More Social Isolation In Vancouver Than Other Cities? – “Residents feel increasingly estranged from their friends, their neighbours and their communities. More than half of respondents agreed that Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy.”

“A survey conducted by the Vancouver Foundation and released today found Metro Vancouver residents feel increasingly estranged from their friends, their neighbours and their communities.” …
“Affordability factored heavily in the survey results, with roughly equal numbers of people reporting living comfortably and finding it difficult to get by.
Significantly, more than half of respondents agreed that Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy and that there is too much foreign ownership of real estate. This view was particularly common among people aged 25-34, a group whose responses to many survey questions revealed a marked cynicism about the state of their communities compared with other age groups.”

– excerpt from ‘Social isolation has far-reaching effects on us and our neighbours, survey says’, Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun, 18 Jun 2012

“I am in that age group and this accurately describes how I feel.”
joe_blown_away_by_high_housing_costs at VREAA, 18 Jun 2012 9:25am [Thanks for the link to the article, joe. -ed.]

The Vancouver Foundation survey itself available from their website as a pdf:
Connections and Engagements, A survey of metro Vancouver, June 2012, Vancouver Foundation

More from the Sun article:
“Bob Cowin spoke about losing a sense of connection with his neighbours over the years. Cowin moved into a new subdivision in Coquitlam in the mid-’80s where the developer had landscaped the front yards, but the backyards were nothing but mud. Neighbours got to know each other creating their back gardens and building the retaining walls that were necessary because most properties backed onto a mountain slope.
“Swinging a sledge hammer and dashing down to the local building supplies store for a different drill bit resulted not only in walls but also relationships,” Cowin wrote in an email.
A year after the retaining walls were finished, Cowin noticed a new kind of wall going up: cedar fences between properties that made the neighbourly conversations that used to happen over the fence impossible.
A burst of young children brought the adults in the community together in a different way, forming child-minding co-ops and walking school buses, Cowin recalled. The elementary school became a social hub, and the neighbourhood held yearly block parties.
Then the children started middle school and didn’t need their parents as much, he said.
“The street was extended, and the sense of a local place disappeared. Houses started being sold, and a different, and increasingly multicultural, demographic moved in.”
Cowin feels the increasing ethnic diversity was a mixed blessing for his neighbourhood.
“It has been great for our kids, who, thanks in large measure to the schools, have developed a tolerance and intercultural competence that I admire,” he said. “For the adults, language and other barriers have made it tougher. My new neighbours are still fine people, but it takes more effort and intentionality to maintain relationships.”

The entire Sun article is worth the read, as is the comments section below it.
The phenomenon of “isolation in the city” (“water water all around but not a drop to drink”) is by no means new. Is Vancouver really any different from other big cities in this regard?
We don’t know of any data that could allow one to objectively compare. Are the findings in this survey very different from similar surveys elsewhere?
We are certain, however, that there is a substantial subgroup of locals who feel strained by Vancouver’s housing prices: either by the financial burden of ownership, or from the distress of feeling ‘priced out’ and (for many, but not all) the consequent sense of ‘not belonging’. And we know that such strain is not good for the health of individuals, families and communities.
Also, the very high cost of housing creates an implied large wealth disparity across the owner/non-owner divide that would not be present in times of more normal housing markets. Such a disparity is closely correlated with dissatisfaction within a community.
– vreaa

31 responses to “More Social Isolation In Vancouver Than Other Cities? – “Residents feel increasingly estranged from their friends, their neighbours and their communities. More than half of respondents agreed that Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy.”

  1. The survey implies that 50% of those asked said that they found it “difficult to get by.” That is a very large proportion, particularly given that we have thus far been relatively shielded from economic turmoil, and it makes one that much more wary of how we’d do if hardship strikes.

  2. Not sure if this was posed here. Good recent speech on Vancouver by Niall Ferguson.

  3. More anecdotal evidence, but I completely agreed with the group in the study that said they felt a sense of social isolation, that you come to Vancouver and weeks and months pass before people offer to show you around, invite you for dinner. Our first few years here were spent making great efforts to forge friendships with people, inviting them for dinner and such, never receiving a reciprocal invitation. We were mystified, and still are to be honest. Now we just have a habit of seeking out and making efforts with other Ontario expatriates because they seem to have a social…what’s the word, culture? that’s similar to our own. Many people I’ve talked to say the same thing, Vancouverites and Lower Mainlanders in general are really standoffish. I have no idea how this is related to real estate, but it’s just something I’ve noticed. My husband and I scold ourselves when we catch ourselves doing the same thing, failing to help people that need directions at a trailhead or something, we just avoid contact and take off.

