Vancouver newspaper The Province is running a 15-day series on racism in Canada starting today: Monday, October 7th. As a researcher interested in immigration and a second-generation immigrant, I am always interested in dialogues about multiculturalism, immigration policy, and immigrants’ integration. Many of my readers have been directed to my website from web searches. One post in particular, “Modern racism in the most multicultural city in the world”, has drawn a higher number of views and comments than others. Since it was published in 2009, it has gotten about 8,000 views–last month alone it had 635 views. Susan Lazaruk of The Province asked to reference the post in the paper’s 15-day series.

In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I will summarize my answers to Susan’s questions here. As a Canadian researcher, I frequently present my work in the US and am astounded at the role that race continues to play in issues such as housing location, the distance people travel to school or work, and employment opportunities. As Canadians we compare ourselves to other countries, including the US, and I think most people would agree that immigrants and visible minorities in Canada are much more socially and spatially integrated and suffer from less societal and institutional racism than they do in other countries. There has been considerable research on the lower rates of residential segregation, for example. However, racism is like sexism; it is entrenched and will likely always be with us, though it diminishes over time. Admitting that modern racism still exists in Canada is not to say that it’s a terrible place to live. Canada only began to accept immigrants from non-European countries in the 1950s, and this was highly regulated until 1967 when the numbers of visible minorities began to increase at a considerable pace. So it’s remarkable that we’ve progressed from quite overt institutional racism (including a quota on immigrants from India) to the much more subtler forms of modern racism in just 60 years.

It’s very interesting living in Amsterdam as an immigrant. I’ve faced all the challenges many of the immigrants to Canada face, including not speaking the language of the country and being singled out by my ethnic identity (“Canadian” doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy questions!) I live in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of other immigrants. While my job requires no knowledge of Dutch, it is difficult to find work in other industry sectors without the language and tough for immigrants to build professional networks.

Given the level of interest in modern racism in Canada indicated by the response to my blog post, I encourage readers to check out The Province in the next two weeks. I imagine that this series will spur all kinds of debate and commentary, which is a good thing.

The multitude of planning concerns faced by Aboriginal communities across Canada hit national headlines a few weeks ago when Attawapiskat, a First Nations community of about 2,000 in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency. Horrific health conditions exacerbated by poor water supply, sewage problems, inadequate housing and schools resulting from decades of wrangling over governance and funding have devastated the community. The conditions prompted the Red Cross to provide emergency relief, provoked international criticism and launched intense debates in the House of Commons (“NDP challenges Harper to visit Attawapiskat himself”, The Globe and Mail November 30, 2011, “Aboriginal Affairs Minister dispatches team to Attawapiskat“, The Globe and Mail November 25, 2011). This is, in fact, the fourth time Attawapiskat has declared a state of emergency due to chronic infrastructure failures. Many serious health and housing issues persist in Aboriginal communities. The need for First Nations, Inuit and Métis (who comprise Canada’s Aboriginal peoples) to use their own knowledge and self-determination in planning their communities, for planners to help with the development of local plans and help negotiate collaboration, has never been greater. On a hopeful note, the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) is embarking on a new initiative in 2012: the launch of the Indigenous Planning concentration within our current Masters program with the First Nations House of Learning.

SCARP professor Leonie Sandercock has been working with First Nations communities for several years. Her most recent work, the documentary film Finding Our Way, highlighted the decades of turmoil faced within the Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band), the Cheslatta Carrier Band, and the Village of Burns Lake, BC. Dr. Sandercock has been instrumental in working with the First Nations House of Learning and members of the Musqueam, Carrier, Nisga’a and Cree Métis Nations to develop the Indigenous Planning concentration at SCARP. Professor Ted Jojola of the University of New Mexico Community and Regional Planning program also advised UBC on the creation of the program; the planning program at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning has an Indigenous Planning component and hosts an Indigenous Architecture lecture series. Dr. Jojola visited UBC recently for an “Indigenous Planning Teach-In” hosted by SCARP and the First Nations House of Learning. At this event the Tsawwassen First Nation, Musqueam First Nation and Westbank First Nation presented their community plans, highlighting public participation processes and the role of external planners as consultants in plan development. Several non-Aboriginal professionals specializing in law, governance, community economic development, and cross-cultural planning spoke about their work with Aboriginal communities across Canada. (Watch a video about the development of the degree, featuring scenes from the Teach-In, here.)

There have been some fantastic examples of Aboriginal community planning in recent years: the Seabird Island First Nation in BC built its own housing in partnership with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), National Resources Canada (NRCan), and 25 building industry and community groups in 2003-2004. They later launched the Seabird Sustainable Community Project to provide “information to First Nations and other communities across Canada solve housing challenges in an environmentally sensitive, healthy, energy-efficient and affordable way.” The Ty-Histanis Neighbourhood Development, about 10km from Tofino, BC, is a new community being developed by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) in partnership with CMHC and NRCan (ecoAction and EQuilibrium Communities Initiative). It is applies the TFN concept of Hishuk nish tsawaak (all is one), through practical, sustainable community development principles. The new community will include 171 single-detached units, 32 duplex units and a 12-unit elders’ complex; a school, health clinic, pharmacy, recreation centre, youth centre and elder centre are all located in the core area. The project target is a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, mostly through building and energy efficiency. Forty per cent of the development site will remain undisturbed protected habitat, bogs will be used for natural water retention, and walking will be encouraged through footpaths and the mixed-use design of the site.

