In what is possibly the biggest municipal story this year, Toronto mayor Rob Ford will be removed from office by December 14th–two weeks from now. Over a measly $3,150, which Ford himself referred to as “an insignificant sum”, the mayor of Canada’s largest city has been ordered out of office. Justice Charles Hackland issued the verdict: that Ford had contravened the City of Toronto Code of Conduct in using city resources (including letters sent using official letterheads) to raise money for his football foundation. Even though Ford refused to reimburse the money, as recommended by the Integrity Commissioner and City Council, this alone was not enough to topple him from office. The crux of the matter was that in any member of council faced with a violation of the Code of Conduct is disqualified from speaking or voting on the matter when it is discussed at council, since council has the right to levy a financial sanction. However, Ford voted on the issue at a February 7, 2012 council meeting. This puts him in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, for which the penalty is immediate removal from office. The judge declared that Ford’s seat is now vacant, but he suspended the operation of his declaration for 14 days to allow the city to make the necessary administrative changes. This leaves Ford 14 days to file an appeal, which he is certain to do (“Rob Ford’s appeal will be filed ‘in the next couple of days'”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012).

While many feel that Ford “got what he deserved”, Rosie DiManno writes that it may have been better if Ford had lost in a re-election, rather than the courts (“Little to celebrate in way Ford got the boot”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012). She feels that Ford’s supporters will reinforce efforts to have him re-elected. Adam Goldenberg agrees (“Rob Ford lost the batle, not the war”, Ottawa Citizen, November 26, 2012), saying that Ford won the mayoral race as an outsider, and the ruling makes him an outsider once more. It certainly puts Toronto into uncharted territory as a rush of candidates prepares to run for mayor in a by-election. But the mayor of the country’s largest city has a major impact: Justice Hackland wrote that such an influential mayor has first and foremost a responsibility to act with integrity; news of Ford’s removal from office trended on Twitter around the world on Monday. And it wasn’t the first time Ford’s opponents have resorted to the letter of the law in exposing the man’s errors: just a few short months ago, an emergency council vote was held following the issuance of a legal opinion on the matter of Ford’s cancellation of the Transit City plan.

As for Ford, as he put it,”This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll do anything in their power to.” We didn’t hear much about the “right wing” supporting him in his successful bid for mayor, and we rarely heard Ford describe himself as a right-wing politician. Rather, his campaign promise to “trim the fat from city hall” fell flat, and the fiscal conservative finds himself in the ironic position of being removed from office over a few thousand dollars. Adam Goldenberg of the Ottawa Citizen characterizes Justice Hackland’s decision as “a model of judicial modesty, which conservatives like Ford are supposed to love.”

Several writers have addressed the difficulties in governing Canada’s largest city; undoubtedly councillors face some major challenges in the weeks ahead (“Toronto councillors critical of Rob Ford’s defiance”, CBC News, November 27, 2012). In “What kind of mayor does Toronto need?” Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume says that the city needs a mayor that understands transportation solutions, who can lead other Canadian cities towards more equitable fiscal arrangements for cities, who will celebrate the city’s diversity, and who will lead it towards planning for climate change. It needs a mayor who understands rules and is able to abide by them, but can unite people from polarizing viewpoints and make compromises.

“Toronto is a hugely complicated, even contradictory, organism, beyond the control of any one person or institution.” –Christopher Hume, Toronto Star, November 28, 2012

Ford will be absent while Toronto scrambles for a new mayor (“Rob Ford out: Mayor can’t run in by-election, city lawyer says”, Toronto Star, November 27, 2012), but nothing will stop him from running again in 2014.

Update: Ford appealed Hackland’s decision and won on January 25, 2013.

Zwarte Pieten arriving from Spain

Sinterklaas arrived in Amsterdam today, November 18th–not coincidentally, the same day as the Santa Claus Parade in many Canadian cities. An estimated 300,000 children line the canals and streets of Amsterdam to greet Sinterklaas as he arrives by steamboat with his helpers, the Zwarte Pieten. The arrival of Sinterklaas (intoch van Sinterklaas) has been celebrated in Amsterdam since 1934 and transmitted on live TV since 1952. The Dutch maintain a separation between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus, who they call Kerstman (the Christmas Man).

