Vancouver a world in a city
It was a poignant homecoming. It has been over three years since I last visited Vancouver, “the big smoke”, the grand old lady who, despite our half-century-long relationship, still manages to surprise me. She’s had an expensive facelift recently, with multi-billion dollar monorails and Olympic venues complimenting the forest of new high rises which sprout up with astonishing speed. But the makeover only serves to highlight the wrinkles Vancouver can’t hide. The homeless, the addicted, the mentally troubled and the stressed-out masses who run faster and faster just to remain stationary.
…Lower Manhattan and Vancouver’s downtown peninsula share a problem that most North American cities would love to have – too much interest in new downtown housing. [But] it is important to look beyond the current housing bubble to ask whether the wholesale exchange of offices for condos is in the long-term interests of the economic health, even the urbanity and livability of these two cities.”
Vancouver ... doesn’t have another commercial core even while it wipes out the one it had in the name of developing a densely populated urbanist paradise (and we all know “paradise” is just another word for “too much of a good thing”).
There is a reason why Vancouver is called “a world within a city”. Speak to any representative spectrum of people and you feel like you are watching a foreign travelogue. Especially on the gritty east side, where I grew up. I earned my degree in cross-cultural relations at school, at work and in the neighbourhoods I lived in. These were my people, the ones I still feel most comfortable with. The Portugese, the Italians, the Greeks, the East Europeans, the Chinese. Subtract their accent and their cuisine, and they are guys just like me. Their language deficits actually facilitated a deeper communication-- while Anglo-Canadians can find the words to obfuscate and beat around the bush, those with rudimentary English tend to be direct and blunt, employing expressive body language to fill in the gaps and emphasize their points. Our cultural differences were overshadowed by our common class affiliation, and on the picket line, we belonged to the same tribe. When I spend a day in East Vancouver, I feel like a man released from solitary confinement and given a day pass. Finally I get to speak to people with blood in their veins, not the Borg units in my artsy-fartsy soft-green haven who robotically regurgitate CBC-speak and live on the spoon-fed filtered information of Sierra Club newsletters. (God help them if their Mother Ship---CBC Pravda---went down and their umbilical cord was severed----the solitude of independent thought would fatally traumatize them. Imagine them having passed through a gauntlet of PC courses at college or university that screen out original or unorthodox thinking only to be suddenly left to think for themselves. Or worse yet, having to resort to candour.)
The things that immigrants say that ethnic leaders don’t
Each Vancouverite, it seems, is a library, and those from abroad consist of many volumes. I met several who had much to tell. Of the five people at the hotel desk in Richmond, four were of Chinese origin and one South Asian. The fast food outlets in Burnaby were the same, and half the tellers in my old bank branch likewise. I took every opportunity to speak with these individuals, to hear their story. One young man revealed that he had left Hong Kong some six years ago, and found life here marginally less frenetic than the city he left. The bank guard, a gentleman from India, told me how he struggled to provide for his family on the meagre salary his position afforded, and that his efforts to organize a union met with intimidation and threats of dismissal from the Royal Bank, the one that has apparently bought David Suzuki’s silence on immigrant-driven population growth. He told me how Vancouver had become progressively more congested, expensive and crime-ridden in the twenty years that he had lived here. Then I spoke at length with a shopkeeper from Iran, who once lectured in electronics at a prestigious London university, but found the promise of professional employment in Canada hollow. He made a point that most Canadians do not appreciate. While he has made it his mission to impress upon his sons that Canada and only Canada is their home and nation, he maintained that immigrants are too damn exhausted trying to establish themselves to learn much about the politics and culture of this country. Too often it is their children who act the only conduits to mainstream culture. It took him five years to get on his feet, and like most of us, his energy is too consumed fighting to survive debt and dispossession to be spent on any political or community activity. His take on multiculturalism was similar to mine. Exotic cuisines and splendid costumes do not disguise its motive: to provide a fig-leaf for the corporate goal of driving down labour costs by displacing relatively expensive indigenous workers with cheaper imported ones. “That is what immigration has always been about”, he declared in an accent that blended Farsi with a mid-Atlantic hybrid of Canadian and Geordie English.