Clearly, there are many opportunities for planners in Aboriginal communities, whether they are local, community-based planners or  external consultants in the planning process. SCARP’s new Indigenous Planning concentration will consist of five core courses covering law and governance, community economic development, regional sustainability planning, cross-cultural skills, and indigenous planning as an emerging paradigm. It will also feature a one-year practicum working in a First Nations community in BC and an optional internship with a First Nations community in the Lower Mainland. It is hoped that graduates (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) will go on to ensure immediate infrastructure concerns are addressed, help communities across the country plan for their futures and, over time, prevent crises like Attawapiskat.

A couple of weeks ago, we had what was probably the two busiest weeks in SCARP history. Susan Fainstein was here as our Scholar-in-Residence, SCARP celebrated its 60th anniversary, we hosted our third annual Student Symposium, and two doctoral students successfully defended their dissertations. Writing about all these other events has kept me busy until now!

Leslie Shieh examined Shequ (Community) construction in China, in particular the effectiveness of State policies in local communities (read the dissertation here). Her study, “Shequ Construction: Policy Implementation, Community Building, and Urban Governance in China” shows the impact of a wide set of policies intended to carry out administrative functions and deliver social care: under Shequ policies, thousands of service centers have been built, offering cultural and social services to residents. While many Western planners advocate for community-led change, Leslie’s interviews with local community groups and residents shows how much agency residents have under the Shequ policy framework and urban governance model, and challenges North American experiences of ineffective state planning interventions. Leslie’s work was published in City (“Restructuring Urban Governance: Community Construction in Contemporary China“, 2008) and she has a chapter in the forthcoming Global Capitalism and the Future of Agrarian Society (Arif Dirlik and Alexander Woodside, eds.). She is now busy publishing more of her research findings and working in the Vancouver urban development scene.

Janice Barry’s dissertation is entitled “Building Collaborative Institutions for Government-to-Government Planning: A Case Study of the Nanwakolas Council’s Involvement in the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning Process” (read the dissertation here). She examined a government-to-government process involving a First Nations group and the Provincial government, using interviews and content analysis of policy documents. Her work contributes to the growing body of literature linking planning and new institutional theory, clarifying the drivers and dimensions of institutional change. Janice is currently  a postdoctoral researcher in the Urban Studies department at the University of Glasgow with Dr. Libby Porter. They have just started fieldwork for another study involving First Nations communities in BC: “Planning with Indigenous Customary Land Rights: An investigation of shifts in planning law and governance in Canada and Australia.”

Congratulations to these stellar graduates, who have been great mentors, co-conspirators, and friends during my time at SCARP.

Update: Janice became a lecturer at the University of Sheffield Department of Town and Regional Planning in July 2012.

UBC just issued a press release announcing the winning architectural team for the new SCARP/SALA building. I’m happy to announce that the joint venture of Shape Architecture/FeildenCleggBradley Studios (architects) and PWL Partnership (landscape architects) will be producing a feasibility study and the anticipated full design for the UBC Integrated Planning and Design Facility. Joining the core design team is Andrew Harrison (DEGW), a leading expert in learning environments as well as Atelier 10, consultants in sustainable design. SCARP students will be watching the new team, anticipating their plans to involve faculty, staff, and students in the design process. This was one of the strengths of the winning team’s presentation.

Thanks to our Director Penny Gurstein and Assistant Professor Maged Senbel, SCARP faculty members who have been very involved in this process, and also to the many SCARP and SALA students that got involved in the process, met as committees, and voiced their opinions on what kinds of spaces we wanted to create in the new building. Several landscape architecture students were particularly active in the process and I think inspired a few of us SCARP students to participate more. It’s so rare that my predictions are accurate, and even more rare that the best team actually wins. All you SCARPies out there, come and help us celebrate tomorrow night at the Museum of Vancouver.

On a side note, my two earlier blog posts about our new building generated an unexpected level of interest: over a hundred and fifty of you read them! The second post broke my all-time record for the most views in a single day, with 72 views. Thanks for visiting, and come back again for more planning, urban design, and urban development miscellany.

As I wrote in my last post, SCARP and SALA are currently choosing an integrated design team for our new building, an addition to the existing Lasserre building at UBC. Two teams presented last week, and two this week. The winning team will be announced October 20th. Since we were encouraged to send along our comments on the presentations to the committee who will be choosing the best of the four teams, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss them here.

The four short-listed teams were follows:

Here are the videos for these presentations online: Week 1 (Patkau and Teeple) and Week 2 (Shape and OMA).

