If transit were a soft drink, it might adopt the slogan, “Transit: The Choice of a New Generation”. Evidence continues to lend support to the idea that young people in Canada and the US choose to take public transit rather than drive.

In Vancouver, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) reports a significant decline in driver’s licences among 20-24 year olds, from 70% in 2004 to just 55% in 2013. For 25-29 year olds, the rate decreased from 77% in 2004 to 67% in 2013. The only increase in the licensing rate was among older adults.

The greatest declines were seen in the municipalities that are the most urbanized and served by a substantial level of public transit…Burnaby and New Westminster’s proportion declined from 68 per cent to 50 per cent, likely due in part to the increased accessibility to transit following the construction of the Millennium Line. Richmond also saw a similar drop of nearly 20 per cent from 2003. Metro Vancouver’s data shows that the biggest year-to-year drop for both Vancouver and Richmond was in 2009 when the Canada Line opened for service. –Kenneth Chan, VanCity Buzz

A survey released recently by the The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America surveyed 18-30 year olds in ten major US cities found that 4 out of 5 wanted to live in places with a variety of transportation options. More than half (54%) said they would consider moving to another city if it had better options for getting around, and two-thirds said they access to high-quality transportation is one of the top three criteria in deciding where to live next. But transportation mismatch is prevalent in cities like Nashville, where 54% said they would like to live in areas where people have alternative transportation options to the car, but only 6% lived in such areas. In the US, the millenials (those born from 1982-2003) are the largest generation in history, which is why the study focused on this group. Click here for the survey’s topline results.

Interestingly, the travel demands of youth and young adults will be more aligned to those of older adults in the future. Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur of Planners Web reports that 21% of the over-65 population in the US do not drive. Many planners advocate complete streets, transit-oriented development, and volunteer drivers in rural areas in response to the problems faced by an aging population who can no longer drive. So planners interested in providing alternative transportation solutions will be able to develop solutions that work for both the young and the young at heart.

“Canada’s housing challenges are too big and too complex for any single order of government to solve on its own. We believe the government’s commitment in Budget 2013 to evidence-based solutions such as the Housing First approach for homelessness is a promising start, but they need to back it up with real results and expand that action to other areas of our affordable housing problem.” –Gregor Robertson, Vancouver mayor

Along with other big city mayors in Canada, Gregor Robertson announced a new national campaign to create more affordable housing and involving all levels of government to create a long-term housing plan. The Big City Mayor’s Caucus is part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which often advocates a larger role for municipalities in federal issues such as housing.

Although housing affordability remains a major problem in Vancouver, the city has done a considerable amount to address it in recent years, including enabling new affordable rental housing on City-owned land, developing an arms-length Affordable Housing Advisory, establishing a Rent Bank to help renters in crisis through short-term loans, and creating the Rental 100 program which provides incentives for new, 100% rental housing. But of course, there’s only so much municipalities can do–housing experts agree that the federal, provincial and municipal governments need to cooperate to develop a long-term, sustainable funding model for affordable housing.


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).

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!

It’s hard to believe that Jorge Amigo was once on the receiving end of so many cold shoulders from Vancouver women, he may have rivalled About A Boy‘s Will Freeman in his level of cool. Sub-zero. Dry ice. As Frosty as the Snowman.

This January, Amigo wrote a now-famous article in Vancouver Magazine entitled, “Do Vancouver women suck?” in response to Katherine Ashenberg’s “Do Vancouver men suck?” These and other writers (including myself) have noted a distinctly tepid social climate in this city that leads to lonely singles, particularly men of the failure-to-launch type and women of the cold-shoulder type. Outside of the dating scene, it also seems to lead to the formation of cliques and the social exclusion of those of us who weren’t lucky enough to be born and raised in Lotusland (see Jesse Donaldson’s “Three Customs of the West Coast Friend” in The Tyee, April 14th, 2012). After a tremendous response to his VanMag article, Amigo decided to do something about it: he started #bemyamigo, a social club that dares Vancouverites to “chat with strangers and help make this city friendlier.”

Since February, Amigo has held a regular social event every two weeks at The Union Bar (check out the latest event on eventbrite). Participants buy tickets that entitle them to a drink, browse a menu of appetizers created for the event, and chat with twenty or so strangers at a long table. Having found out about tonight’s event fairly last-minute, I decided to check it out.

