Oh, Canada! I love you.
I have wanted to visit Vancouver, BC since the 2010 Winter Olympics. I’d always been drawn to the Vancouver skyline but could never quite put my finger on why and it took a trip to Vancouver to figure that out. The draw is the green glass of the skyscrapers. It’s the same green glass that is used in Asia, most notably in Hong Kong.
Vancouver and Seattle share many similarities yet are very different. Both struggle with a high rate of homelessness and drug abuse. Both have a high cost of living. Both are totally fucked when the big one hits. Both receive tons of rain in the winter and loads of sunshine in the summer and both are surrounded by water.
Though the two cities are similar, there are some big differences. For example, Seattle is dirty. In Seattle, there is litter (and used drug needles!) everywhere you look. On any given day I can stroll down Broadway Avenue in Capitol Hill and witness a homeless person, high out of their mind, reaching into garbage bins and throwing pieces of garbage up in the air like confetti. We walked everywhere in Vancouver and aside from one exception, did not see any exorbitant amount of litter.
Seattle has “handled” their homeless problem very differently than Vancouver. The homeless population in Seattle has slowly been pushed around to different neighborhoods as neighborhoods are redeveloped to accommodate the influx of techies.
I remember when we first moved to Seattle and lived in a temporary apartment in South Lake Union, home of Amazon’s campus. Prior to Amazon, the neighborhood was a dilapidated warehouse district, rampant with drug users and dealers. As Amazon developed – and continues to develop – South Lake Union, the homeless people who had been living there moved up the hill to the First Hill neighborhood and then onwards to Capitol Hill. Currently they are being pushed out of Capitol Hill to the Central District and Madrona.
On my very first day venturing out of our temporary apartment in Seattle, I saw a sign posted on a newspaper box. It read: “We fucking hate Amazonians! Go back to where you came from!”
Back in the early 2000’s when Vancouver was deep into their 2010 Olympics preparation, city officials decided to “corral” the homeless into a few concentrated city blocks. The selected city blocks were away from the Olympic flame and any area where television crews would film. It was a controversial and intentional move to “hide” the city’s social crisis. This “agreement” is still in place today and the city provides housing, daily meal service, mobile healthcare service and mental health services to the people who reside within those designated city blocks.
As Peter and I biked and then later walked through these city blocks, I wondered which city has handled their homeless problem the best. Is it better to be hands-off as Seattle is or is it better to “corral” people and provide them with the tools to live a decent life?
As of 2011, the rate of homelessness in Vancouver had stopped increasing but has not declined. In Seattle, the rate of homelessness continued to skyrocket.
Cost of living
Seattle and Vancouver are both very expensive and both have a shortage of housing – affordable and otherwise. Vancouver’s housing problem goes one step further. A high percentage of their housing is owned by off-shore investors, specifically Asian investors. Many of the investment units sit vacant for one reason or another. The city is in the process of correcting this issue by penalizing owners of vacant units and charging a higher purchase tax to foreign investors.
While this is good news for Vancouver, it is bad news for Seattle because those same foreign investors have migrated their interests to Seattle where the laws a much more relaxed. Seattle is headed for the same problem Vancouver currently faces.
The weather during our stay was absolutely amazing. Low 80’s and sunshine. It enabled us to enjoy the city on foot (which was a plus since the taxis in the city seem to be pre-book only) and take in the amazing views of the water.
As mentioned earlier, Seattle and Vancouver are both surrounded by water. Vancouver’s city planning department did a superb job of taking advantage of the kilometers upon kilometers of shoreline and transforming them into desirable public spaces. They created beaches and off-leash dog parks and promenades with restaurants and bars.
Seattle’s “shoreline” atmosphere is the exact opposite. There is no desirable place people can go to enjoy the water and off the top of my head, I can name only a handful of restaurants in Seattle that has a nice deck overlooking the water. Seattle is a sad and depressing city.
Wine on tap
I have never seen wine on tap until Vancouver. This is just another reason why Canada is lovely.