Indebted consumers too busy and exhausted to jump off the treadmill
Mass immigration has also been about expanding the number of consumers. Especially the consumers of real estate. The shift away from “traditional” European sources was convenient for the big banks, who have set up shop in South Asian to cultivate customer loyalty before the customers emigrated to Canada. Financial institutions see the growing Asian demographic as superior savers and avid clients for hefty mortgages. Moreover, workers recruited from Europe had the bad habit of organizing unions or participating in them with vigour. Workers from undeveloped societies were more compliant. Their focus was on their extended families, not their civic responsibilities, and working at a minimum wage can suffice for someone who pools his income with a large extended family. A tenuous foothold in a fast food outlet or driving a taxi is seen an acceptable stepping stone on the road to eventual prosperity. Trouble is, while it once took five years for an average immigrant to earn the income enjoyed by the average Canadian, it takes ten years now. According to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, 38% of Vancouverites fail to achieve the wage level deemed necessary to eke out a semi-decent living. Coincidentally, 38% of Vancouverites are immigrants. Some are wealthy, but most are not.
Photo: Uknown homeless female Canadian citizen & Vancouver street resident.
Actions have recently been taken by the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee against the various levels of Government (provincial:BC Liberals & civic:Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA)).Some media outlets and political pundits have gone so far as calling the APC's protests borderline terrorism.This is somewhat laughable.In fact I laud those people that take a stand against the proverbial 21st century Goliath,that being Government & Bureaucracy.
All that I know about this protest is that certain promises & prerequisites for staging the 2010 Winter Olympics have not been met or acknowledged (ie.low income & affordable housing).It could also be said that Vancouver has become a haven for construction of luxury apartment towers,whereas affordable housing has become non-existent.As of May,2007 these unfulfilled promises have given substantial weight for the protesters cause.
Posted by VancouverBlueEyedGuero at
As labour historian Mark Lehrer of Simon Fraser University recently noted, over the last 35 years Canadians have had to work much longer hours for much less in real wages. The major inflationary factor has been the cost of housing. The cost of rents, mortgages and property taxes consume at least 40% of the average disposable income. The rising cost of living has driven married women into the workforce and put all of us on a treadmill. Feminists call this process "women's liberation", but in fact it has resulted in our collective, gender-neutral enslavement. Immigrants, 80% of whom are unskilled from "non-traditional" sources, and half of whom are functionally illiterate in both English and French, must run on this treadmill at an even faster pace for a longer time. Ironically, it has been immigrant-driven population growth that has inflated the housing costs which have forced them into a lifestyle of chronic workaholics, cloying to the company of other émigrés and relatives for mutual support. For this sin, they often reviled for their failure to “fit in”.
Immigrants want to assimilate, but are denied the time to do so
We have imported a slave labour class and condemned them for their inability or unwillingness to assimilate. But the truth is, the vast majority of these immigrants want to assimilate. They want to become Canadians and fully participate in our society---but their circumstances do not allow them to do so. Ethnic enclaves should be regarded more as life rafts than defiant fortresses for those who would resist acculturation to Canadian values. They are a testimony to economic apartheid, not divided loyalties. Scan the footage of the 2010 Winter Games, and you will notice that a great many of the spectators who waved Maple Leaf flags were New Canadians.
”Calif”, who came from Somalia some two decades ago, is a case in point. He virtually lives in his taxi, fighting Vancouver traffic all day and night in order to support his son, whose passion for our Canadian fixation, ice hockey, formed much of his conversation. His gratitude for my interest was witnessed by his refusal to accept payment for the ride. It would be perverse to regard him as an agent of our cultural marginalization and displacement rather than what he is---a victim of economically imposed isolation. He is a pawn, not a colonist. Meanwhile, ethnic power-brokers, the self-appointed advocates of people like him, suck from the tit of government grants and appointments advancing a cause----cultural sovereignty and fragmentation---which immigrants themselves do not want. Calif is a passenger from an African shipwreck who boarded a Canadian lifeboat that, despite its apparent size, is overloaded. He cannot be made a scapegoat for our misguided policy. Eighty percent of immigrants and most asylum-seekers are unskilled. They do not earn the necessary $25,000 in annual income to pay enough taxes for the government services they receive. As such, they impose a net fiscal burden on the rest of us. So who benefits? Those who must spend their lives on a treadmill to eke out an insufficient living? Or those who employ them? Get it?