I spent much of my time chatting with a woman who has just moved here from Dublin for work, a geologist working for a mining company, a musician friend of Jorge’s, and a multilingual woman who recently spent six months in Rome learning Italian. Most of these folks weren’t from Vancouver (which all of us felt was pretty typical) and most had come to the event on their own. Jorge himself was the perfect host, circulating among the participants and chatting with everyone. He was pleased with this evening’s turnout, which was a good mix of men and women (apparently the first event drew 22 women and only 3 men!) The conversations began with what people did for a living and how long they’d been in Vancouver and progressed to insights we’d picked up travelling in different countries and the social faux-pas committed daily on Facebook. Hilarious stories were told, and proto-friendships were forged–when we left, several of us made plans to attend a future #bemyamigo event and keep in touch online.

It’s too early to tell whether this little social experiment will make a difference in Vancouver’s chilly social scene, but several folks at the table seemed to think a critical mass of more sociable types has been reached in this city. While an event like #bemyamigo might terrify an introvert or one accustomed to their own little clique, sitting down with a table full of strangers who were honestly interested in meeting new people was a breath of fresh air in a city where even the weather patterns refuse to budge. Could you do it?

I dare you, Vancouver.

Public participation in planning processes is required by law, but it can be time-consuming, difficult and expensive. This year the City of Vancouver introduced a broader range of public participation tools in their budget planning process, as I detailed in a previous post. The City aimed to educate the public on the cost of services and the challenges in balancing the budget; to measure and understand why any changes in tax tolerance and service priorities; and to gather ideas for identifying cost efficiencies in the budget.

The City produced a Budget Basics booklet available online and distributed it to all city libraries, created a web portal at www.talkvancouver.com, introduced an online budgeting tool, and advertised in local newspapers, on the radio, and on Twitter. A total of 1221 residents and businesses completed the phone or online survey. Although people were also encouraged to comment by email or the City’s 3-1-1- phone services, most chose to do the surveys. A surprising 31% of respondents to the online survey were 25-34 years old; while the response rate for 18-24 year olds was only 7%. Thirty-seven participants used the online budget allocator tool. This is a vast improvement on public meetings on the budget (at a public meeting held this year, only 13 people attended).

The proposed 2012 Operating Budget details the City’s commitment to fund critical programs, increase productivity and make strategic adjustments to programs and services, while increasing property taxes by 2.5%. Several improvements in efficiency have already been made: the City introduced a bylaw adjudication model to deal with unpaid parking tickets quickly, expanded their electronic pay notices to include 97% of City employees, and streamlined sanitation services. The City also increased its utility revenues from sewer, solid waste and water utility rates by 7.9%. In the 2012 Operating Budget, there are increases in the policing and utilities budgets, and small increases to libraries, parks and recreation, and engineering services. The other areas remain the same as in 2011.

There were some other interesting findings for planners. The top three local issues were identified as social (homelessness, affordable housing), transportation (public transit, congestion and bike lanes), and taxation. Several of these issues are federal or provincial responsibilities, illustrating the challenges municipalities face in responding to critical priorities among residents. Crime and personal safety were lower priorities less than ever before; only 10% of residents and 8% of businesses identified this as a major issue. The vast majority of citizens and business were satisfied with city services, but felt that property taxes were too high. However, when asked specifically about the 2012 budget, 80% of residents and 65% of businesses indicated a willingness to accept up to a 3% property tax increase; in fact, most people (81%) were unwilling to reduce city services, preferring a property tax increase or increase in efficiencies instead. Half of homeowners were willing to pay a tax increase of 9% and 59% were willing to pay an increase of 6%, which the report states is “quite typical” (I found this surprising). Among renters, 77% were willing to pay $5 more in rent per month to maintain current service levels. Businesses are far less supportive of these higher tax levels. Some initiatives to lower costs had strong support from the public: using green techniques and less mowing to manage open spaces, offering more city services online rather than in person, and reducing garbage pickup frequency while increasing the ability to recycle food waste.

