Vancouver, once heaven, now merely a mess choking itself to death

Vancouver, once heaven, now merely a mess choking itself to death

Opinion: Sure it’s still pretty (those mountains!) but it’s become unaccessible, unaffordable, unfriendly and unwelcoming

A Strathcona resident became so fed up with the tent city that blighted Strathcona Park on the east side that in February he dumped garbage from the park to make his point in front of historic, art deco style Vancouver City Hall.A Strathcona resident became so fed up with the tent city that blighted Strathcona Park on the east side that in February he dumped garbage from the park to make his point in front of historic, art deco style Vancouver City Hall. PHOTO BY NICK PROCAYLO /PNG files

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In the 1950s, south Vancouver was an urban planner’s dream. Hundreds of compact, post-war bungalows bursting with freshly minted families lined the streets overlooking the Fraser River, an instant community surrounded by open fields and brick schoolhouses and corner stores that sold penny candy by the barrel.

Everywhere you looked were tangled piles of bicycles, and clusters of rag-tag kids, delivering newspapers at dawn, roaming from house to house during the day, huddled under street lights at the supper hour, waiting for moms to call them home.

It was paradise, the blueprint for an Ozzie and Harriet sitcom, and there was no better place to grow up.

In fact, half a century ago, Vancouver itself was a free-range playground, where unsupervised youngsters could hop on a trolley bus and take swimming lessons at Trout Lake, where noisy teenagers could stumble down the untamed cliffside paths to Towers Beach, and where young bloods could mingle in convivial lineups for hours on end, just for the pleasure of the 75-cent plate of pineapple chicken at the Green Door, or a schooner of beer at the Fraser Arms.

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Back then, it was heaven.

Today? Not so much.

Things change, of course, and cities change with them. Growth is inevitable, even welcome. People come and go, houses get built and torn down, development and construction waxes and wanes and, over time, a city’s imprimatur morphs into a reflection of economic pressure, fluctuating demographics and political imperative.

Peel back the striated layers of Vancouver and you will find the brief history of its evolution from a hardscrabble resource-based harbour town to a glitzy cruise ship nucleus vying for world-class recognition.

And age has certainly not dulled her looks. Still so pretty. Those mountains. The ocean. The pure beauty of the topography, the postcard backdrop.

Historic Vancouver as a free-range playground: Kitsilano secondary school students cheer on their classmates in 1950 at that year’s Vancouver and district track meet.Historic Vancouver as a free-range playground: Kitsilano secondary school students cheer on their classmates in 1950 at that year’s Vancouver and district track meet. PHOTO BY VANCOUVER SCHOOL BOARD

But let’s be honest. The rest of her is something of a mess, sagging under an unsightly jangle of overbuilt enclaves, congested thoroughfares, unchecked crime, cloistered neighbourhoods and absent leadership.

Commercial Drive? Grungy. Wreck Beach? Too woke for words. Gastown? Dodgy. Stanley Park? Cars unwelcome. Chinatown? Relocated. Downtown Vancouver? Nothing to see here and nowhere to park if there was. Punjab Market? Relocated. That park down the road? An overgrown swale of dog dung.

Today, much of Vancouver is an unrecognizable hodgepodge of dense population pockets where cars are treated as the evil spawn of industrialization, and where green spaces are surrendered to a spreading pox of homeless encampments that have created neighbourhood war zones where litter, lawlessness and open drug use are abetted by an impotent city hall, bureaucratic indecision, Band-Aid solutions and a shocking lack of political will.

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It is a town where coddled developers erect hundreds of tiny, dull, overpriced and often unoccupied glass bird cages, as if racing to blot out the sun in their unfettered quest for comparative architectural machismo.

Vancouver today is a city bereft of decent parental guidance and good old common sense, and it is choking itself to death. You are to be commended if you managed to plant roots in one of the still lovely quiet corners of the city in the before times, but unless you’re a dog, a cyclist, a tourist, a drug addict or a deep-pocketed investor, you need not apply for citizenship or a visitor’s visa into the downtown core these days.

No surprise, then, that Vancouver placed a dismal 174th in the recently released Maclean’s magazine annual list of Canada’s best communities, with rankings based on key features such as affordability, crime, weather and health.

I’m guessing that resident Vancouverites don’t much care what I think, or that I now actively avoid the once-vibrant city where I was born. Most of Metro Vancouver’s population now lives outside Vancouver city limits anyway. Maybe that was the plan, to make it so hard to get around and so unsafe and unsightly in so many areas as to exclude frivolous entry by those of us who want to visit, who once lived there and enjoyed its considerable charms, but who long ago fled to the more welcoming suburbs.

The truth may be that most of us simply don’t need Vancouver any more.

I don’t mourn for the town of my youth, wonderful as it was. Instead, I fear for its future, for what its caretakers have allowed it to become.

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Inaccessible. Unaffordable. Unfriendly.

You may not have seen the signs, but Vancouver city hall has posted them everywhere. You live east of Boundary Road, south of the Fraser River, north of Burrard Inlet? We don’t want you, or your business.

Stay away.

And so we do.

Shelley Fralic is a former Vancouver Sun columnist. She writes a regular seniors column for our You pages.

shelleyfralic@gmail.com

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