Originally appeared in Uncle Weed’s Dossier column in Vancouver Observer on Aug. 2nd 2011 under the same title. This spiel compiled a bushel of ideas I’ve wanted to amplify to Vancouver (knowing change comes slow etc. in land of conservative progressive) and banged it out white hot after returning from New Orleans and seeing the remarkable (dearisay) brand they’ve crafted for their city – and dang if they don’t know how to truly let loose and keep it cool. We have our moments in Vancouver but with absurd prices and policies for beer (which is an essay on its way) and neurotic policy shifts, and an abundance of disparity… a few refinements are in order – the question is: are we ready to step up? heh, you tell me.
Go Cups and Pedicabs ~ Are We Ready to be “World Class” Yet?
Like a beautiful but gangly teenager on the first day of high school, in Vancouver we tend towards constant introspection and self-awareness to the point of mental self-abuse when we discuss our city. “Are we are as pretty as Zurich? Are we more fun than Sydney? Do these pants make me look fat?”
We obsess about being “world class” as though that makes us important. World class doesn’t mean “big” – we remain medium-sized (and our topography ensures we will) – as Goldilocks would say, “Just right.” World class means something unique which makes the city stand out. Sure, we have mountains, the ocean and trees. But to go next level, we need to go wide open with new ideas and take some calculated risks.
I’ve just rambled back from New Orleans (podcast) – a city that knows something about its brand and reputation – with a headful of ideas borrowed from working examples to re-fit our city experiment into something truly more livable for the normal folks.
New Orleans: “Go” cups – simple, put your beer in plastic cup and take it from bar or store to wherever (walking not driving), very civilized. Street music. Not lonely, hunkered buskers, but like the 14 man brass bands holding court on French Quarter corners where the crowd ebbs with high-rollers’ cars and tourists with camera phones mix with locals boogying down. Street-level streetcars (ding ding) with a $3 day-pass to roll on wooden seats down the middle of the road. Also, add a brilliant culinary culture but leave the corruption, rats and humidity.
Austin, Texas: Pedi-cabs – move these cycle rickshaws beyond noisy, drunken weekend novelty status and transform the way we take short up/downtown trips. The licensed drivers make decent cash without emissions and save your sneakers on walks which are too short to bother playing the “where might a cab be?” game.
See also: Hosting art, technology festivals as a civic cash cow a la South by Southwest. Need to loosen up on bars, clubs and meeting centres (seriously, try renting a place) and provide an area for patrons to party (no, GranvilleMall doesn’t count) and you’ll attract conventioneers besides the stuffy ties at the dual Canada Places. Remember that conferences are junkets which requires fun times for attendees.
London: Though gloomy and spendy, I’ll take late night double-decker buses and free museums and galleries. Art saves lives and defines who we are. Make it accessible.
New York: Falafel at 3 a.m. like it’s no big deal. There is more, but this is enough.
Amsterdam: You’ll notice the separated bike lanes after you are run down when you don’t note the signs. As you are falling backwards avoiding the canals as scowling locals pedal by on heavy steel bikes, you’ll say to yourself, “I see, these aren’t sidewalks, these are true bike paths winding along like expressways for cycles.”
The reason bike lanes in Van are getting flack is because something was “taken away” – instead, make bike-only routes separate from the car-ways and everyone will be way happier.
Toronto: Live music clubs with residency bands. Example: The Beauties every Sunday in the low ceilings and loud amps of The Dakota.
Barcelona: Hard to describe Las Ramblas but we need something just like it – a true city pedestrian mall, a walkway, a people’s area for mingling, lounging and even lightweight commerce (lay down a blanket, sell your wares). Simply, we shouldn’t have to close a major traffic route to host downtown get-togethers or to observe each other on lazy afternoons.
Logan, Utah: Free transit. I know it sounds absurd… another Dave (Olsen, that is) researched free transit systems but missed one in the culturally conservative, big truck driving, two-bar university city by the Idaho border.The seat of Cache County boasts free, quality transit – hop on to go frombig box stores to the Mormon temple. I’d settle for a “SeaBus only” pass.
Brussels: While dignified Brussels manages to beat Vancouver for most underwhelming tourist photo op (Mannekin Pis vs. Gastown “Steam” Clock), the Belgian capital wins big prizes for character bars tended to by pro beer traditionalists serving on endless patio tables ringing vast squares. While we don’t have the centuries of Trappist ale culture, places like Six Acres show you can craft character and bring it outside on the cobblestones.
Vancouver: Summerlive at Stanley Park was close to perfect. Keep in mind, I’m a veteran of Grateful Dead tours, the legendary WOMAD feasts, and a hundred hippie jam fest weekends and attest this was simply a remarkable three days of music and demonstrative of a renaissance of great bands unseen since the beery 80s days of local hardcore.
Held close to the totempoles where I had my fifth birthday party, it felt like we stopped caring about how the outside looked at us and started living like we want to – we ride bikes, we walk the seawall, we tidy up, we sing along. Thanks to the police for keeping it chill and letting us enjoy picnics, tokes and (possibly) a brown bagged bevvie.
We come from all over. Trying to find someone second generation from Vancouver amidst refugees from the frozen lands is a task. And we are already remixing ourselves, our city and our culture daily. The concrete isn’t wet yet here, we can still define who we want ourselves to be. And it’s a good time to do it since the city’s brand (as I learned in a city which survived a hurricane, flood, looting, police corruption and chaos) is “that city that burns cop cars.” Nowhere to go but up.
We have visible homeless problems, demoralizing property values and waffling by-laws. These need fixing. But to make my beloved city truly world class, I’ll be happy with a couple of the above for starters.
Photos: All photos by authour except “New Orleans Means Music” by Kris Krug via kk+ via Flickr & authour at Summerlive by brother Dan.