Planners and planning theorists take note: both residents and businesses were in favour of decreasing the number of public hearings and meetings, reduced enforcement of nuisance and minor City by-laws, and reduced land-use planning as cost saving measures. Other forms of feedback (phone/online surveys, mail-back and email methods) were preferred over public hearings/meetings. This is a sign of the times, and a confirmation of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s comment that town halls and public meetings were the most expensive and least useful engagement methods in their budget planning process last year. I’ve never been a fan of these types of open forums, and I’d love to see more targeted outreach to demographic groups such as youth and young adults (e.g. Facebook surveys, continued advertising of planning processes on Twitter).

The City of Vancouver will hold a public hearing on February 29th to allow citizens to respond the proposed budget, and then deliberate on the Final Budget Report, which will presented March 5th.

In my previous post, I wrote that many Canadians don’t know much about municipal planning processes, the implications of the legal division of powers in Canada, and what this means for service provision in our cities. In this vein, readers might be interested in some examples of municipal efforts at citizen engagement that go beyond the often-uninspired public meeting.

Participatory budgeting originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. It’s driven by core principles such as democracy, equity, community, education, and transparency. Thousands of citizens assemble in Porto Alegre each year to elect delegates to represent each city district, prioritize demands, serve on the Municipal Council of the Budget, and produce a binding municipal budget. Proponents of participatory budgeting say that because people with the greatest needs play a larger role in the decision-making process, spending decisions tend to redistribute resources to communities in need. In Porto Alegre, for example, there has been a marked increase in funding for badly-needed sanitary sewer projects and schools. Participatory budgeting is used in about 140 municipalities in Brazil as well as towns and cities in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, India and Africa. It is used for municipal school, university, and public housing budgets.

The process has also been used in several Canadian municipalities: Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) allows its tenants to participate in decision-making on local, neighbourhood and city-wide spending priorities. TCHC’s participatory budgeting process first took place in 2001, when tenants were asked to help decide how to spend $9 million per year (13.5% of TCHC’s budget); 237 local capital projects were funded. In Guelph, residents allocate a small portion of the City’s budget through the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition. Since 1999, neighbourhood groups have been sharing and redistributing resources for local community projects, including recreation programs, youth centres, and physical improvements to community facilities. In 2005 some 10,000 people participated in the process and 460 events and programs were funded.

In a review of participatory budgeting efforts in Canadian cities, Josh Lerner and Estair Van Wagner outline several challenges for participatory budgeting in Canada: the fact that Canadians are extremely diverse in language and culture, the small scale of these efforts so far, the limited power of citizens in the process, the fact that none of them have fundamentally changed their cities’ political systems or created a more progressive social agenda, and the potential for the process to become co-opted by politicians.

City of Calgary "Our City. Our Budget. Our Future."

Other efforts at participatory processes in budget planning have included the Cities of Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. In each case municipal officials encouraged citizens to get involved in the City’s budget planning. For the 2004 City of Toronto budget, Mayor David Miller initiated the Listening to Toronto consultations. A City Budget Community Workbook was posted on the website and seven public sessions were held. This wasn’t participatory budgeting (participants didn’t help formulate priorities that were then adopted); in a process similar to integrating feedback from public meetings, participants’ ideas were used to guide City Council during the drafting of the budget.

In February 2011, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nehshi opened up the budget planning process to the public through a citywide engagement process. In “Our City. Our Budget. Our Future.” the City aimed to help people feel like they were part of the process, make the budgetary process clearer by simplifying communication from city staff, and gather ideas on the budget. Their online budgeting tool allowed users to see how much each department currently spent, and what an increase or decrease in areas like transportation or safety would look like. The City heard from 24,000 people during this process. Again, citizens’ ideas were considered in drafting the budget, which was adopted in November 2011. The new three-year budget resulted in property tax rate increases of 6.0% in 2012, 5.7% in 2013 and 6.1% in 2014 and included (among other things) additional funding of $1 million for Calgary Transit, a reserve fund of $3.5 million for snow clearing in 2013 and 2014, a $225,000 increase to the Calgary Arts Development Authority.