In the Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas lives in Spain (where the remains of the actual St. Nicholas lie). In mid-October, he leaves Spain by steamboat and arrives in the Netherlands, in a different Dutch city each year, then travels throughout the country. This year he arrived in Roermond, in the southern province of Limburg. While he stays in town, he’s considered the most important person in town–even more than the town’s mayor. His arrival also starts the traditional Christmas shopping season, which used to go up until December 6th, St. Nicholas Day. On the eve of the 6th, children leave out carrots by their wooden shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse, since he travels from house to house delivering presents on a white horse.

Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain

The Zwarte Pieten, the hundreds of Moorish helpers who work for Sinterklaas, deliver the presents by sliding down each chimney (the Zwarte Pieten also traditionally had the dubious job of catching naughty children and stuffing them into burlap sacks). Traditionally, the beautifully-wrapped present would be accompanied by a funny poem describing the recipient, written by Sinterklaas. It would be opened on December 6th. Children’s shoes would be filled with marzipan and other treats.

The tradition of Sinterklaas was brought to the US by Dutch immigrants, where the tradition of the Zwarte Pieten was presumably changed to elves. The Zwarte Piet controversy can be traced to Dutch colonial times: according to folklore, Sinterklaas had a Moorish servant boy named Zwarte Piet. During WWII, Canadian soldiers who liberated the Netherlands noticed the joy that the tradition of Zwarte Piet gave to the local children during the wartime years, and held a Zwarte Pieten party with many of the characters. Today, the intoch van Sinterklaas features over 700 Zwarte Pieten. The Dutch have tried to dispel the obvious racial overtones by rewriting the story to suggest that the Zwarte Pieten are not people of African descent, but are merely dirty from sliding down chimneys all night. (Just last year, the Dutch community celebrating Sinterklaas’ arrival in Vancouver with the Zwarte Pieten resulted in opposition by the African-Canadian community). The controversy hasn’t dimmed the excitement of the local children: when I attended this year’s intoch, the children cried out for Piet, not Sinterklaas, and many sported Zwarte Piet medieval costumes and hats. Sinterklaas is dressed as a priest with red robes, bishop’s hat, and gold mitre. The Pieten hand out pounds of candy and pepernoten, bite-sized ginger cookies. Large taai-taai, shaped as Sinterklass, can also be found in local shops.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piete on wrapping paper

It’s interesting to see the progression of St. Nicholas from a third-century Greek bishop known for generosity and kindness to children, to stories around the world of his protection of the poor and of sailors going away to sea. In cities from Montreal to Amsterdam, the church of St. Nicholas stands at the main port of the city as a symbol of protection at sea. In Greece, the coastline features many small white chapels dedicated to St. Nicholas. After WWII, American soldiers dressed up as Santa Claus to give out toys to children in war-torn England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and later Germany and Japan. In the Netherlands, during the weeks leading up to December 6th, kids can watch the Zwarte Pieten news on TV to see what’s going on with Sinterklaas. In Canada of course, we all await Santa’s arrival from the North Pole, where he makes toys for good boys and girls with the help of his elves. Dutch immigrants to Canada, as well other ethnocultural groups such as Greeks and Ukrainians, have helped shaped our Santa Claus tradition, which includes a parade in mid-November.

We’ve all read or heard about crumbling overpasses in Montreal, overburdened water treatment plants in Vancouver, and aging highways in Toronto. Inevitably, the physical components of our cities will face a new challenge in the coming decades: climate change adaptation.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities will release a set of recommendations today, asking the federal government for long-term investment in municipal infrastructure. FCM is part of the Municipal Infrastructure Forum launched earlier this year, which includes governments like the City of Toronto and the City of Ottawa, and business leaders such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Insurance Board of Canada. Members of the Forum announced principles for a new federal long-term infrastructure plan in Toronto on November 8, 2012. FCM conducted a study of 123 municipalities in 2009-2010 and reported on them in the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card. A major focus then was the declining quality of wastewater infrastructure, with over 40% of wastewater plants, pumping stations and storage tanks in “fair” to “very poor” conditions. Half of the roads surveyed fell below the rating of “good”. The report also found that many municipalities lack the capacity to assess the state of their infrastructure: they have limited data on their wastewater treatment plants or on buried infrastructure such as distribution pipes, some don’t have regular condition-assessment programs for their roads or a capacity/demand assessment process. They are also limited by financial and staffing constraints. But climate change is already beginning to take its toll: today, the forum notes that one in four wastewater plants needs major upgrades to meet federal regulations, storm events that used to occur every 100 years now happen every 20 years, and the insurance industry pays out more than $1 billion per year in sewage back-up claims. Stable, long-term funding will be more cost effective than replacement and will contribute to cities’ resiliency as the climate becomes more unstable.

