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Jay Currie

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6/24/2005

Vancouver

I spent the day over in Vancouver yesterday. The bizarre bus scheduling in Victoria - which has the only bus to the ferry arrive seven minutes after the hourly Vancouver ferry leaves, means the entire exercise takes five hours to get over can't take away from the sheer beauty of the voyage.

Vancouver itself is looking terribly up to the minute. Lots of road construction, new buildings clambering out of the ground, growing excitment about the 2010 Olympics; but I was struck by how much of the charm of the city I grew up in has been sacrificed to its "world class" aspirations.

The first thing which hits you is just how Chinese the city has become. I was travelling by bus on the West and East sides of the city and was a white minority of one for most of my trips. Twenty years of immigration have transformed the city.

Architecturally there is not a single streetscape which does not boast a few fully built out, double front doored, fake pillared spec houses with their stucco rotting and their drapes tightly shut on a hot afternoon. These houses are stark reminders of just how dreadful design can be when the main specifications are maximum floor space ratio and construction cheapness.

I spent most of the day in and around the hip, white, ghetto of Commercial Drive. The pretty lesbians with tats and piercings, lots of young families, the old bald Italian guys who have been hanging out on the drive for forty years, neo hippies and guys dressed in black were on parade. In a sense Commercial is the route not taken in Vancouver.

Twenty years ago next year Vancouver invited the world to Expo 86. As a piece of boosterism, Expo 86 worked. It drove housing prices to the sky, it attracted flight capital and people from Hong Kong and Taiwan. It put Vancouver on the international map.

Which is terrifically exciting and all; but what it did as well is reduce a great provincial city to third tier world status. Now people could pay New York prices for housing and have a view. But what the Expo moment also did is cut of any sort of indigenous evolution of Vancouver's culture and style. More or less overnight the city became one more bland stop on the international circuit.

There is no question the city is still very beautiful. Allan Fotheringham pointed out that was virtually impossible to destroy. But it has lost so very much of what made it an extrodinary place to have grown up.