“We used to do things like open houses and town halls when we had those discussions. And what we learned this time around is that the open houses and the town halls are the most expensive and least successful part of the process.”– Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

A screen shot from the City of Vancouver Budget Allocator

The City of Vancouver followed suit this year, encouraging citizens to get involved in the 2012 budget process. In addition to attending public meetings and completing an online survey on budget priorities, a section of the City’s website lets users to download a primer explaining how the budget works (how the city raises funds, what percentage of taxes goes to pay for utilities, fire and police services, etc.). The interactive tool lets them “be Councillor for a day, see what it costs to run a city.” This simple tool gives you options to remain at the current level of funding or to increase or decrease funding levels in each area. When you’ve finished making your budget, the Budget Allocator tells you whether you have a surplus or a deficit, and how much you would have to raise taxes to cover the increased costs. You can submit your budget, along with the reasons for your choices, directly to city staff: if you’re a local, go to www.talkvancouver.com/Budget 2012 before February 10th to have your say.

In short, there are varying levels of participation in budget processes, from consultation to surveys to participatory budgeting. In addition to various levels of power for the participants, the educational aspects differ as well: one could argue that while Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver have made strides in educating the public on the budgetary process, they stop short of allowing residents to learn how to prioritize spending objectives and vote on them. Nevertheless, Canadians in other municipalities might want to find out how their budget works, when their budget is up for adoption and what the process is for citizen involvement. With so many online and interactive ways to get involved, there seem to be many opportunities to inform and involve communities that may not participate otherwise: young adults, immigrant groups, seniors living in facilities, etc. High school teachers, college and university professor could use the online budgeting tools in civics, planning, political science, or urban studies courses. Immigrant groups could organize online participation at a community event. Residents and health care support workers could help seniors participate. If your municipality doesn’t currently encourage participation in the city budget process, ask your councillor to suggest the idea.

Update: check out the latest national issue of Spacing magazine for integrated approaches to public engagement in Saskatoon, Vancouver, and Halifax (“Speaking with Your City” by Rachel Caroline Derrah).

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].”

In an article in today’s Vancouver Sun (“Seven mayors weigh in–The case for funding public transit”, October 4, 2011), seven regional mayors weighed in on the importance of public transit infrastructure to the Metro Vancouver region: Dianne Watts (Surrey), Peter Fassbender (Langley), Richard Walton (District of North Vancouver), Gregor Robertson (Vancouver), Pamela Goldsmith-Jones (West Vancouver), Greg Moore (Port Coquitlam), and Richard Stewart (Coquitlam). This Friday, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, made up of 22 elected officials from around the region, votes on TransLink’s Moving Forward Supplemental Plan. The proposal includes a 2 cent-per-litre gas tax that will require provincial approval, a new joint long-term funding proposal approved by the Mayor’s Council and the province, and a temporary property tax increase that will cost about $23 per household for 2013-2014. Transit improvements include the Evergreen Line construction, improvements to existing SkyTrain stations, and service improvements in Langley and Surrey. If the plan passes, Minister of Transportation Blair Lekstrom has said that he will introduce legislation this fall enabling the gas tax by April 2012.

The mayors cite increased traffic levels and the 19.6 percent jump in transit ridership from June 2010 to July 2011 (due to transportation mode shifts during the Olympics) as proof that the region is overdue for transit improvements. 2011-2012 is shaping up to be another record year. They also reflect on the vision of previous leaders, who in 1980 struggled with the concept of rapid transit lines but eventually decided in favour of them. Clearly, they see themselves in sync with the region’s early strides towards sustainability.

“We have had the debate. Now we must move from words to deeds. The decision we make on Friday will forge the path Greater Vancouver so badly needs. Passing the 2012 Supplemental Plan is the right decision for Metro Vancouver’s transportation system, economy, and future livability.” –Dianne Watts, Peter Fassbender, Richard Walton, Gregor Robertson, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Greg Moore, and Richard Stewart

However, the municipalities of Burnaby, Richmond, the City of North Vancouver, Delta, and Langley Township have said they will probably vote against the plan. This is surprising considering TransLink’s extensive public consultation during the creation of Moving Forward showed that 80% of those consulted agreed with the proposed improvements and 75% said the Evergreen Line was important in reaching the goals outlined in Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy. It’s also surprising considering Burnaby and Richmond have both been big winners in terms of transit infrastructure: the three existing LRT lines have paid off for them. With municipal elections a mere five weeks away (November 16th), the stakes are high; yet the stakes for the region have never been higher.

