Disclaimers: This is a voluntary activity, provided as a public service for conversation, learning, discovery, and engagement with the fascinating evolutionary dynamics of city life in this tiny yet unique node of a world of planetary urbanization. Attendance is not an explicit or implicit requirement to pass any course or to achieve any particular grade. Attendance is at participants' risk. All participants are advised to use appropriate caution to avoid traffic/pedestrian accidents and any other risks that may arise in an urban environment.
Downtown Vancouver, May 2019 (photograph by Elvin Wyly)
"Once, in Helsinki, I was in a hotel where the TV had six channels. Five were showing made-in-Vancouver cable films, and the sixth was CNN. I phoned my mom and we watched CNN simultaneously. It sort of felt like home."
Douglas Coupland (2009). City of Glass: Douglas Coupland's Vancouver. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, quote from p. 6.
An Introduction to Vancouver
Civic graffiti after the "Stanley Cup riots" of June, 2011 (Elvin Wyly)
When the winter rains put you in a gray mood after a week or so without any sun, then remember to take a look at a few of these images.
"...in its interactions with private interests, particularly in the land market, the reform movement was perhaps too naive, not recognizing that its humane philosophy might be coopted by the calculus of the marketplace and lead to an inequitable outcome where the vulnerabilities of the poor would be exposed. For in what Hirsch has called the positional economy of contemporary advanced society, wherever scarcity is becoming social rather than material the promise of an enhanced quality to consumption in an environment designed to maximize livability will lead to a predictable market response."
David Ley (1980). "Liberal Ideology and the Postindustrial City." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70(2), 238-258, quote from p. 258.
If you're new to Vancouver, join us for a walk around a small sample of interesting sites around the city's core. Or, if you're not new to Vancouver, join us so you can correct my mistakes, omissions, and biases: cities are collective works of art, and the essence of city life is that everyone is and should be part of the creative vision and expression of the very best possibilities for individual and collective life. I'm not really an expert on this place, and I do not have the credibility of the organic intellectuals and ancestral communities who have spent their entire lives learning about this part of the world -- and, often, absorbing the lessons of multiple generations of previous lives lived on these unceded territories that have now become a dynamic industrial-then-postindustrial metropolis integrated into the transnational space of flows. But I've been here for more than a few years now, and I have been reading, listening, learning, walking the streets and alleys of a truly remarkable city. I'm eager to explore a bit of this city with you -- and, just as important, to learn from you how this place compares with other cities in the world that you know and love!
The architect and designer Lance Berelowitz (2005) calls Vancouver "Dream City," and for the planner John Punter (2003), this place is the "Vancouver Achievement." The writer and cultural analyst Douglas Coupland (2009, p. 6), fascinated with the visage of the downtown forest of skycrapers he dubs the "City of Glass," puzzles over the place's evolution into an urban chamelion for film shoots: "The thing is, Vancouver can neatly morph into just about any North American city save for those in the American Southwest, and possibly Miami." The geographer Derek Gregory (1992, p. 292) is also amused at the city-as-a-film-set, as he navigates his "way past the mobile dressing rooms parked nose to tail along the sidewalk..."; Gregory is captivated by an urbanism broadcast around the world: "Its streets and buildings, its mountains and forest are filtered through the soft Pacific air and made to stand in for New York or New Guinea; the landscape is framed, cut up, and spliced into a placeless montage to be projected onto video screens around the world." This is place that captivates so many people, from near and far; and yet love and passion are volatile, aren't they? "From overzealous drivers to errant cyclists, uninspiring architecture to the closure of beloved cultural venues, Vancouverites have plenty of reasons to heap scorn on their city," suggests Charles Montgomery, the curatorial associate at the Museum of Vancouver; Montgomery compares Vancouver to "an enticing but dysfunctional lover."
"It's as though we're in a relationship with this beautiful, yet sometimes superficial entity that hurts us and wounds us." (quoted in Barrett, 2012, p. A7).
Here's a tentative itinerary. I suggest we meet at the intersection of Georgia and Granville right downtown. Take the Skytrain to the Granville station and walk south half a block, or take the Canada Line to the City Centre station. We'll walk a bit through downtown, then we'll head east through Gastown, past the new Woodward's District, and then down Hastings to Main Street in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. When we get to the Carnegie Centre, we'll turn right and head south on Main Street, through Chinatown. We'll pass underneath the Georgia Viaduct, a remnant of a stillborn mid-twentieth century modernist vision for American-style urban renewal and downtown freeway construction. Then we'll walk by Science World, one of the curious architectural legacies of Vancouver's World Exposition of 1986. (Sorry, I still call it "Science World," its original name, rather than the corporate-sponsored nameplate of 'Telus World of Science.') We'll walk along the south shore of False Creek, through the Olympic Village -- subsequently dubbed "Millennium Water" in the first wave of condo sales, then after slow sales re-launched as the "Village at False Creek." We'll probably go our separate ways from there -- you can walk west to the Canada Line at the Olympic Village station, or you can walk back a bit east to the Main Street/Science World station.