    • I find Vancouverites, and BC folk in general, to be realtively unfriendly too. My theory is that they resent outsiders taking up the choice spots in lotus land and making it harder for the locals to compete for resouces (housing, daycare). This is a common refrain in cottage country too (such as the Muskokas in Ontario). I suppose it comes with living in a resort town; a wariness towards strangers.

    • The word you’re looking for is “Paranoia”. No seriously. People here are extremely paranoid and suspicious of you.

      It goes something like this. You talk to a stranger and they look at you and you can see the following thoughts going through their head:

      1. Do I know you? No, I don’t think so.
      2. Do I know someone who may know you? No, I don’t think so.
      3. What a creep, why are they talking to me? Go away!

      It is almost amusing, though sadness still rings true.

      As for realestate: I think this has a lot to do with it. People here are paranoid about strangers because they feel a general unease about their own position. So if you have a sense of “doom & gloom” hanging over your head you tend to be paranoid.

      I think though, most of this is is historical. If you read the stories of the first settlers here you realize quickly that the lower mainland is one of the few places in Canada where you could be utterly selfish and not freeze or starve to death in winter. I think that has carried forward to the present.

  4. For example, standing in a lineup in somewhere like Toronto people will start talking to each other after a while, about the lineup, about the weather, about that guy over there and his sense of style with the plaid pants and polkadot shirt. You can make a comment out loud to no one in particular and inevitably someone will engage. You can’t do that in Vancouver. You could say the most hilarious thing ever and everyone will avoid you, ignore you, like you’re talking to yourself, which you are, but still, it’s fun to engage. Lower Mainlanders seem to take themselves really, REALLY seriously. What gives??

    • I totally agree with your observation. I am from the east coast and have been leaving in Vancouver for 4 years now.

      I experienced that exactly same thing that you described.

      • East coasters don’t mind kissing a fish and taking a shot of screech. Here, you better have top grade sashimi and chilled sake or I won’t be able to impress my FB friends with my mobile update!

  5. A colleague from our North Carolina office visited the city. He was astonished that, (a) walking over the Granville St bridge in the morning and saying ‘hello’ to passers-by was met with silence and averted eye-contact, and (b) running around Stanley Park he had to ask 3-4 times for directions back to the city before someone responded with something other than silence.

  6. I’ve been going back and forth to Toronto for the last year working on some short term contracts. I think Toronto people are a little more friendly, but not very much. I’ve actually had to make the decision several times whether to move to Toronto or stay in Halifax, and I’ve stayed. That’s been quite the relief. Once day I may end up back in Toronto out of necessity I guess but for now, nobody beats Maritimers for friendliness in my opinion.

    • Toronto isn’t really that standoffish. But if you are in a big city you are a bit more “guarded” or rather: You don’t engage every person you meet because if you would you’d never get where you’re going.

      Vancouver though? Vancouver is outright hostile and there is an unspoken “arm lengths rule”. You go into a bar in Toronto and you will find people to have a good time with. You do that in Vancouver and you will probably find yourself sitting in a corner sipping a beer only interacting with the server when they ask if you want anything else.

  7. I would say that the bubble has created more social isolation in my group in that there were a few years with fairly high rates of forced movement – evictions to sales or renovation or development – and communities became less stable due to in and out migration.

  8. all of you should participate more in the society i.e.the dragon boat coming up! you bitch about every single subject that headlines here.