Multiculturalism more the effect than the cause of atomization
Multiculturalism has brought us mixed results at best. Harvard's Robert Putnam and Monash University's Bob Birrell, among other academics, are right. Along with delectable food, entertaining music, and interesting people with fresh perspectives, cultural diversity weakens trust, solidarity and civic participation. No wonder Dr. William Rees has called for a more "integrative" model of multiculturalism that would foster the kind of societal consensus we need to face up to the daunting ecological challenges ahead. But whatever its vices or virtues, it must be seen, at least in Canada, as a symptom and not a cause. The cart, not the horse. A useful smokescreen for the corporate agenda. The game plan was always to displace an indigenous work force with a cheaper one, and to design laws that would make them feel more comfortable in the workforce and society at large---even if our legal traditions and rights were compromised in the bargain.
If our culture was that important to us, the way to defend it would have been to establish a tax regime that discourages "flipping" and real estate speculation, and in progressive labour laws, laws which would have robbed employers and their political handmaidens of the incentive to import a slave labour caste. As South African whites found, you can't have it both ways. You can't keep your culture safe behind gated communities but send out for cheap help from the untouchables. If you want local jobs to go local people, then pay more money for your home-delivered pizzas and TV repairs so that local people can make a reasonable living providing them. Otherwise, as they say on the eastside, “Shut--The--Fuck—Up”.
Vancouver left me with one overwhelming impression. That of a gateway city that showcases a sinister, time-honoured Canadian tradition. We have apparently effected a massive cultural transformation, but the diversity we behold is superficial. Beneath the rainbow of faces and the multitude of foreign tongues, there remains the same old culture of greed and exploitation. That is the common thread that runs through our colonial history. As Joel Grey sang in the hit musical “Cabaret”, money makes the world go around. Keep em’ busy competing for it, and the system can keep on runnin’ like the Energizer bunny in that TV battery commercial.
It must have been difficult to establish national solidarity in the Tower of Babel. No doubt tower dwellers wanted to connect with each other, but I guess somebody made too much money keeping them apart. And the rent was so high that at the end of their long day, they were too burned out working for it to attend any tenants’ rights meetings. I think the landlord called their predicament “cultural diversity”, didn’t he?
May 9, 2010
'For many in this city that prides itself on its social contract, was the last straw. The government announced the opening of five emergency shelters, 14 new permanent public-housing developments and plans to purchase and revamp 25 inner-city hotels. The British Columbia parliament passed a law giving police more power to get endangered people into shelters.
But with the Olympic Games approaching, there were widespread predictions that the police, as is often the case in host cities, would round up the homeless in a final cosmetic hose-down before the dignitaries swept into town.
"I swear to you on my mother's grave, that is not going to happen," Lemcke pledged to an activist recently. "We will protect the rights of people down there, and the world will see what the world sees on the downtown Eastside. The world needs to know."'
What's interesting to me is that Vancouver's homeless problem is due to reasons similar to the US's:
Vancouver had little or no homelessness problem 15 years ago. But Canada, like the U.S., moved to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill in the 1980s -- and like the U.S., it provided few follow-up assistance programs. At the same time, the federal government got out of the business of building public housing, transferring responsibility to the provinces.
"People are kind of getting used to [homelessness], thinking, well, it's like prostitution or robbery, we're never going to be able to solve it," said Jill Davidson, the city's assistant housing director. "Well, we can solve it. Because we had it solved only 15 years ago."
That's an encouraging message, but it requires that we actually spend some money to make it happen. I've lived in two places where homelessness was an issue — Seoul, which didn't have many but where little was done to help, and Honolulu, where homelessness is pervasive, especially along the beaches and downtown — and it just seems like average citizens don't care about the people involved.' (