Or, if you choose, you can walk further west along the redeveloped shore of False Creek, underneath the Cambie Street Bridge. Eventually you'll walk through the vision for mixed-income housing of Vancouver in the 1970s at South False Creek. Across the water are the more upscale landscapes of Concord Pacific Place on the north shore of False Creek; as David Ley quips so brilliantly, on the south is the landscape of liberalism; to the north is the landscape of neo-liberalism (see Ley, 1987). If you keep walking along this route you'll get to another deceptive piece of toponomy, Granville Island, which is in reality just a shallow sandbar.
Depending on how fast we walk, and how many detours we decide to take, this itinerary will take quite a bit of time. Every year, it seems, I have more stories to tell, more connections to draw. Last year we started at 9 in the morning and we didn't get to Craft Brewery in the Olympic Village until about 3 pm; but for those willing to endure so much walking and Wyly-blathering, I'm happy to buy you refreshments and lunch! Feel free to join us only for part of the tour, or to meet us somewhere along the way if you can't make it to the beginning of the itinerary. If you want to find out exactly where to meet us on the way, just give me a call on my cell, 778 899 7906.
References and Recommendations
Barrett, Jessica (2013). "Vancouver, I Love You, But..." Vancouver Sun, January 24, p. A7.
Berelowitz, Lance (2005). Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
Coupland, Douglas (2009). City of Glass: Douglas Coupland's Vancouver. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
Demers, Charles (2009). Vancouver Special. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
Enright, Robert (2010). Body Heat: The Story of the Woodward's Redevelopment. Vancouver: BlueImprint.
Gregory, Derek (1992). "Epilogue." In Graeme Wynn and Timothy Oke, eds., Vancouver and Its Region. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 291-297.
Hutton, Thomas A. (2008). The New Economy of the Inner City: Restructuring, Regeneration, and Dislocation in the Twenty-First Century Metropolis. New York: Routledge.
Ley, David (1980). "Liberal Ideology and the Postindustrial City." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70(2), 238-258.
Ley, David (1987). "Styles of the Times: Liberal and Neo-Conservative Landscapes in Inner Vancouver, 1968-1986." Journal of Historical Geography 13(1), 40-56.
McWhirter, George, ed. (2009). A Verse Map of Vancouver. Vancouver: Anvil Press.
Punter, John (2003). The Vancouver Achievement. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Wynn, Graeme, and Timothy Oke, eds. (1992). Vancouver and its Region. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
"...I remember attending a kind of
called by a vancouver city planner
to examine the city's victory square
david ley, jeff sommers, nick blomley,
and chris olds
reached a similar conclusion
the plan does nothing to prevent
displacement and gentrification
but when recently reminded of this
the city planner still pushing his plan
'I don't care if god and david ley...'
and that's just it
the necessity for heeding
the prophetic blast and rallying cry
delivered by larry campbell
now the provincial coroner
in the carnegie centre last summer
'raise shit,' he said
against the kind of 'urban cleansing'
it's a war
against the poorest of the poor
to raise shit is to actively resist
and we resist with our presence
with our words
with our love
with our courage
person by person
square foot by square foot
room by room
building by building
block by block. ..."
Bud Osborne (2001). "raise shit -- a downtown eastside poem of resistance." In Paul Taylor, ed. (2003). The Heart of the Community: The Best of the Carnegie Newsletter. Vancouver: New Star Books, 230-237, excerpts from pp. 235-237. Note one friendly amendment: Kris Olds.
"Blight ... is Death to a City...!"
The images accompanying this part of the film seem to be a view of a part of the city that is beautifully documented by a photograph taken by Fred Herzog in 1957. See Jeff Wall (2011). "Vancouver Appearing and Not Appearing in Fred Herzog's Photographs." In Claudia Gochmann, Sarah Milroy, Jeff Wall, and Douglas Coupland, Fred Herzog: Photographs. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, pp. 20-24.
It's not a bad introduction to the sense of alienation felt in Vancouver, and in UBC, in relation to the established institutions of elite privilege far away in the east, in the settlement "core" of Canada. Thanks to Graeme Wynn for the recommendation.
2. The Next Sixty Seconds. Read this, and listen to what it is saying to Vancoverites [as spoken to by Albertans, which for Canada is like saying that in America, Houston Texas speaks for New York or San Francisco.]
You're young and hungry in Vancouver [can't you urban lefties see how the job creators are heroes?]. You're a hit, so you're growing fast [don't argue with us, yes, all the costs are escalating, and none of the firms ever feels secure. That's how capitalism is supposed to work, understand, y'all?]. But yes, even you, quirky creative-class Left-Coast urbanites, you need us conservative Calgarians. [We're the Capital of Rural BC and Alberta Conservatism, but since we live in a fast-growing city, we're the cool conservatives!]
