woman sitting alone at bus stop

Absent Presence in Temporary Space

By Jen Holden on August 9, 2016

Are you with me? Hello? Am I standing still enough, tall enough? Do you see me? Here! Am I falling fast enough, far enough down this ever-stretching plain? Why are you here? Who me? I come to where the mad are. So I am just another clamoring fool then, with a petal in my hand. Oh, I don’t want to be among mad people. Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. How do you know I’m mad? You must be said the Cat, or you wouldn’t have come here.

Vancouver, a relatively recent metropolis built upon unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations, has quickly become Canada’s most unaffordable city. The pristine beauty of its surroundings remains a profound and powerful influence on any one of its inhabitants, but the fact remains: the average person is getting squeezed out.

Pundits and politicians are currently placing the blame on a mystical river of Chinese yen flowing through the streets, washing away humble homes. Yet as a city Vancouver has included affordable housing within a lofty framework that integrates holistic approaches to livability issues. The Healthy City Strategy’s thirteen long-term objectives, ranging from early childhood development, local food security, and equitable access to services, to civic participation and living incomes, set a high standard for measuring the wellbeing of the city and its inhabitants. It also demonstrates that city leadership understands the relationship between people, community, and environments.

However, the current discussion about the livability of Vancouver seems to bypass this framework. Of the 40+ articles published by major news outlets over the last two months, only a handful talk about broader community issues such as domestic violence and racial discrimination. The situation is so dire that many doubt their future in the rainy city by the sea.

Will young people stay and bear the temporary burden of an unregulated and unbalanced real-estate market? Will the heart of the city keep beating? With only 46% of the overall population reporting a sense of belonging, on top of growing reports of student homelessness, there is cause for concern.

The National Post and Globe and Mail recently warned that Vancouver’s millennial population is deserting the mainland’s urban core for more affordable areas, threatening a demographic and economic crisis.

But younger generations aren’t leaving Vancouver purely because it strains their already burdened bank accounts; for many it is also because living has become too hard, in too many small ways. The joys are too far and few between in order to bear the nonnegotiable challenges like stagnant incomes and raising rents.

There is much more that makes a city truly livable than putting a roof over your head, clothes on your back, or food in your belly. Can you get from place to place with ease? Can you call that place livable if you repeatedly find yourself fearful of sitting on a bus or waiting for a train? Is that what our cities have settled for?

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