  9. Both parents having to work to pay the bills, or to keep up with the Joneses, has impacted families and communities being able to develop. The media and advertisers have made us lose focus on community vs consumerism and instill a sense of fear in society (watch the news).
    As well, cocooning is a term that refers to us now. Look at all the gadgets out there to ensure we never leave our home. We are good little consumers in front of our TV taking orders as needed.
    No one is out there to look after the kids during the day for the most part. Walking groups to school (everyone drives their one and half kids in an SUV), baby sitting coops, etc…. Block Parties – What used to come naturally now takes effort and a permit from the City.
    Now we have lack of trust for our neighbours, perhaps even fear. Ignorance breeds fear though so the more of us that try to change it the better. It’s no more dangerous out there today than when I was a kid (Google “80s serial killer vancouver”) I rest my case.
    We’ve become a society that fears each other. However, we are part of the problem so let’s be part of the solution. If you expect someone else to change it then you reap what you sow.
    Next time you go for a walk be sure to say hello to that person wearing their IPOD and texting on their phone as they walk by you. They’ll be happy you took the time to say Hello.
    I’ll stop there because this is a real estate blog and I might be veering off topic.

  10. Agree with the article, especially “it has become a resort town”. Family and friends I know in Vancouver generally do not know their neighbors. Too much foreign investment leaves empty homes, new immigrant families who never step outside in the front of their house, or people who are just too busy. But from experience in coming and going from Calgary, I do find some people to be friendly in Vancouver and acknowledge you when you pass by. But it is for the lack of community that I fear for my children if we ever moved back. In Calgary, it reminds me of growing up on the west side 20 years ago – neighbors chat, have each other over (having similar age kids helps), will help each other with any major jobs to do on house etc.

  11. Excellent post and commentary you provided Vreaa. I don’t have much to add to what you have noted already. So many questions. So few studies. There are anecdotes galore though and a gut sense of what is taking place that is not easy to put into words or sum up convincingly. And yet we know at a primitive level the essence of how we are all so close yet still divided even if it is not possible to easily be articulated. Perhaps it is economics and equity amongst neighbors and class divisions that are developing. No question that there is frustration building along those lines.

  12. I agree that from what I see there is “nothing new” here; I think wealth is a sidebar to other factors — more that people have their “own thing” going on and don’t seem to have much time for fostering neighbourhoods and concomitant relationships. There are exceptions from what I’ve seen, albeit these are just my observations.

  13. what you need is more party-crashing, beer drinking cows … or some … more funny too … like sweden, i’ve been reading more and now conclude that long-dark-cold winters, high taxes plus socialist repression have made them really funny and fun to be around …

  14. I too note a general lack of friendliness in the city – or, rather, maybe it’s just a general guardedness. This makes sense given the colourful characters the streets are blessed with. I’m making a strong effort to be nice to strangers in a non-creepy way. I’ve had a lot of confused looks, but more often than not people reciprocate when they see my intentions are pure.

    That said, I remember stepping off the plane in Vancouver after spending an extended period in China. After such a long time away Vancouver seemed like the friendliest place on earth!

  15. I live in a hi-rise in East Van. I needed a place to park my new scooter and didn’t have any parking spots available in my underground parking… I decided to try a nice house right next door that had a garage that maybe they would allow me to park/rent some space monthly? I knocked on the door and two or three voices behind it spoke in mandarin but they wouldn’t open the door for a white guy. I went home and grabbed my chinese wife and we tried again. Yelling mandarin through the door, that at least got them to open… but no, you can’t use our garage, end of story, shut the door. They were delightful. I took that attitude back to my mountain-view, 2bdrm rental apartment, and for the next 11 years at $900/month I’ve lived in my cubby, socializing with friends externally, but never really giving a crap about my neighbours or the local community. Kids could change that but for now I enjoy the disconnect and my 7% yearly cost of living.

    • Russell Peters thinks we should all marry across social and racial boundaries. Pretty soon we will all look alike (except some people will still be jerks). I think Russell is onto something.

  16. For me, I’ve always found certain environments okay. For example, the people lining up in the VIFF. Maybe people in TO are friendlier — but I’ve never been to the TIFF so hard to say.

    However, the last few times that any stranger has talked to me (in and around the downtown area) has been:
    1) Mostly to ask for money. (Sorry, I don’t do money anymore — it’s contributing to the problem, not the solution.)
    2) Mostly to talk and then try to scam me for money (e.g. the Chinese dude who claims he needs $10 or more for a taxi to get his impounded car — which is clearly walking distance away under the Burrard bridge — or the Montreal student who still hasn’t found his way home for his emergency for the last 10 years. I gave him $5 back then hoping he’ll go away, but apparently he hasn’t collected enough yet. And yes, I still see him doing it.)
    3) 1 middle-eastern lady who couldn’t read addresses, barely spoke English, but had a cell phone and another guy on the other line who also didn’t know much directions. I helped them as best as they can (e.g. meet at the Waterfront station building — it’s RED and I hope both of you know how each other looks).
    4) Two dudes in a Van trying to sell speakers at a Gas station. “Ordered extra” and “boss doesn’t want it back”. Uh-huh. (And yes, those eyes are just born shifty like that…)