You're cool, you're so creative to define "coffee-maker" as another young, cool, hard-driven creative type. [But to all you bleeding-heart leftist urban types, can't you see that you should be thankful to the job-creator, that hard-charging entrepreneur who gives you a job?]
You're so cool in Vancouver. Wow, great coffee, everywhere! [Quick, push all that inequality and poverty as far as you can from the funky coffeeshops, and you'll make sure everyone in the world still thinks you're Lotus Land, Nirvana, Pacific Metropolis in a Province that calls itself the 'Best Place on Earth'].
Oops, I forgot one more color-code.
[Here's a tentative story by an American who's lived here for a while now, but who's still puzzled by this fascinating yet bizarre place. Those of you who really truly know the heart and soul of Vancouver, tell me if I'm really far off...?]
I climbed the stairs, pointed the camera down to capture as much of the Woodward's atrium as the lens would allow,
... and somehow, the spirit of Vancouver accomplished a not-so-subtle renaming of London Drugs.
Woodward's Atrium, June, 2012 (Elvin Wyly)
"...the white worthies of Vancouver blamed everything they disliked not only on Asians and native peoples but also, especially, on Americans."
George Fetherling (2012). "Vancouver Comes of Age in Fascinating Text: City Outgrew its Steam-Age Industrial Economy, but the Changes Didn't Come Easily or Overnight." Review of Diane Purvey and John Belshaw, Vancouver Noir, 1930-1960, Anvil Press. Vancouver Sun, August 25, p. D6.
Better than Angie's List
If you're interested in recommendations on whether this walking tour is worth it, here's the best review I've ever received.
It's the morning of September 8, 2012, and we're just about twenty minutes into our tour. We've walked down the hill from Granville and Georgia, and now we're on Georgia right out front of the Scotia Tower. I'm surrounded by a good crowd of brilliant and curious students, and I'm talking about Vancouver's experience with the history of the "urban renewal" movement that swept through so many cities in Canada and the U.S. from the 1950s to the 1970s.
A guy walks across the intersection, and pauses for ten or fifteen seconds to listen to what I'm saying. He starts walking up Georgia Street, and then turns around. "Hey, I've been here all my life, and I know this place!," he shouts, and looks at me to make eye contact. And then he shouts, louder this time, witih feeling, "...and I think you're full of shit!" Then he stumbles just a bit, turns around, and resumes walking west up Georgia. "Yes, indeed, I am," I replied, although he was fast moving out of earshot. I continued anyway for the students. I spoke of the history of dispossession upon which this city is based, and how everything I do, think, and say in this city takes place on stolen land, the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples, and, yes, I really am full of shit.
And then, on the rest of our short itinerary around part of the urban core -- how exactly can you tell the story of a city in just four hours? -- I was able to remind myself of how little I know. We'd be standing in front of one building or another, and I wouldn't be able to recall if it had been completed in, say 1911 or 1913. Then I'd remind everyone, "Well, I have it on good authority that I'm full of shit!"
Vancouver has grown accustomed to getting ranked at the top of lists of the world's most "livable cities." In the last few years, though, some of those rankings have placed Vancouver a bit lower. It's generated a lot of anxious headlines. Most recently, a travel writer under the byline 'Gulliver,' writing for The Economist, called Vancouver "mind-numbingly boring." The Mayor quickly responded, claiming, among other things, that "Adventure is in our DNA." Radio Host Stephen Quinn had a different response: "We have the self-esteem of a teenager posting selfies on Facebook and tossing through the night as they dream of waking up to countless likes."
Stephen Quinn (2015). "So What if The Economist Calls Us Boring? Get Over It." Globe & Mail, May 30, S1.
Check out the 1912 Goad's Fire Atlas Layer on Vanmap!
Useful Vancouver References:
"We didn't want any cyclists to be doored, and we didn't want any gowned or tuxedoed guests to be taken out by bikes," said Richardson, who has been representing the city as an auxiliary for 43 years. "It was probably the only place where a cyclist might get doored by a Ferrari, a Bentley, and a Rolls-Royce all at once."
--Christopher Richardson, an auxiliary police officer assigned to direct traffice for a special Face the World fundraising gala at a luxurious waterfront home on Point Grey Road -- right at the epicenter of the city's recent closure of roads to through traffic in favor of bike lanes. The organizers applied to the city's film and special events office for permission to use the bike lane for valet parking; the city approved, and then appointed Richardson to direct traffic to minimize conflicts between bikers and supercar celebrities. See Jeff Lee (2015). "Bike Lane Bends to Accommodate Gala Guests." Vancouver Sun, June 19, p. A1.