I’m sure that Patkau did think about how classroom space, lecture spaces, and offices would be designed compared to studio spaces, because they had diagrams showing the breakdown of program space in the new building. However, it was not clear from their presentation how they planned to differentiate these types of spaces and functions. I was alarmed by their use of the Harvard Graduate School of Design as an example of “good” studio design. Having visited the GSD, I felt that the student spaces were cold and mechanistic, and sound control in this space is not great. The other examples Patkau showed (like the Winnipeg Public Library) were all basically glass boxes. Obviously, in Vancouver it would be great to use as much natural light as possible, but sound controls are going to be an issue. Likewise, they did use students’ quotes and work in their presentation, but it was not clear how they might involve students in the design process. Moreover, the landscape design was still too embryonic to figure out at this point, and do we really want to bring the focus of the building inward, like every other modernist building on campus? Why not address the street (either one) and create a space that can actually be used during the (rainy) school year?

Teeple went a little further in their approach. They did show some specific examples of small-scale student spaces (at Langara, SFU, MacMillan, the Stephen Hawking Institute), perhaps because Proscenium focuses on interiors. While Patkau talked about the need for social spaces, Teeple actually showed examples of comfortable smaller student lounges and work spaces. As a landscape architect I will add that since the proposed SCARP/SALA building aspires to be a green building, it is a huge coup having Cornelia Oberlander as the landscape architect on their team. She was designing sustainable landscapes way before they were trendy, and has decades of experience understanding site, microclimate, and people’s use of space, which will be crucial in the design of the open spaces and axes that will anchor the new building. Although the team didn’t let her speak much, Cornelia is very careful about working with architects who will allow her to play a major role in the overall building design.

I definitely felt that Shape and FieldenCleggBradley have the necessary experience, collaboration with each other, and the most interesting proposal. In particular, I felt that their presentation style was indicative of the close working partnership the team has: each spoke for an equal amount of time, each spoke highly of the other team members, and each fielded questions in their areas of expertise. I felt that the landscape architects, with their local UBC experience in participatory process, was also a major strength. They seemed to “get” the idea of collaboration, combining these three different areas of study in both the building itself and the building process. I also liked the projects highlighting their use of artificial light made to look natural, as this will likely be needed in the rainy, dark Vancouver climate. FCB’s experiences in the UK, a very similar climate to ours, will be very useful in terms of the building’s design, lighting, and materials. Teeple was the only other team that convinced me that they would design interesting, functional, and well-designed smaller spaces within the SCARP/SALA building. These two teams were the strongest in terms of their commitment to the overall design: landscape, relationship to existing buildings on the site, the building itself, and its interior spaces.

As expected, OMA’s approach to “iconic” architecture was troublesome and problematic for our site and building, since it is a small addition, rather than a brand-new structure. Ultimately, we don’t want form over function. In terms of function, although they were the only ones to offer a glimpse of how the interior space might be broken down, the hierarchies emerge: the majority of the space was designated as studios, and the highest floors and best views as private offices. Even though the firm supposedly does landscape architecture as well as architecture, their proposal was particularly weak in the interaction of the building with the site: the weakest of all the groups. I don’t even remember OMA mentioning the name of the landscape architecture firm they would be working with, which I think says a lot about their attitude towards their collaborators. I feel that they are still working in the modernist-brutalist tradition, and frankly UBC has enough giant, bland glass and concrete buildings and vast empty open plazas already.

In general, I felt that Patkau, Teeple and OMA were overwhelmed by the concept of designing a design school, and spent way too much time claiming they were going to build something that would put Vancouver on the map. We need well-designed, functional spaces for students and faculty. It would be nice if the building was also innovative, but I would leave that to the sustainability features rather than the mere design characteristics. Star-chitecture is not always great design, and in most cases the interaction of these buildings with their surroundings is jarring, not to mention their impact on the pedestrian realm. I still think that all three of these teams think they’re designing an architecture building, and while several have designed research-based buildings before, they don’t consider this to be a research facility, since SALA students don’t do the type of social science research we do at SCARP. I think this is problematic since about 80% of SCARP students are in streams other than urban design, and will not be working in studio-type settings. This is partly why the Shape team is the strongest: they had a more developed design process and seemed to anticipate the difficulties of designing a building that would house three different programs with different needs. OMA emerges as the weakest not only because their previous work highlights their modernist attitude towards design and collaboration, but also a lack of interest in participatory processes; all three of the other teams mentioned specific steps they would take to involve students and faculty at all three programs (particularly Shape, who had very specific events planned to involve the public in the design process).

Of course, we see only the public presentations. The committee responsible for choosing the winning team (made up of faculty and students in all three programs) started by interviewing 23 teams and shortlisting these four, who were also interviewed in depth after their presentations. It will be interesting to see which emerges as the winner come October 20th.

UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) is finally getting what it deserves: a new building. As I wrote in a popular post last year, there is considerable inequity among the faculties in terms of building facilities. Recently, SCARP joined forces with the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture to expand Lasserre and create a joint building for all three programs. Currently, the four short-listed firms are working on their design proposals, which will be presented this month.