FCM is encouraging municipalities to engage in the discussion on municipal infrastructure: a growing list of communities has already passed resolutions endorsing Target 2014, calling on the federal government to ensure that a new infrastructure plan is in place before the current federal programs (worth two billion dollars per year) expire in 2014.

Many congratulations to my colleague and co-conspiritor at SCARP, Dr. Cornelia Sussmann. Cornelia finished her Ph.D. this August, unfortunately (for me!) just after my move to Amsterdam. She has been a friend, mentor, collaborator and valuable sounding board before, during, and after my Ph.D. years at SCARP.

Dr. Sussmann’s dissertation, Towards the Sustainable City: Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek, tells the compelling story of sustainable planning initiatives in a city that tops the “most livable” lists each year. Through in-depth interviews and analysis of the Southeast False Creek project goals and targets, she showed that only minimal reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and ecological footprint were achieved–quite an underachievement for a LEED-ND Platinum-rated project that won a UN Livability award. However, the City of Vancouver may have achieved important political, bureaucratic, industry and public support with this “stepping stone” project. After all, in the past three years the City has embarked on The Greenest City initiative, a comprehensive and broad-based attempt to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. While the technical achievements of Southeast False Creek won’t impress our Professor Emeritus Dr. Bill Rees, they illustrate the messy collision of planning politics, construction and development paradigms.

Dr. Sussmann is currently working as a post-doctoral fellow at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in a continuing collaboration with SCARP alumni Dr. Meidad Kissinger (Ben-Gurion University).

The researchers at the Center for Neighbourhood Technology and the Center for Housing Policy have recently added to their impressive body of work on the combined costs of housing and transportation. In Losing Ground: The Struggle of Moderate Income Households to Afford the Rising Costs of Housing and Transportation, CNT and CHP have again shown why it is often more affordable overall to live in cities that are characterized as having expensive housing.

While the combined costs of housing and transportation rose in the largest 25 American municipalities, including the transportation costs in their measure of affordability has resulted in some interesting results: while Houston was the 8th most affordable city for housing, once transportation costs were considered, it dropped to 17th place. This applies to other cities like Miami, Tampa, Riverside, CA, and Los Angeles. Washington, D.C., which ranked dead last for housing affordability, had the lowest combined housing and transportation costs; following it were Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis and Boston. The report delves into much more detail on medium- and low-income households.

As in their other studies, CNT and CHP recommend the preservation of affordable and rental housing near job centres and transit stations, regulatory reforms like location-efficient mortgages, incentives or requirements to include affordable housing in areas with good transit access, mechanisms to ensure long-term affordability, and improvements to transit service and walkability in compact areas where housing costs are low.

Settling into The Netherlands has been full of unexpected encounters and insights: waiting in interminable lines, adjusting to hordes of bikes and learning new social cues. On these and many other issues of integration, I can’t provide more valuable (or hilarious) insights than the writers of The Undutchables (Colin White and Laurie Brouke), the Holland Handbook (XPat Media) and many others who have written on this topic. However, I do feel qualified to report on one aspect of integration: the language.

The knee-jerk reaction to our difficulties with the language has been the same from both Dutch and non-Dutch alike:  “Everyone speaks English in The Netherlands–you don’t need to learn Dutch.” Yes, it’s true that most people speak at least a little English and many are quite fluent. I would say that most of the ex-pats I know have landed in jobs with very international staff, and English is indeed the lingua franca. However, that has not been our experience. At my job, people don’t seem to enjoy speaking in their second (or third or fourth) language for the entire day. While most of my co-workers speak quite good English, they regularly converse in Dutch at lunch or any other time when they are speaking to a native of their own country. The University of Amsterdam offers almost half of its degrees in English, but lectures, newsletters and events are often in Dutch. My husband has been looking for work as a gardener, and all the job postings are in Dutch–even the Netherlands branch of the International Association of Arboriculture (of which he is a member) advised him to learn Dutch. One woman who called him this week about a job sadly informed him that although his resume was nice, they really needed someone who could speak Dutch fluently.

Important paperwork, such as immigration papers, bank statements, and health insurance are also in Dutch. And good luck calling your gas company or cell phone provider–their automated services are all in Dutch, so you can’t even choose which option you need. If you take the tram or train, all the stops are announced in Dutch. And you will run into lots of people in shops, particularly those who immigrated here from a non-English-speaking country, who have naturally put their energies into learning Dutch over English. In many Amsterdam neighbourhoods with Turkish bakeries, Indonesian restaurants and Chinese groceries, you will encounter shopkeepers who don’t speak a word of English. And to be honest, I’ve always felt (as a second-generation immigrant in Canada) that learning the native language is necessary for integration.