Bright and sunny weather! We started out at Granville & Georgia, epicentre of contemporary retail and real-estate competition, with Nordstrom's set to open in a few weeks across from The Bay -- a few blocks down from the luxury Shangri-la high-rise across from the rising monument to Ye Orange Hair (the Trump Tower). Then we headed down past the ScotiaBank tower, the new Telus Gardens, turning left by the Queen Elizabeth Theatre down to Victory Square, the Dominion Building, and Marc Emery's headquarters. A few blocks into Gastown, and then back over to the Woodward's atrium, down Hastings past Save-On Meats and on the fringe of the Downtown Eastside, turn right up into Chinatown, Rennie's headquarters across from the Chinese Cultural Centre and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Then over to the new development on Main, past the ghosts of Hogan's Alley and the former Jimi Hendrix Shrine, under the viaducts and on towards the Ivanhoe Pub. Then past the Pacific Central terminal and the Main Street / Science World Skytrain station, along the False Creek boardwalk to see a performer with a few telents on the flames but a rather inappropriate sense of humour! By this point our crowd of survivors on this long journey (about five and a half hours so far) was down to the size where I could afford to take us all to the Craft brewery, the old converted Salt Building in the Olympic Village. "Where Everything's on Tap" is their trademark-protected motto. Cheers to Beers!
Below: The City as Text. A shelf of suggested readings on Vancouver.
"After realizing zillions from False Creek, Concord Pacific poured a million back in this year. That was for a dragon-boat paddling centre's six docks and storage facilities. The year-round complex will benefit the annual dragon boating festival that CP sponsors. Those attending the development firm's recent seasonal reception enthused over a 218-unit Calgary project of $800,000 to $13-million condos that president-CEO Terry Hui said should be 'the most high-end building the city has ever seen.'" Malcolm Parry (2015). 'Adam's Apple Makes a Connection: Town Talk." Vancouver Sun, December 19, p. G2.
Vancouver on Canada Day, 2014
Photograph by Maximillian Battison (posted with permission)
"Who said it's not dangerous to dig up the past, to descend into the deeps? A face in an archive folder will break your heart or break open your mind; a disembodied voice, no more than a series of electronic blips on a tape, will transport you into unknown canyons of grief or breathless peaks of ecstasy. To snare the soul of a city seems less possible than being snared by it yourself, being sucked into the vortex of its myths and fictions. I begin to wonder if Vancouver exists, if I exist. What is this strange landscape of memory, half urban pastoral, half Bosch nightmare, that I inhabit and people with distorted shapes?" Gary Geddes (1986). "City at the End of Things." In Gary Geddes, ed., Vancouver: Soul of a City. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 13-18, quote from p. 15.
Vancouver is widely perceived as the pinnacle of a sustainable, post-industrial service, entertainment, and 'lifestyle' city. That's only part of the story! This region, the birthplace of the environmental activist organization Greenpeace, is also North America's leading coal export facility. This sustainable, multicultural metropolis is also one of the world's leading headquarters centers for multinational mining corporations -- with flows of money implicating Canadian corporations in the land dispossessions and violence against indigenous peoples across many sites in the Global South. Juanita Sundberg and students in her Geography 495 class documented these links, focusing on the case of Angélica Choc, who is leading a precedent-setting lawsuit in the Canadian courts against HudBay Minerals for the murder of her husband. Angélica spent four weeks in Vancouver in 2015 as the community partner for Geography 495, and students produced this video analyzing the connections between donations to UBC and indigenous struggles in Guatemala and other parts of Latin America.
An anonymous Reddit poster, writing in November 2016, describing Vancouver and UBC:
Yes, indeed, wouldn't it be a joy to store up the beautiful summer sun to help us make it through the long dark wet days of winter?
Posted to reddit/r/ubc, July 2018
Vancouver in the news ... in a very bad way.
"Ian M. Smith, a Department of Homeland Security analyst who resigned this week after he was confronted about his ties to white nationalist groups, attended multiple immigration policy meetings at the White House, according to government officials familiar with his work.
Smith quit his job Tuesday after being questioned about personal emails he sent and received between 2014 and 2016, before he joined the Trump administration. The messages, obtained by the Atlantic and detailed in a report published Tuesday, depict Smith engaging in friendly, casual conversations with prominent white supremacists and racists. In one email from 2015, Smith responded to a group dinner invitation whose host said his home would be 'judenfrei,' a German word used by the Nazis during World War II to describe territory that had been 'cleansed' of Jews during the Holocaust. 'They don't call it Freitag for nothing,' Smith replied, using the German word for 'Friday,' according to the Atlantic. 'I was planning to hit the bar during the dinner hours and talk to people like Matt Parrot, etc.,' Smith added, a reference to the former spokesman for the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party."
"...In a 2016 interview, Smith said he was born near Seattle and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, before moving to Asia and earning a law degree in Australia."