The Lasserre building

West Mall Annex

The MacMillan building

The Landscape Architecture Anne

SALA building presentations

As you can see, all three programs are in desperate need of new facilities. The architects are all within Lasserre, but the landscape architects are split between the MacMillan building and the Landscape Architecture Annex. SCARP has been housed in two buildings, Lasserre (administrative and some faculty offices) and West Mall Annex (classrooms, computer labs, student and faculty offices), for many years now. Architecture and landscape architecture are now within the same faculty; a few years ago landscape architecture was housed in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems. SCARP remains independent of this union: our parent department is the College for Interdisciplinary Studies.

These needless silos have undoubtedly contributed to what many see as deep rifts between the three professions: while there are many students who traverse the divide and take courses in these related programs, the isolation remains. Students in all three programs seem very excited about the prospect of having more interaction with each other, more joint classes, and possibly more interaction between faculty. There is a lot of logic in this aspiration: architects, landscape architects and planners will be working closely together in practice once they graduate, and it is a sad fact that we don’t know how to work together, resolve conflicts and appreciate each others’ expertise. The students (and to some extent, faculty) hope is that a joint building will help in creating mutual understanding.

I remain cynical on the subject, and for good reason: my own experience at the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at University of Toronto taught me that a joint building is not necessarily utopia. Acculturation is defined an exchange of cultural habits that results when groups come into continuous contact: both cultures change, but each group remains distinct. Acculturation allows acceptance or rejection of aspects of both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ cultures, while assimilation implies total enculturation to the new, dominant culture. I would argue that architects tend to assimilate other closely-aligned fields. In our case, the architecture program was much larger (300 students compared to 125 in the landscape architecture program) and had considerably more faculty members. In the entire 119-year history of the school, it has always been headed by an architect. Consequently, the Borg-like architects dominated decision-making processes, from faculty hiring to program offerings to facilities, leaving the landscape architecture program to scramble for courses and instructors. By the time the school was revamped and rebranded and urban design program was added, the landscape architecture program had been largely consumed by the larger entity: it is now the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design and 24 of its 32 faculty are architects. Resistance was, indeed, futile.

Outside of this administrative approach, there is something about the architecture profession that encourages a superiority complex. I’m sure this statement offends, so let me back it up with some concrete examples. In first year, our two studios were right next to each other on the same floor, so there was more room for social interaction (this was back when U of T had Bachelors degrees in both programs). But after that, landscape architects remained on the second floor (being a smaller program, there was enough space for us) while the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th year architects moved up to the third and fourth floors. The architecture students rarely condescended to socialize with the landscape architects, even they were only separated by one floor. As for joint classes, the accreditation boards of each profession require so many courses that in five years, we could only choose three classes ourselves, the rest being required. We did have history and theory together in first year, and site engineering (a class which the architecture students considered a waste of time) in second and third years. We also had a joint computer lab and library. But that was the extent of our co-mingling. I started out in architecture, but switched to landscape architecture in my second year. From the moment I made the switch, it was clear I was crossing the void: classmates no longer spoke to me, or asked condescendingly how I liked the easier workload in landscape architecture.

More than a decade later, I still run into acquaintances for whom the hierarchy is firmly entrenched: architecture is at the top, then landscape architecture, and then planning. At UBC, I ran into someone who had previously studied math and statistics, and had just finished his Masters in Architecture. When I mentioned I was studying planning, he replied, “Oh yeah? You must find that a lot easier.” (A common survival technique for architects, who work ridiculous overtime hours and rarely take time off, is to redefine the “normal” work week to have 80 or more hours; by this definition everyone else is a slacker). Many of my former classmates in both architecture and landscape architecture are still practicing in the field, and consider my pursuit of a planning PhD mildly amusing (and yet, surely they must consider this an achievement for someone who obviously has such a puny brain that she couldn’t hack it in architecture?) “Planners don’t actually DO anything,” they smirk. There is also the fact that architecture and landscape architecture are practical fields, and not research-based, so a PhD is not necessarily a requirement for teaching in these professions; consequently, it is viewed as a useless degree. “I’d rather do something real than something that’s just going to sit on a shelf,” is the common refrain. Having worked in the US, the UK and Canada, I can confirm that the hierarchy is firmly in place; I have friends working in Bombay, Shanghai, and Hong Kong who assure me things are the same where they live and work.

I think the opportunity for the new building and the opportunity for shared learning are exciting, but my own experiences at U of T have forever changed the way I think about collaboration. SCARP faculty and students, and planners in general, are big believers in participatory processes and collaborative decision-making. While we discuss the impact of power dynamics and imbalances in these processes and have some strategies in dealing with them, the fact remains that decisions tend to go in the most politically expedient direction, whether this means siding with the most vocal group, the group that is present at the most meetings, or the group with the most powerful friends. Collaboration and participation only work when each player is considered equal and is given equal opportunity to express views and impact the final decision. My limited experience with the current SCARP/SALA building suggest that this is not the case here, and I fear that again, resistance is futile: there have already been serious discussions about how much space each program would get, and if there will even be enough room for all of SCARP’s computer labs, classrooms and student offices. There seems to be little understanding of how planning students work and what types of spaces they might need (although we do have an urban design stream at SCARP, the majority of us don’t work in studios and most of us are not studying subjects that are related to urban design issues). Although urban design is a very popular stream at SCARP, in other years the community development/social planning stream has had the most students, or ecological and natural resource planning. Each year the admissions committee is very careful about admitting a balance of students to all the streams (currently there are six) in order to balance the number of students each faculty member supervises and the number that will enroll in each course. Most of the streams are thinly staffed (we have only one urban design professor) so this balance is important. A joint building with SALA might outwardly seem like we are heading towards the McGill model where planning is a studio-based degree, but actually this is unlikely.

