Gayle Swain shared the story of her outof-the-ordinary Vancouver-born parents while sitting at a sidewalk table with four friends at Wicked Café, at Seventh and Hemlock. One of those friends was born in B.C., in Port Alberni, while two are immigrants, from Britain and the U.S.
The foursome had mixed feelings about what is happening to this fast-changing city, where relatively few have deep roots.
Even though they valued how the world’s cultures peacefully coexist in the city, they also regretted how in-migration has been a factor in the city’s fast-rising housing prices and in the way neighbourhoods are becoming “construction zones.”
When a flashy sports car interrupted their conversation by roaring down Hemlock, the friends also commented on how traffic in the city was becoming increasingly “aggressive” and “crazy.”
Justin Fung is among the Vancouver-born who are struggling with whether they should become more mobile.
Fung has a solid career in Vancouver’s high-tech industry. But he believes he could get more out of his salary if he moved to the Seattle or San Francisco areas.
Fung, his wife (also born in Vancouver) and young daughter squeeze into a small condo in Vancouver. “There’s no space to yourself.”
He believes the family could afford to live in a larger home, even a detached one, in the U.S.’s West Coast high-tech regions.
Many of Fung’s ethnic Chinese and Caucasian friends with children have already moved to the suburbs or other cities.
“But some are already coming back to Vancouver. They miss the city and there’s a long commute,” he said. “I feel frustrated at where this city is going.”
The key reason Fung’s family is trying to stay close to the west side of Vancouver is to be near his inlaws and parents, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in the 1970s.
Fung attended Eric Hamber Secondary School, where he said the student population in the 1990s became 95 per cent Asian, most with roots in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“There was a kind of cultural exchange when I was attending high school in Vancouver. But I think that’s largely missing now,” he said, adding: “There’s a general negativity” about Metro’s in-migration trends.
“I’m very pro-immigrant for the right kind of people, for those with skills who will bring innovation,” Fung said.
But, echoing the findings of UBC geographers and others, Fung regrets how the federal government has welcomed many “wealthy people who drive up housing prices and treat this as a resort town.”
When Fung visits his parents on the west side of Vancouver, he notices many of the neighbouring houses are empty. It’s leading, he said, to a “hollowing out” of the city’s culture.
Lorne Korman, a psychologist, is among the 16 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population who have arrived from other Canadian provinces or territories. He was raised in Montreal and has worked in Toronto.
He finds Metro Vancouver’s inhabitants are “less connected” than Quebeckers and more “laidback” than Torontonians. “In Montreal, we knew all our neighbours. We’d always be having a cup of coffee or glass of wine with them,” said Korman, who came to B.C. a decade ago with his Chinese-Canadian wife.
Living in Richmond and working in Vancouver, he has found residents of the growing metropolis tend to be “friendly on the outside. But you can never quite know what’s happening underneath. They’re polite, they make eye contact, but they’re harder to get to know.”
Given the city’s high mobility rate, Korman isn’t surprised a Vancouver Foundation study discovered that “loneliness” is a leading anxiety of city residents.
Even though Metro has a reputation as a “Lotus Land” of nature lovers and yoga practitioners, Korman said he’s found it surprisingly right wing.
“The B.C. Liberals aren’t really liberals.” He thinks the predominance of right-wing politicians is due to an exaggerated individualism among the relatively transient population.
The clinical psychologist says residents have allowed B.C. politicians to cut mental-health services to the marrow, unlike in Ontario. Too many people in Metro Vancouver, he says, “have a let-them-eat-cake kind of attitude. People without a voice are being neglected.”
With house prices and rents soaring in part because of wealthy newcomers, Korman wonders about the future of community and the middle and lower classes. “Who is going to drive our buses and make art?”
He finds Metro Vancouver has a “surreal” quality. As he cycles each day to his Broadway office from Richmond, he notices how many grand-looking new houses are, despite appearances, vacant.
“Their sprinklers go on in the rain.”