Vancouver is a resort for the wealthy
Troy Media – by Mike Robinson
For the last three years I have been conducting an experiment in living: four days of the week I have toiled in the inner city and three days per week I have dwelt in the outer country.
Paradoxically perhaps, I have walked to work in the city, and driven to work in the country. Given that two-ferry commuting takes about half a day each way, I have really spent a day in motion each week. The net effect is that I have evolved two distinct persona: a chichi inner city, seawall striding, Whole Foods shopping, cultural flaneur; and a bush-based, sledge and wedge-wielding log splitter who shops at the Saturday open air farmers’ market.
I am quite comfortable with each persona, but increasingly one side is replacing the other. Given the choice, I am becoming an upcoast boy and tiring of stackhouse living in the condo ghetto. While I have been marketed to like downtown Vancouver, I have fallen in love with Powell River.
I can now tell you exactly where the divide between town and country lies. The Powell River green line is drawn north-south at Earls Cove, the second B.C. Ferries’ terminal on my weekly commute. Here the chronic car congestion of Horseshoe Bay gives way to tailgate parties on the tarmac, as the Powell Riverites gather to await the MV Island Sky’s arrival from Saltery Bay. The thousands of commuters seeking Gibsons Landing, Roberts Creek, Sechelt and Pender Harbour have now been winnowed down to less than a hundred.
On Friday nights there are often sports teams coming home, residents returning from a town trip, and a few urban diaspora finding their way back to the forest. People are laughing and calling each other by their first names; a few beers are being joyfully consumed, truck and car doors are left open, music is playing, and the kayak tourists are opening Desolation Sound maps on their car hoods and asking for local advice.
The realization that you are among those who choose to view the two-ferry trip home as an advantage is liberating. What a difference that extra boat makes. It separates the commuters from the locals. It separates the cottage coast from the working coast. It separates the people who get their firewood delivered from those who cut it themselves.
As I drove up-coast last Friday I was mulling over the results of the Vancouver Foundation’s recently published Connections and Engagement report, documenting a phone and online survey of 3,841 metro Vancouver residents about quality of life in their city.
While the study concluded the city was convivial, a majority of 25- to 34-year-old respondents agreed that Vancouver is a resort for the wealthy with too much foreign real state ownership. Half of the respondents also reported that it was hard to make new friends, and 65 per cent reported that they preferred people of their own ethnicity. Economically, 30 per cent of respondents were just getting by, and 15 per cent reported financial difficulty.
Faced with Vancouver’s obscenely expensive real estate and disengaged reality, why not choose a smaller town? Why begin life with a $500,000 mortgage on 700 square feet of gyproc with granite counters? In Powell River, that kind of money will get you a house on the beach. Why tough it out in a community where major theatre companies go bankrupt, when you could revel in Powell River’s International Choral Kathaumixw (July 3 to 7), a five day choral festival that offers community-wide concerts, common song singing, choral and vocal competitions and conductor’s seminars? Up to 40 choirs from around the world attend, and most are billeted in local homes. Kathaumixw (pronounced Ka-thou-mew), a Coast Salish word for “a gathering of different peoples,” involves grass roots organization at the community level, and carries forward the spirit of barn raisings, potlucks and pitching- in of an earlier era in B.C.
Kathaumixw is exactly what Vancouver lacks: cultural engagement. Powell River is also exactly what Vancouver lacks: affordable family real estate. Thinking broadly, coastal small towns are a logical alternative to the metropolis. They demand an entrepreneurial approach to work, which is a strength. They favour and reward those who have skills that are needed locally, and they also permit local residency with a consulting practice in both national and global markets. Eventually they welcome the gradual phasing in of retirement options along with community engagement.
Coastal small towns provide social, environmental, cultural and economic opportunities to raise a family in a supportive environment. They teach self-reliance and community responsibility in a different way than big cities. Arguably they build citizens who have the social skills to work well with neighbours, and the competitive responsibilities associated with successful entrepreneurship.
While we are occasionally told that the world needs more Canada, I increasingly think that what the world really needs is more Powell River.
Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Mike Robinson is a Canadian NGO leader, and brings an environmental and cultural perspective to current affairs. He is a critical thinker and worried optimist.