I would love to be proven wrong on the new building and its design process, because nothing could be better for SCARP or SALA than to achieve a truly interdisciplinary melding of the three programs. It is a sad fact that in a city like Vancouver, which is held up as an example of urban planning and urban design, we don’t have a very strong urban design program. A joint building could give Vancouver designers and planners the chance to continue some interesting conversations on urban thinking in the city, the type of debate that happens at SFU’s lecture series; a laboratory for innovative design and planning. But we also need to preserve SCARP’s unique strengths: community development and social planning, ecological and natural resource planning, transportation planning, participatory planning and international development, many of which do not have a design component and are not usually offered at other planning schools. If you’re in Vancouver, come out to the architects’ presentations on September 23rd and 29th and get your chance to comment on them. The winner will be announced on October 20th.

Cypress Community Garden

Cypress Community Garden

Municipalities have become increasingly concerned about food security in the past few years. I’ve written before about Vancouver’s Food Policy Council and some of the work they’ve been doing, including encouraging a by-law to allow backyard chickens. Since then some notable developments have happened in the city.

A few weeks ago, Vancouver city council approved five community projects, agreeing to spend $100,000 on the small-scale projects. One aims to help people on social assistance or small fixed incomes can buy coupons at the beginning of each month for a small fee and redeem them later in the month for fresh fruits and vegetables at a mini-farmers market in the neighbourhood. Another funds the development of farmers markets; several Vancouver neighbourhoods worked with city council to streamline fees and fix restrictive zoning bylaws. Council has now approved the development of interim guidelines and zoning changes to develop new farmers markets and expand existing ones, including the very successful Kitsilano, West End, and Trout Lake markets. I visited the West End farmers market this weekend and found the vendors selling seasonal greens, peppers, berries, cheese, fresh lamb and eggs. The prices, as usual for Vancouver, started around the same as supermarket produce and went up from there, but there’s no denying the freshness of the food. I’m still not sure why farmers markets out here are so pricey, when a dollar or two at a market in Ottawa, London, or Toronto will get you a head of broccoli bigger than your own.

There are lots of other ways to get fresh produce in the city. Vancouver has some amazing community gardens, where residents pay a small fee for a garden plot and grow all sorts of fruits, vegetables and flowers. A friend of mine has a plot at the Cypress Community Garden, which cost her $30 for the summer. She goes to garden work parties with the many other gardeners in the area; Kitsilano is full of apartment dwellers who otherwise wouldn’t have the space to grow their own food.

You can also raise chickens and have access to your own fresh eggs daily, since the bylaw was passed to allow backyard chickens. You can check out all these developments on Vancouver’s Food Policy Council website.

rain: a type of precipitation that is common in Vancouver from September to May, but is not acknowledged by Vancouverites. Ex.: a non-Vancouverite needs protection from this type of precipitation, such as an umbrella or raincoat, but Vancouverites rarely need these.

snow: a type of precipitation that rarely occurs in Vancouver but is uniformly acknowledged by Vancouverites, as it causes all traffic to cease. A very cold, dense mix of ice and water falling to the ground in clumps, occasionally persisting for 20 minutes before melting.

suckerhole: a patch of clear blue sky that often appears about an hour before sundown on a rainy day, tricking you into believing the next day might be sunny. Often occurs within a 7-to-10-day stretch of rain.

summer: var. a. a season that lasts from July to August, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-20s. Rain persists until the end of June, when the skies begin to clear, only to cloud over again by Labour Day. Occurs for two out of three years, often following a relatively dry winter. var. b. a season that lasts from May to September, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-20s, with a week or two in the high 20s. Little rain. Occurs about once in three years, often following a very wet winter.

Grouse Grind: not, as the Granville Island lager ads confirm, a dirty dance move, but a hike up Grouse Mountain deemed necessary for outdoor enthusiasts.  The vast majority of the “trail” is paved and involves steep stairs; despite this it has a cult following. Cult followers get a time stamp at the bottom of the Grind and compete for the shortest time.

Kitsilano: alternately considered one of Vancouver’s most/least popular neighbourhoods, formerly housing hippies and now home to some of the most expensive real estate in the country. Kits culture includes yoga studios, dog walkers, coffee houses and strident environmentalists, which tends mask to mask the neighbourhood’s unique history and geography.

Commercial Drive: the last bastion of “working class” Vancouver, with a mix of shops, services, and interesting industrial land uses that predate the current Starbucks trend. That’s all Vancouverites want you to know about it. Anything else and you might want to move there…and you just don’t understand the unique culture, history and geography of the Drive.

