My Vancouver

Inspired by recent posts from Matt Good and Raspberry, I’ve been thinking about the city I live in, and how different it is from the city they seem to inhabit – even though they’re one in the same.

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.

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11 thoughts on “My Vancouver

  1. -j.

    As a non-native-Vancouverite, I appreciate this post a great deal. If there’s anything I mildly disagree with, it’s that the city is friendlier than the suburbs…that hasn’t been my experience.

    But I too love Vancouver…I grew up in a town that was about 99.5% white Anglo, and I’d much rather live in Vancouver with all its diversity and new communities to experience.

  2. Gwen

    That was really inspiring! Matthew Good’s post got me feeling sad – at least it was ridden with how sad he is. You’re right, he’s a musician so the scene is ultra-important to him and more of a peripheral interest to the rest of us. Further, we’re like ten years younger than he (?) and hardly in a position to cry over spilled milk. If residing in this city for the forseeable future, why not make the best of it.
    But I’ve always believed that a city is made warmer by the quality of friendships you have with people in it, so it’s no wonder you, being established here, find it rather fantastic.

  3. Chris

    Good rant/exposition.

    I quite like living in Vancouver, and I’ve lived in places all across the country. Sure, it’s not as friendly as a small town where you’ve spent all our life and know everyone and their (non-handbag) dog, but the benefits of Vancouver outweigh the bad bits, in my opinion.

  4. peechie Post author

    Chris: I think you qualified the small town thing with “spent all your life” – moving to a small town as an outsider is an extremely volatile experience.

    Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy to cultivate strong friendships here – and I don’t believe it’s easy anywhere – it’s something you have to work at.

    But at least in the city, people generally have better things to do than be actively mean to newcomers – or they’re at least self-absorbed enough to not care one way or the other.

  5. NetChick

    Y’know, I actually find it’s really quite easy to cultivate friendships here. It’s just different. Just like it was different in LA when I was there. The biggest change I made to make closer friends here was to put out a bit more effort to start the foundation off… Once that happens, I’ve found that I’ve developed extremely close and meaningful friendships with people (even downtown.. heh!)

    Thanks for this post — It had a really nice spin on it.

  6. Sue

    I think Matt Good is just getting bitter and cynical because he’s old and successful and mainstream now. It’s gotta suck when the multitudes love you so much that you’re no longer considered alternative.

  7. col

    i definitely agree with you about getting what you put in. amen! i hate the whiners who bitch about the city but do nothing to improve their relationship/connection with where they live.

  8. raspberry

    “i hate the whiners who bitch about the city but do nothing to improve their relationship/connection with where they live.” – this would kind of be my point. there MUST be something wrong with ME, ’cause people here are just perfect.

    don’t get me wrong – there are parts of vancouver that i love – more than parts i don’t love, even. one of the things i do hate, however, is the ‘cliquy’ nature of the folks here. it’s frustrating to someone who does go out of her way to be friendly to people, and meet new people.

  9. shan

    As someone who will be moving to Vancouver from her well-loved hometown of Calgary in a few months time, I found this post really encouraging. I’m terrified of leaving the city I’ve spent the last 25 years living and loving in, yet I’m so excited to be relocating to somewhere that I’ve always loved visiting and known would be my first stop on the way out of my comfort zone. It’s a fabulous city and I can’t wait to experience it for myself (the good and the bad) as a resident.

    Thanks 🙂

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