So it was that, about a month after our arrival here, we decided that we needed to learn Dutch. This provoked the predicted response: it’s not necessary, surely you aren’t having that much trouble without it, etc. It also spurred commentary, from practical to laughable, on the best course to learn the language. The national government in The Netherlands  requires a certain level of Dutch as a condition of permanent residence and citizenship, and courses are provided for this purpose. There are also courses at the University of Amsterdam, the Volksuniversiteit, and of course at schools for travellers like Berlitz. Without fail, my co-workers who had taken a Dutch course–any Dutch course–told me how useless it was. The teacher didn’t know what they were doing, the homework was excessive, they didn’t learn anything, or the course “totally messed up what little Dutch I already knew.” The twice-a-week classes were deemed too difficult; the once-a-week classes wouldn’t teach enough. It was too hard to learn Dutch because everyone just switched to English. Their cumulative advice was not to take a course at all, but to “just find a Dutch person to talk to every week for an hour.” With memories of Elizabeth Gilbert’s gorgeous Italian Tandem Exchange Partner (Eat, Pray, Love), I wondered how I would find someone who would be willing to talk Dutch to me, in a monologue, without me understanding or contributing a response, week after week. After all, one can’t begin from nothing.

We enrolled at the Volksuniversiteit. In the first week of our course we learned the useful phrases, I am Steve Smith, I come from England, and I speak English–that is, the entire class learned how to say these things about themselves. The next day my Dutch co-workers were duly impressed that I could say, Ik ben Canadese. Ik spreek Engels en Frans. In the second week we learned pronouns, direct objects and a number of words for questions (how, who, which, etc.) This proved much more difficult because English has no deferential treatment: there’s no formal you like the vous in French and the u in Dutch. We have no genders: it’s the dog and also the house. So as our Dutch teacher commented, “The discussion on whether to use de versus het will go on forever.”

It was also difficult because–it pains me to admit this–I never learned English grammar at school. So when our teacher explained to us that we use the direct object rather than the indirect, I was transported back in time to my eighth-grade French class, when the teacher discovered that we didn’t understand this concept in English either! (Things got worse a couple of years later when we learned the conditional verbs in French, upon which our exasperated teacher exclaimed, “How can you not know what a dependent clause is?”) Sadly for you linguists out there, I am living proof that it is possible to finish school–even three degrees–without knowing this crucial information.

Tonight is week 3 and we have learned numbers and letters (useful when getting change and spelling your achternaam). But I’m pleased to say I can already ask for what I want at the kaashuis and understand the route numbers on the tram. The Dutch subtitles on TV and the ticket vending machines at the train station are almost legible to me at this point. This morning I spotted a billboard from the tram, and realized that I could read every single word of it. But I specialize in the detection of overall patterns–details like the meanings of conjunctions escape me. And it will likely take me at least a year to be able to hork up the Dutch g in gracht and morgen. So I’ll stick it out for a course or two, trying to memorize word lists and irregular verbs like zijn: as our teacher points out, the verb “to be” is irregular in every language. Like the others in the Volkuniversiteit Basis I course I’m learning Dutch because, despite all advice to the contrary, I need to. It makes my life easier.


Tree canopy on a Marpole residential street. The neighbourhood has a variety of commercial, industrial and residential land uses.

This year the City of Vancouver will be starting community plans for three neighbourhoods: Marpole, the West End and Grandview-Woodlands. In addition to the usual open houses and community meetings, the City has been using its new Public Engagement Division (within its Communications Department) in innovative outreach. This past weekend the City, local residents and designers coordinated walking tours of the three neighbourhoods as part of Jane’s Walk. The Marpole walk was hosted by Margot Long, landscape architect and urban designer, and local resident Jo-Anne Pringle. Lil Ronalds, the City planner working on the Marpole plan, and City Councillors Heather Deal and George Affleck also attended. For more info, check out my article “Get with the plan (Marpole edition!)” for Spacing Vancouver; others will be writing upcoming articles about the West End and Grandview-Woodlands walks, so stay tuned!