East Vancouver: alternately considered one of the most/least popular neighbourhoods in Vancouver, with strong working class roots and humble dwellings, until recently quite affordable. Very stable, long-term community activists and vocal residents have led to a sort defensive stance about the community, a sort of “reverse snobbery” mostly directed to Westsiders who can’t possibly understand their neighbourhood, its unique history and geography.

Main Street: a formerly working class neighbourhood, now a hipster hangout with high-end, though independent, stores and restaurants. Socially-aware student types mix with a range of independent activist types, creating a unique culture, history and geography.

hipster: a middle- to upper-class individual who deeply identifies with the working class. Generally prefers to dress in second-hand clothing, currently with a heavy dose of retro 80s such as mullets, large clear plastic frame glasses, skinny jeans and plaid shirts. Musical taste features obscure local bands as well as well-known, but commercially less successful, Canadian bands. Interest in documentary films, bicycling, and pot culture required. Hipsters gravitate to Main Street, East Van and the Drive, having been largely displaced from Kits, Dunbar and Kerrisdale.

lifestyle: a melange of outdoor activities, beautiful scenery, mild climate, yoga, healthy eating, beach activities, self-righteous political and social advocacy, which is being threatened by outsiders moving to Vancouver. Syn. granola. Adj. livable: laid-back, scenic, with access to beaches, various outdoor activities, high-end condo living, and gourmet cuisine, but only for the wealthy.

fur babies: usually refers to dogs and cats who are kept as household pets and treated as the family’s children. A number of shops and services reinforce this image.

coffee shop: a small, independently-owned enterprise that supplies fair-trade coffee, a variety of herbal teas, and homemade treats, frequented by locals. Ant. Starbucks.

affordable housing: a form of shelter that is extremely rare in Vancouver, but is peppered throughout certain neighbourhoods and in adjacent municipalities such as Port Coquitlam and Surrey. Ant. most housing in Vancouver.

fleece: refers to both a fabric and a garment (usually a zippered jacket) that can be worn in any weather, any season, and on any social occasion. Usually worn with jeans, fleece is typically forest green or navy in colour with a prominent logo (eg. Columbia, North Face) on the front placket.

casual dress: typically jeans and a fleece (winter months) or khakis and a T-shirt (summer months). Hiking shoes or rubber sandals, often with velcro closures, complete the look. For women, yoga pants and tank tops, as well as capri pants, are common variants. Worn on all but semi-formal occasions, approximately 362 days of the year. Retail options: Mountain Equipment Co-Op, North Face, Lululemon.

semi-formal dress: a rare requirement in Vancouver, consisting of long-sleeved shirts and jeans or khakis (for men). Ties are not acceptable, nor is a jacket. For women, a skirt and a T-shirt with sandals, or occasionally low heels. Retail options: Spank, Aritsia. Ant. Dresses, especially long dresses or those made from silk, satin, or velvet.

great value for food: euphemism for some of the most overpriced food in Canada. Vancouver has many exclusive, gourmet restaurants, a smaller number of middle-range restaurants, and very little at the affordable end. Poor service can persist even to the high end. Similarly, grocery stores are uniformly overpriced, although some deals can be had at the smaller green grocers and in Chinatown.

Expo ’86: an international transportation fair held just after the worst recession in BC history (1981-83), which led to Vancouver’s rapid growth and development. Widely credited with being the best and worst thing to ever happen to the city.

2010 Olympics: an international sporting event discredited by most native Vancouverites, many of whom vacated the city for the 10-day period, leaving the Games to be celebrated by national and international tourists. Although locals disparaged the event, they did not lose a second in renting out apartments and condos to tourists at exorbitant rates.

11:00 pm: last call for bar patios on many of Vancouver’s main streets, except the bar-laden three-block section of Granville downtown. Time for bed so you can get up early for that hike tomorrow morning!

Toronto: Yoko to Vancouver’s Beatles, ie. the source of all discord in Lotusland. Some Torontonians have moved to Vancouver and infected it with their urban, workaholic, corporate vibe.

Ontario: Toronto.

Canada Day: a holiday largely celebrated by tourists in Vancouver.

The 2010 Olympics, the 21st Winter Games, has now officially marked Canadians forever. Despite an initially lukewarm welcome from many Vancouverites, this Olympic Games has proven to be one that has made all Canadians proud of their country. From the first gold won on Canadian soil (Alexandre Bilodeau) to the record number of gold medals ever won by any nation (13 as of today), Canadians achieved many firsts this Olympics. But the true experience of these Games had to be experienced on the streets, in local bars and eateries: the spirit of the people who call this great, wintery country home.

Although I’m not originally from Vancouver, I’ve lived there for five years. I’m currently in the middle of PhD fieldwork in Toronto, but was lucky enough to be back in Vancouver for the second week of the Olympics. I was inspired to write this post, which departs from my usual commentary on urban issues, by American speed skater Shani Davis. After winning his silver medal in the 1500m, Davis remarked to Stephen Colbert that “We think Americans are patriotic, but Canadians…wow.”

