When Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Olympics, I was a recent immigrant to Canada. I sat in the barely half-full stadium for the live announcement, and when it came I felt my first feeling of being Canadian. I was so proud and excited. The city I’d chosen was chosen by the world.
Seven years later I’m no longer wowed by my evolving national identity, the house we’ve lived in for nearly eight years has been through almost every major renovation we could think of, and until a few days ago I was a bitter cynic about those damned Olympics.
I was beat down by stories of Vanoc*, the committee planning the event, reflecting the International Olympic Committee’s humourless, inflexible, rigid and sometimes downright mean-spirited enforcement of their trademark rights. I’m sick of witnessing the beauty of my city being painted over with advertisements, some of them the size of entire buildings, and I’m sick of Vanoc paying so much attention to their advertisers they seem to have forgotten the real magic they could be helping to foster as the world comes to visit. I’m sick of seeing cell-phone ads, Godzilla-sized hoodies, and I don’t have a damn Visa card. People complain about Olympics events being too expensive for average people to afford. I’m not sure that’s entirely the case, but what very much is the case is that not being able to purchase tickets by any means other than use of a Visa is downright offensive. I hate that Coke will be selling bottled water despite the city’s decision to promote tap-water consumption. (ETA: I hear now that the city will be providing tap water at one of the public gathering places. Yay!)
My attitude changed this week, though, when my friend Lisa shared a link to a five-minute time-lapse video of Vancouver, set to original music. In just five minutes I was reminded why I love this city, deeply. Why it’s so important to me to have roots here, why however much New York will always be a part of me, this place is home, too.
So to all of you who only see Vancouver through the lens of Vanoc or the sensationalized evening news, allow me to welcome you, personally, to my home.
Vancouver is a gorgeous city. On the west-coast of Canada, it’s surrounded on three sides by water, and the municipality itself traverses an inlet we call False Creek (it's false, see, because it's an inlet). Just beyond its northern suburbs are mountains – we call them the “local” mountains. You can get to them via public transit. On a sunny day, my favourite thing to do is stare out the window of the bus as it crosses the Granville Street bridge; the water, the downtown buildings, the mountains take my breath away. Even after eight years. (The photo below is not of that view. Sorry to confuse.)
I like to say I live in the warm part of Canada. Fall begins here in September, and although Vancouver is called the emerald city on account of its evergreen landscape, we do get fall foliage. The bad weather sets in come November, when the rains come. We don’t get much snow, but we often feel damp. All the time. The grey days coupled with fewer daylight hours make November and December dreary, slow, and sometimes depressing. Still, that rain is what makes this place what it is; I'm proud to say I didn't complain about the weather this fall till around the 27th consecutive day of rain. And then spring begins in February. Already, at the end of January, bulbs are coming up and birdsong has returned. The days are getting longer and November seems like ages ago. If you’ll be visiting for the Games, bring layers and don’t expect the city to be a winter wonderland.
Vancouver deserves being labeled part of the left coast. We're a progressive city and on occasion we try out some pretty radical ideas. You’ll hear about protests planned during the Games – protests are par for the course here, regardless of the context. We have a sizable community of activists, and although there’s more protesting and less actual conversing than I think would be productive, it’s what makes Vancouver Vancouver.
Many of the protests about the Olympics centre around people’s offence at the massive expense of the Games juxtaposed against one of Canada’s largest, poorest homeless populations. Though Vancouver was just named the least affordable city in the world to live in, we also encompass the poorest postal code in Canada. There are some people who think of our homeless population as an eyesore that must be hidden before we enter the world’s television broadcasts, but for each of those there are dozens who believe we must better serve our most vulnerable neighbours; they are not part of the landscape, they are part of our community.
Our city is not a dangerous one. Even in the most run-down, filthy, upsetting parts of town, you may feel uncomfortable but it’s not likely you’ll be mugged. Theft is a big problem, but again, not often violent.
We love dogs here. There are dog beaches and dog-friendly hiking trails within the city. During the summer, there'll be a dog hanging out on every restaurant patio along with its humans.
Vancouver is a city of public transport and we tend to prioritize the needs of cyclists and pedestrians above the needs of car drivers. We don’t have a freeway within the city. This both makes us chill out when we know it’ll take half an hour to drive across town, and it means we don’t have to look at hideous cloverleafs in the middle of the cityscape.
There is a huge immigrant population here, and that means eating is one of the best things to do. Come for any sort of Asian cuisine, for salmon, for delicious local foods and fusion concoctions. You can eat schmancy, but you can eat on the cheap, and eat well.
We are a town full of artists, artisans and craftspeople. If you want to shop, shop the boutiques that carry local designers’ goods. Go to Granville Island for handmade goods of all sorts and styles. Go to Robson Street downtown for the people-watching and free events during the Games, but not for the find-them-anywhere mall stores. The best shopping in Vancouver is a couple of steps off the beaten path.
We Vancouverites, in our small city surrounded on three sides by water, are feeling mighty inconvenienced by these Games. Roads are closing, traffic patterns are changing, buses are being rerouted, we’re being encouraged to work from home. We’ve been bombarded by look-alike advertising for weeks and weeks, and to say we’re shocked by the tax burden of all this would be a gross understatement.
Vanoc hasn’t been psyching us up. Nobody’s been talking to us about the astonishing scope of the Games and our role in them. We feel victims, not hosts.
That sucks. I’ve decided not to feel that way anymore. This is my city, and I very much want to share it with you. Warts and bling and all.
So, world, I welcome you. I’m happy that you’re here. I hope you enjoy your stay and that my community treats you well. If you have any questions, please ask.
If you’re a Vancouverite, please join in. Blog, tweet, and otherwise share your experience of our city. These Games are what we make of them. Vanoc’s left us high and dry, but who cares? It just doesn't have to be about them.
UPDATE: Here are links to free events and other cool stuff going on in Vancouver during the Games (leave more in the comments and I'll update):
- Free stuff going on during the games
- Grab an “Ask Me, Happy to Help” button if you're a hospitable Vancouverite
* I intentionally linked to the vancouver2010.com “web linking policy”. Because I remain bitter and cynical about Vanoc, if not about my city hosting the Games.