Update: The Mayors’ Council voted to support the Moving Forward Plan with 70% support from its 22 members.

A sign in Portland's Pearl District

Stereotypes of urban groups are well-known: hipsters, yuppies, DINKs, soccer moms. Writers exaggerate them for comic effect: we’re all familiar with the suburban family (starting way back with Leave it to Beaver), the glamorous single girls (Sex in the City), and the teen misfits (DegrassiGlee). Urban cultures are also contrasted: in Hot in Cleveland, four L.A. women decide to move to Cleveland when the local men show a lot of interest in them. In real life, there’s practically a cultural divide between the urban lifestyles of Toronto and Vancouver, or New York and L.A.

Portland can be characterized as a West Coast city, with its attention to local food, emphasis on physical activity, and enormous variety of independent retailers. You’ve all seen the video clip by now: a couple of hipsters grill a waitress about just how local their chicken is, and are presented with every minute detail of their dinner’s upbringing, habitat size and even its name. The series Portlandia has become somewhat of a cult classic in its portrayal of overzealous hipster culture: it parodies fixi bikes, facial hair, animal protection, and independent bookstores. My first visit to Portland occurred last week, before I’d seen a single episode of the show. So how do Portlanders measure up to their stereotypes?

Many have written about Portland’s devotion to public transit and urban planning initiatives, including the urban growth boundary adopted in 1976. To the tome of articles written on this topic, I have nothing more to add: I also found travelling in Portland quite easy thanks to the streetcar, which extends to the northwest neighbourhood where I was staying, and the MAX LRT lines. I could walk to the Pearl District, home to many independent shops including the legendary Powell’s Books. But I suspect that I got to know Portland in somewhat of a unique way: through food. Specifically, gluten-free food.

Food cart "pod" downtown

Travelling with dietary restrictions can be brutal, especially if we’re talking about allergies or other life-threatening conditions, as opposed to our militant foodies in Portlandia’s pilot episode. Put a couple of these conditions together and it can be really difficult to find anything to nosh: I vividly recall planning a high school camping trip with a vegetarian, a celiac, and a dairy allergic among our party of six. Now, in Vancouver there’s no shortage of restaurants catering to every dietary need (or people with dietary needs). Recently, my husband and I went to a gluten-free dinner at Whole Foods to learn recipes that he can safely eat. There, we met two women who blog on gluten-free restaurants and products in Vancouver (glutenfree-vancouver.blogspot.com). Based on this experience, we decided to search for a similar website on Portland. And there it was: Gluten Free Portland (www.glutenfreeportland.org). Thanks to their restaurant list and Google maps, we were able to find places all over the city that met my husband’s celiac needs: in fact, we wanted to try the restaurants so much that we actually explored neighbourhoods that we probably wouldn’t have, including the Hawthorne District and the Belmont area.

Local winery

The neighbourhoods are Portland, with main streets full of shops, restaurants, and food carts that have more or less become permanent installations: one coffee cart had an attached seating area with stools and a corrugated plastic roof. There were even “pods” of food carts with four or five vendors in a row. We feasted on fried yucca and quinoa-breaded shrimp, drank hazelnut milk, and tasted the local wines. These folks do, indeed, take their food seriously. One restaurant had a cheese menu as extensive than their wine list, mostly sourced from Oregon dairies.

Within 40 minutes of Portland, wineries share the land with hazelnut orchards, grazing horses and alpacas, corn fields, and dairy farms. I doubt that any of this is an accident: the Portland/Multnomah Food Policy Council runs immigrant farmer workshops, completed an inventory of city-owned land available for urban agriculture, awarded Portland State University $125,000 to initiate its Learning Garden Laboratory, and addressed food security in Lents with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

So is Portland, in fact, Portlandia? Well…yes. At one point, two bearded men in their mid-20s strode towards each other on Belmont, and one said to the other, “Hey man, what it is,” despite the fact that it is not 1971. (My husband and I burst out laughing, as we strode out of yet another gluten-free bakery). The same urban stereotypes can be found in Vancouver, Toronto, London, and Melbourne, but Portlandia writers really know their subject material!