Ad for Canada Place during the Olympics

As the 2010 Olympics approached, indeed, there was little excitement among Vancouverites who generally don’t want any more people to know about this spectacular natural setting they call home. In fact, when I told friends I’d be in Toronto for the semester, but back for the Olympics for a week, they laughed at me. Most Vancouverites, they claimed, couldn’t wait to get out of the city for the “quadrennial cold weather athletic competition,” as Stephen Colbert called it. The first full day of the Olympics was marred by protesters, a few of whom smashed in the windows of the Hudson’s Bay flagship store downtown, where thousands lined up each day to buy Olympic gear. Despite the Own the Podium program, which has been controversial, many doubted that Canada would exceed its record number of medals won at an Olympic Games: 24 won in Torino in 2006. Much speculation arose about the medal hopes of our athletes, even as they were profiled in prominent news spots.

But as the patriotic commercials started in January, from Coke’s “Let’s make sure everyone knows whose game they’re playing” to the Tim Horton’s “Hockey…it’s our game“…well let’s face it, most of us jumped on board. One of my friends, who lives in Victoria and attended quite a few Olympic and Cultural Olympiad events, said she found herself “unexpectedly and inexplicably swept off my feet by the Olympics.” The many free events available, from concerts to cultural exhibits and art installations, to ziplining and riding the demonstration streetcar at Granville Island, made this an Olympics that everyone could enjoy.

We aren’t very patriotic at the best of times, and in a country with very high immigration rates, many of us tend to retain allegiance to our birth countries. A common sight at these Olympic Games, as I watched on in women’s hockey, women’s 5000m speed skatng and men’s and women’s team pursuit, was the spectator waving two flags: a Canadian one and the one of their home country. A prominent Tim Horton’s ad during the Olympics featured an African immigrant to Canada buying his wife and children warm clothing for their arrival in Canada. For the most part, Canadians are a tolerant bunch, and the atmosphere at the Olympics was generally one of support of other countries rather than competition. I saw Chinese fans clapping and cheering for the Slovakians women’s hockey team at their quarterfinal game, orange-clad Dutchmen cheering on the Czech speed skaters, and yes, even Canadians cheering on their American rivals. At speed skating in particular, there were cheers each time the skaters reached our section of the Oval, regardless of their nationality.

Hockey fans on the Granville Street

But hockey…well, that’s another thing altogether. There are few issues that Canadians get passionate about. It’s not surprising that the Coke and Tim Horton’s commercials feature hockey, one of the few issues that bind us all together, native-born and immigrant, young and old, men and women. Before and after any Olympic hockey game, the streets downtown were full of fans wearing red and white jerseys, carrying signs and belting out the national anthem.

One of my favourite experiences of the Games was watching both the Canadian men’s hockey quarterfinal game and the women’s gold medal game in the traditional way: in the presence of fellow Canadians at a bar.

Hockey fans at Milestones during the Canada vs. Russia quarterfinal

We arrived a half hour before the game started and snagged one of the few remaining seats with a view of a flat-screen TV. Every penalty, every shot that went in, and every missed shot was met with cheers and gasps from an electric roomful of Canadian hockey fans sporting red and white. The women’s hockey gold made Canada the only nation to have ever won ten Olympic medals in hockey. My dad, who is not a sports fan, called me later and said he never enjoyed himself as much as he did watching that gold medal game.

Canadians had much to celebrate in the second week of the Games. A stellar performance by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead to our first gold medal in figure skating. A truly heartbreaking short skate by Joannie Rochette, mere days after her mother died suddenly in Vancouver, ignited the flame of pride in everyone who watched her skate. Her courage allowed us to win two medals in figure skating for the first time since the 1988 Calgary Olympics. I personally witnessed Clara Hughes, the only athlete in the world to have won multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, capture a bronze medal in the final race of her career. In men’s team pursuit, I saw the Canadians break an Olympic record in the quarterfinal, then break it again in the semifinal; they won the gold medal today in that event. Men’s curling has twice been interrupted by Canadian fans singing O Canada, and with good reason: the team won us our 13th gold medal today.

Although the Winter Olympics generally is not as popular as the summer Games, in my eyes the Winter Games are truly Canadian: we are, Vancouver notwithstanding, a country of snow and ice. We grow up playing road hockey and tobagganing, figure skating and skiing. Only at the Winter Games have Canadian athletes achieved so much, and the patriotism that surrounds our winter athletes is something fierce. As I got ready to fly back to Toronto, our men’s hockey team was playing in the semifinal game against Slovakia, so I caught the last few minutes of the game at the Vancouver Airport. Everyone gathered around the TV screens, airport staff and food vendors alike taking prolonged breaks to watch the intense last four minutes of the game as Canada narrowly avoided defeat by a strong Slovakian team.

