensive hobbies (rowing, skiing, snowboarding, diving) and occasionally splurge on something we enjoy (usually edible, drinkable, gadgety or sparkly). We’re by no means rich, and struggle like anyone else with the balance between maintaining the life we enjoy, paying the bills, and planning for the future.
We have a diverse group of friends – some of them far ahead of us in their financial situation, some of them far behind.
The most important thing is that it doesn’t define who we are or who we interact with. I can honestly say that the quality of life I had when I was just out of University, earning a fraction of what I currently do, is just as good now as it was then. Different of course – with different ambitions and goals and plans, but still good. The biggest difference is that now I’m at a point where I’m getting ahead and expanding my goals for the future, rather than living paycheque to paycheque. I know the nature of the neighbourhood I live in means that a reasonably high income is required in order to pay the rent. But I’ve met just as many quality people here as I have anywhere.
I find the city far friendlier than the suburbs. If I am considered different, it’s attributed to diversity, instead of a lack of personal ability to “keep up with the Joneses” or a values system that’s considered “wrong.”
There are certainly a number of cold, calculating, opportunistic, shallow people in Vancouver. What do you expect when you live in a world-class city which offers the amenities and accessories those people typically measure their worth by?
I choose to accept their existence as a necessary side-effect of living in Vancouver, and choose largely to ignore them. Their existence is not something I aspire to – and I choose in this situation is to accept them as things I can not change, and to change the things I can have an impact on – my own attitude and experience.
Matt laments about the lack of an edge or a music scene in the city. I’ll admit straight away that I didn’t live downtown during the days the Town Pump was around, and only know Yaletown from the days when it was just beginning its process of gentrification.
Nonetheless, I have friends who call and ask if I’m going to see a show by a relatively unknown, but unquestionably talented band at the Railway, or the Media Club. Or witness a new up-and-coming act who can still fit their growing fanbase into a venue as small as the Commodore. New music and underground talent is available if you seek and support it. Such is the case with so many things. Seek and you will find. But the seeking part is absolutely necessary.
Raspberry notes that she doesn’t have any meaningful relationships with people who are “from here.” I would argue that it’s not the people who are “from here” that make the city what it is, but the people who “live here now” – regardless of how or when they arrived within the city limits. I have friends that fall within both groups, with backgrounds as diverse as anyone could imagine. Their personalities and experiences, not the cities on their birth certificates, are what make them special and what draws them here.
Vancouver certainly is a finicky city – she’ll only reciprocate with as much as you give her. She reflects back to you what you expect to see in her. If you surround yourself with the shallow, uncaring, cold and superficial people that have also decided to call the city home; if you project your expectations of this still-evolving city’s past, and the personalities of other cities on Vancouver you’re far more likely to be disillusioned with and feel alienated by her.
However, try instead to look up at the mountains and out at the ocean and take a minute to take it all in. Say “hi” to your neighbours. Smile first, instead of only in return, when you pass someone on the street. Welcome your friends into your home with a warm hug and some cool wine. Relax in the sun. Dance in the rain. Take a moment to catch an all-too-rare snowflake on your tongue when they do fall. Go out and try something new – a new store, street, restaurant, sport or see a band you’ve never heard of. The city offers nearly endless possibilities for exploration and experiences. Don’t wait to be welcomed and embraced by the city. Embrace her despite herself, and she’ll reward you tenfold.
And then maybe you, like me, will feel the true spirit of Vancouver within you too. And feel a surge of emotion and affection for this place that finally, like no other, feels like home.