After weeks of predicting a tight race in Alberta’s provincial election, pollsters are scratching their heads. Articles such as “Wildrose on track for majority with a week to go in Alberta” (The Globe and Mail, April 18th) were widespread just a few days ago. Yet somehow, Premier Alison Redford led her Progressive Conservative party to its 12th consecutive majority government with 62 seats, while Danielle Smith’s upstart Wildrose Party has become the Official Opposition party with 17 seats. The popular vote was closer: Redford captured 44% of the popular vote and Smith 34.5%. So what happened in the battle of conservatives?

Premier Alison Redford. Photo: John Lehmann, The Globe and Mail

Some sources report that strategic voting played a major role: those who may have voted Liberal or NDP may have voted PC to keep Wildrose from power. Albertans seem to have shown a healthy skepticism for the Wildrose party, particularly issues of gay rights and racism raised by two Wildrose candidates (Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech, neither of whom was elected). Other centrist and left voters may have disapproved of the party’s stance on the fundamental right to refuse a medical service–such as abortion–based on religious objections, and their refutation of climate change. But another interesting factor has emerged: the polls weren’t really that accurate. Only a few polls, such as that by Leger Marketing, asked voters whether they were undecided: they found that up to one-fifth of voters were undecided in the final week of the campaign. Despite technological advances, polling has not become more precise, and the margins of error are significant: lest we forget, not a single poll predicted Stephen Harper’s majority government in last year’s federal election.

Wildrose also had poor support in Alberta’s cities. PC support was strong in Edmonton and Calgary: the province’s two largest cities hold half of its seats, 44 in total. In Calgary, the Wildrose party took only 3 of 25 ridings while in Edmonton Wildrose failed to win a single one. Lethbridge, Red Deer, and Fort McMurray were also overwhelmingly PC. It seems that urban Albertans preferred Redford’s Joe Clark-style conservatism, while many rural residents considered the PCs too centrist. But many journalists are saying that the values, views and opinions of Alberta voters may have been too complex to capture using polls.

Alberta’s election pitting Redford and Smith against each other would have had a historic result no matter who won. Only nine women in Canadian history have ever served as provincial/territorial premier: five were elected leader of their party while it was in power, and four were elected premier in a general election. Redford became premier in October when she was elected leader of the party, and this win makes her the first female premier elected in Alberta. BC’s Christy Clark is in a similar position: she became premier after Gordon Campbell resigned in 2010 and narrowly won his seat in a by-election. If she were to win the general election next May, she would become the province’s first elected female premier (Rita Johnson briefly held the position of premier in 1991 after Bill Vander Zalm resigned and she was elected leader of the Social Credit Party, but she was defeated in the 1991 BC election). With this win, Redford also marks a second milestone: the PCs will become the longest-standing provincial government in Canadian history by the end of this term.

Ever wondered about women’s role in housing trends in Canadian cities? Check out The rise of women’s role in society: Impacts on housing and communities. In this paper based on Census data, researcher Luis Rodruiguez compares women’s housing patterns across six generations:

  • Pre-1922 (born before 1922, aged 90+ in 2011)
  • Baby Boomers’ Parents Generation (born 1922-1938, aged 73-89 in 2011)
  • Second World War Generation (born 1939-1945, aged 66-72 in 2011)
  • Baby-Boom Generation (born 1946-1965, aged 46-65 in 2011)
  • Baby-Bust Generation (born 1966-1974, aged 37-45 in 2011)
  • Echo Generation (born 1975-1995, aged 16-36 in 2011)

    Chart 1 from the report, a comparison of housing tenure across the generations

Rodriguez tends to focus on housing tenure and type; he is after all a retired senior researcher from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). And these trends are interesting, for example the much higher rental rate among the oldest and youngest generations of women, and the fact that homeownership among women is approaching parity with men. The older generations’ desire to age in place will place a demand on renovations and community services that can meet their needs (including public transit and walking facilities), and some may move to condos or apartments if they can no longer remain in their homes. Those of the Bust and Echo Generations tend to want low-maintenance housing due to professional and family time constraints, and are less inclined to choose larger single-family homes.

However, he doesn’t address recent trends such as the tendency of the Baby-Bust and Echo generations to choose housing that is close to public transit rather than car-dependent locations; fitting as they have much higher rates of public transit use than older generations. He touches on this and the desire for mixed-used residential options in the section on the Echo Generation, but I believe this extends to the Baby Busters as well. These generations also will have significantly bleaker employment prospects despite having higher educational attainment, and will receive less support from government sources such as the Canada Pension Plan by virtue of the economic trends that have followed them. This will likely have a significant effect on housing tenure, particularly extending the period of renting and delaying home ownership, and housing type (more condos and townhouses, fewer detached houses). This will be even more apparent among those living in Canada’s largest CMAs where housing is less affordable. Nevertheless, the paper offers an interesting perspective on generational trends and preferences among women in Canada.