    So yeah, I’m not going to blame everyone for being stand-offish. Although the neighbour thing is a bit cold — not sure if it’s always been like that. The neighbours I know are all old retired folk who’ve been here for a long time — and a nice younger family who helped who chains once on a stuck car in the snow. At least I know their names…

    Come to think of it… the only thing we have more than realtors are probably pan handlers. They outnumber Starbucks. One per corner and “rent” at the kitty corner isn’t so expensive that they have to shut one down.

    • Dammit. Must be late. Can’t spell (or write).

      everyone == anyone (2nd last paragraph)

      “who helped who” == “who helped with”


    • The Poster Formerly Known As Anonymous

      In my experience heavy snow is a time when all neighbours come out to talk and help free each others’ cars, like old friends. Then when it melts everyone goes back to smiles and nods only or pretending the others don’t exist. It’s weird.

  17. Froogle Scott

    I find these sorts of discussions interesting and they help me as I continue to try to get a handle on that elusive ‘essence’ of Vancouver. In general, I’m not sure what I think.

    Regarding interaction with one’s neighbours, perhaps we’re an exception, but we do socialize with a number of other couples in our neighbourhood. However, there’s one person who is the glue, or the sparkplug, who makes most of this happen, and he’s originally from the Prairies. That said, there are plenty of neighbours we’ve never spoken to.

    Thinking about my own behaviour out on the streets, I tend to be fairly self-contained, but if someone speaks to me, or asks directions, I’m always friendly in response. The idea of not responding to a request for directions is just asinine. If you don’t know, you say, “Sorry, I don’t know.” If you can’t muster that, you might as well go off and drown yourself in a bucket of water, for all the use you are to the world.

    I’ve lived in a number of different cities, and a small town, so I do have something to compare against. I think there is something to this Vancouver ‘aloofness’ or ‘self-containedness’, and it can come off as cold, but it may in fact be something else. The coldness is perhaps a byproduct of self-involvement. And the self-involvement may be a characteristic of a city that hasn’t really matured, and at the point it may have been starting to mature, was blown up and restarted. The place hasn’t really caught up with itself yet, can’t put itself in perspective, in the healthy way that other cities can. Not really comfortable in its own skin?

    To tie it back to real estate and the bubble — if the local culture(s) haven’t yet acquired a certain degree of perspective, that provides the conditions in which a high degree of distortion can take place? Mania implies a lack of groundedness?

    • I must say that my own family has always been a bit busy to do things like organize block parties or what have you. I don’t remember those being a feature of my growing up in Ontario. I do know that if you live in the *same* neighbourhood for many years, and your neighbours do too, you end up accruing relationships just by being polite.

      I lived in one neighbourhood for many years in Vancouver, and even if I didn’t know everyone’s name, I knew people enough that I had the sense of all being in it together – I’d stop and help, say hello, ask how people’s weekends were. Of course, new people would come and go, but we weren’t all strangers; as new folks moved in, there’d be those small discussions that orient people to a larger community (“Where you from? What do you do? Oh, that’s interesting, you should talk to Steve. He’s the guy walking the black lab in the mornings…”)

      I’ve lived three years in my new neighbourhood, and am beginning to form those acquaintances with a “web” of people, again. I could make a few of those neighbourhood connections for new people. I have kids in school and work from home, so three years probably acclimated me faster than it would otherwise.

      But if Vancouver is different I’d say it started in about 2003, when many of my friends (in neighbourhoods all over the city) started getting eviction notices for sale and reno. Lots of house sales, lots of people coming and going.

      I would suspect we’ve had a very mobile, musical chairs decade, and I think a very mobile population means there’s less time to create friendly neighbourhoods.

  18. As it happens, Confucius had a few ideas about this, too…

    “Confucius believed that social disorder often stemmed from failure to perceive, understand, and deal with reality. Fundamentally, then, social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was the rectification of names.”…

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