As the medals continued to mount in Vancouver, and the most successful 18 hours in Canadian Olympic history led to the most gold medals ever won by a host country, it became difficult to contain my love of my country. As I write this, the men’s hockey team is poised to play the gold medal game tomorrow against their old rivals the Americans. Their win would snag us 14 gold medals. We are positioned in the medal standings among other great northern countries: Norway, Germany, Austria, and Russia. And yes, we achieved our goal of a top-three finish in the medals standings.
A CTV anchor commented that the atmosphere in Vancouver was “like Canada Day in Ottawa…except every day.” Having lived in Ottawa and experienced the intensity and patriotism of that celebration, I agree. Canadians made me proud this Olympic Games, both the athletes and the thousands of fans who filled this normally grey and serious city. It was amazing to have felt the goodwill of spectators from around the globe, and to have been among thousands of fellow Canadians walking the streets of Vancouver in celebration as our athletes achieved so much for their country. I lived in Alaska during 9-11 and the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics held just a few months later. While living in the rival country, I cheered on the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams as they captured gold medals. Given the recency of 9-11, I didn’t feel that I could wear my country’s colours or flag: everyone was treading lightly in those days, and I was living in a very Republican state. This is one reason it was such a thrill to be among my red-and-white-clad brethren, cheering on our athletes on home soil. You can take the girl out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the girl.

Robson Square, redesigned and reopened for the Olympics

Spectators arriving at Aberdeen station, preparing for a 20-minute walk to the Richmond Olympic Oval

After all the media hype and local anti-Olympic sentiment, Vancouver is enjoying a rare opportunity during the 2010 Games. Not only does the city get to experience a real urban vibe as tens of thousands of tourists have flooded the streets, but it’s also experiencing another rare phenomenon: very little car traffic and extra service on transit routes. These changes have created a very different feeling as the city celebrates Canadian and international achievements in sport.

TransLink staff, as well as City of Vancouver staff and the folks at Metro Vancouver have been busy planning transportation alternatives for tourists, spectators, media and athletes for many years, all in preparation for the 16-day Olympic and 10-day Paralympic Games. Some of the big-ticket items are well-known: the Canada Line from downtown to the airport and the Bombardier demonstration streetcar linking Granville Island and the Olympic Village.

Olympic line streetcar at Granville Island

The Canada Line, which was saw ridership of 100,000 per day before the Games, saw 200,000 riders last Sunday. TransLink’s overall ridership has already reached 1.5 million per day: not bad for a region that normally has 1.8 million residents.

But there are also lots of lesser-known initiatives that have gone a long way towards making this a very sustainable Games: increased transit service on routes serving the venues, no parking at most venues, and bike sharing at some venues like the Richmond Olympic Oval.

Free bikes provided by Heineken Holland House at Aberdeen Station

Streets adjacent to most venues were closed to all vehicular traffic, including Wesbrook Mall on the UBC campus, which is hosting women’s hockey at Thunderbird Arena.

Spectators leaving Thunderbird Arena walking two blocks to the bus loop. No parking was provided at the venue.

There are special “Olympic lanes” on city streets dedicated to transit and vehicles transporting athletes, media, and officials. Robson Street was initially closed between Howe and Granville, but this was extended to Bute and Beatty Streets; Granville Street is closed between Smithe and Cordova Streets. The energy of the crowds in these main downtown streets is amazing, and there is a lot of added pedestrian interest, including a lantern display on Granville Street. The number of cars entering the downtown peninsula has dropped 30% since the beginning of the Games on February 12th, while over 4,000 cyclists per day cross the Cambie, Burrard and Granville Bridges into downtown.

In addition to this, Cultural Olympiad concerts and events have been happening all over the region, from Our Lady Peace playing a free concert at Richmond’s O-Zone to a 24-hour outdoor art gallery at the Surrey 2010 Celebration Site. These events were planned to begin in January until the end of the Paralympic Games on March 21, 2010. Because there’s so much going on in each municipality, local residents can actually get involved in the Olympics and its related events without making the trek downtown.

Richmond City Hall, with exhibits and big-screen coverage of the events, at the entrance to the O-Zone

Richmond City Hall at the entrance to the O-Zone, with exhibits and big-screen coverage of the events

Many Vancouverites, anticipating intense crowds and traffic, actually left the city during the Games. This likely means that there are more non-residents than residents in the City of Vancouver at the moment. In addition to this, some workplaces are closed, and UBC and SFU both have a two-week Reading Week to cover the Games period. The absence of this regular commuting traffic has likely contributed to higher transit ridership and much faster travel times. I took the #44 express bus from UBC to downtown on Friday at rush hour, and was at Robson Square in 15 minutes, a trip that normally takes half an hour.

The question is, why can’t we do this year-round? Keep the Olympic lanes as transit-only lanes; decrease parking in the downtown core, along our main streets and at key destinations; and increase transit service. Most locals would love to see pedestrianized zones on Robson and Granville in the core area of downtown. Of course, the vast number of tourists in the city and the energy that comes along with such a major sporting event will not persist past February 28th (Olympics) and March 21, 2010 (Paralympics). It’s been a fantastic 16-day party, truly a defining moment for Vancouver and for Canada.

Robson Street nightlife during the Olympics