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VANCOUVER, BC, Jul 6, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Judging an inner-city neighbourhood by suburban standards isn’t easy. I am struggling after 30 years of suburban Calgary living to compare it with nearly four years in Vancouver’s Olympic Village.
The contexts are so different. Prairie oysters versus halibut cheeks. Cowboy yin versus kayak yan. Oil versus seawater.
Bottom line: our Calgary neighbourhood ran on cars, was defined by cold winters and brief summers and, when the kids were young, extended family relationships built around Esso Minor Hockey Week and competitive ice skating. We shopped in big box store malls, tried unsuccessfully to avoid McDonalds, and hardly ever bought anything downtown where we worked but never shopped or slept.
By comparison, Vancouver is a pretty girl who is well aware of her beauty. But the new life on offer in the LEED building condos of the inner city’s Olympic Village is not quite completely formed. Strangely, the ‘instant’ stick-built tract houses of Calgary created neighbourhood relationships that seemed stronger initially than those of Vancouver’s inner-city.
In Calgary, at the start of our family’s residency, we met our new neighbours while sodding our first lawns, building our first fences, and walking our first puppies in the nearby parks. We had strong incentives to share tools, help dig each other’s’ post-holes, and make friends across our new fences as we created our streetscape together. At least those bits of it the builders left for us to fashion ourselves.
In Vancouver’s Olympic Village, our first neighbourly relationships took longer to form. We entered a ready-made condo complex with no obvious outside duties besides occasional bouts of window cleaning and deck scrubbing. And these tasks are done privately on individual decks. So we met our neighbours in the elevator, nervously at first. Many spoke English as a second language, and many of the apartments took the better part of several years to find occupants. Even then, many residents were only occasional visitors. The sensation was one of living with tourists in a brand-new condo hotel.
In practice, the first people we met long enough to speak with were gym exercisers like us. The condo has a well-equipped gym, and we began to meet people whose schedules matched our own. Sweating together in the gym somehow made hellos more real in the street below. Over time we also began to realize just who walked to work on the same routes as us, and shopped at our ‘village’ shops. Slowly the face-to-face associations began to build with a small corps of dwellers. We resigned ourselves to the fact that getting to know our Vancouver neighbours would simply take longer.
Last Christmas we had a fire in a condo on our floor (rather unbelievably, candles left unattended next to a Christmas tree), and the shared crisis bonded some of us a bit more. Even those who had been away on the day of the fire could not help but be caught up in the stories of fire sprinkler system mayhem, multi-floor water seepage and the eventual restoration and recovery of walls, paint and carpets. The best part of the stories, however, was the fact that everything worked. The fire was confined to the suite, the sprinklers extinguished it, and no one was hurt.
Last month, just as the condo began to feel like our urban home, and the sense of neighourhood became more one of community, our landlord decided to sell. So we have four months to relocate before our lease terminates. There is a slight chance that another investor will buy the condo, and our rental status can be continued. But we have to face the probable reality of finding a new place to live.
Both of us want to stay in the community. We have seen it slowly blossom from concrete shell to organic home. We are saddened by the prospect of having to leave. Being downtown by the water, being awakened by seagulls screeching each morning, being able to shop for everything we really need close-by, walking to work, and walking to the theatre or Cirque de Soleil (here right now) is a pleasure. It also keeps you fit.
While suburban Calgary was a better community to start with, the inner-city of Vancouver wins you over in time. A good pal maybe put it best when he said, “You don’t know that you’ve been in Calgary too long until you finally move to Vancouver.”
Troy Media syndicated columnist Mike Robinson has been a CEO in Canadian scientific and cultural NGOs for 28 years. Before entering civil society he was a founding member of Petro-Canada’s corporate office of environmental and social affairs.
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