If anyone needs proof that Vancouver is in a class of its own (our placement on the Most Liveable Cities and Worst Dressed Cities lists notwithstanding), here it is. Last May, Vanessa Richmond wrote an article in The Tyee which posed the question, “What the heck is wrong with men in Vancouver?” Considering the interest spurred by my blog post on Richmond’s article, I thought readers might enjoy Vancouver Magazine‘s dip in the tepid social waters of Shangri-La.

Katherine Ashenburg’s “Do Vancouver men suck?” (published on that most optimistic of dates, January 1, 2012) tears apart the West Coast male, citing passivity, lack of career motivation, over-attention to fitness activities like the Grouse Grind, and teenage fashion sense among the city’s singles. (To be fair, Vancouver’s third-place finish on the worst-dressed cities list can be attributed as much to women as men: Lululemon yoga pants are as common as the fleece-and-hiking-boots combo in this city.) Ashenburg writes, “The Grind is indeed a metaphor for the single life in Vancouver–daunting, strenuous, semi-natural, and so not romantic.”

As many readers commented, Vancouver men might be less likely to approach women, flirt with them, or assist them with daily activities like carrying heavy packages…but Vancouver women are also notoriously cold, treating harmless social advances as acts of harrassment. Ashenburg’s article opened with the tableau of a group of women bitching about the crappiness of men in this city, illustrating the unapproachable social characteristics that seem to evoke bitterness in the males of the species. One commenter, fedupvancouverguy, pointed out the mismatch between the overly-materialistic women portrayed in the article, who refuse to look past the scruffy, laid-back exterior that is the norm in a city where relentless pursuit of money is not the end goal: “The guys dressed in jeans and scuffed shoes sitting at the longbar at Joeys at 2 pm on a Tuesday might be losers, but there’s just as good a chance that they’re mining-industry guys discussing yet another deal to sell their find or project to a bigger firm for big, big money. Welcome to Vancouver.”

Whether or not readers agree with Ashenburg’s portrayal of the masculine, responses to the article consistently point out the social differences between Vancouver and international cities, notably a painfully strained cultural norm where cliquey behaviour and closed responses make it clear that your attempts at friendliness are going nowhere. VanMag‘s editors published one reader response to Ashenburg’s article: Jorge Amigo’s “Do Vancouver women suck?” (January 9, 2012) Amigo cites the numerous attempts he’s made at conversation with women over the past five years. Whether on the bus, the beach, the park, Vancouver women have returned his friendly comments with panic, coldness, and even outright rudeness. Numerous responses confirmed his suspicions: Vancouver women find random friendliness threatening, because inevitably they’ve been approached/trapped in weird conversations/followed home/groped by men they’ve met in public settings. However, what is interesting is that again, nobody is questioning that this is the norm in Vancouver. Are female residents of other cities, like Toronto, New York, or London, any less likely to have experienced random creepiness? Having lived in many different cities, I’d say that women’s fear of being approached by strange men is pretty universal. But somehow in these other cities, men and women flirt, ask each other out, and date…and the crux of Richmond’s, Ashenburg’s and Amigo’s articles is that, outside of the random creepy advances that exist in every city around the world, normal conversation and friendliness between the sexes are much more constrained in Vancouver. This applies to people trying to make friends here as well: numerous responses highlighted the cliquey behaviour of those who were born and raised here, already have their group of friends, and don’t want to add any outsiders to their close-knit group.

In a city renowned for its banal social scene and steeped in social media, have men and women forgotten how to actually talk to each other? If this weren’t the case, dating and relationship coach Ronald Lee would have no clients. But there is hope in another cliché: according to Amigo, the only places women let down their guard a little is in the ubiquitous coffee shop. There, a woman might “temporarily defrost her Vancouver ice-wall” and “respond normally when you ask to borrow a chair, offer a friendly nod when you comment on the amazingness of the shoes she’s wearing, poke fun at your accent, and appreciate your healthy banter.” While it seems to be acknowledged that there’s something in the water out west that kills mojo, more efforts at friendliness would seem to be the solution. As one of Ashenburg’s female interview subjects stated about the single scene in Vancouver, “Men need to take more risks and women need to shut up [about how crap men are].”