Vancouver livability: the good, the bad and the disappearing demographic
Freya Wasteneys // Contributor
Walking the streets of Vancouver, it’s hard not to notice the mirage-like tendency of small businesses to emerge and disappear again within their first year. If you wait too long, an entire neighbourhood might rise and fall, and you’ll never know it was there in the first place.
It’s therefore unsurprising that Point2Homes recently ranked Vancouver as the most unaffordable city in North America. Ironically, Vancouver was also recently ranked “one of the world’s most livable cities,” by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Global Livability Report. Sure, it’s stunning – with green spaces abound – but livable for whom?
We can be sure that the report didn’t have students in mind. Or young adults for that matter, since even those who consider themselves to fit within the traditional definition of success find it hard to keep the ever-increasing financial stress at bay. With insane housing prices driving up the cost of everything from our rent and groceries to leisure activities, it’s no wonder so many people in Vancouver have trouble staying afloat. Especially when we factor in the absence of a living wage. Yet some people believe the solution to this new level of unaffordability is simple; if you can’t afford it here, just move.
Well, many people are. Since 2008, the majority of individuals aged 25 to 44 have found that their expenses exceed their annual income, and more the two-thirds of millennials polled have said that they have considered moving elsewhere. Meanwhile, young families are fleeing to the suburbs. The idea of homeownership has become the stuff of legend, and Vancouver is swiftly becoming an empty shell of a city. In her personal essay, which went viral, Jessica Barrett laments that living in Vancouver had become “like living in an abandoned film set.”
Of course, there are many reasons why people choose to stay in the city. For some, it is friends and family, while others are limited by school choices, the tantalizing fantasy of success and jobs. It’s also hard to deny the many attractions that do make the city: good bike lanes, mild climate, and easy access to nature and outdoor activities. But these are not exclusive to Vancouver, and at a certain point the good stops outweighing the bad.
Despite its “livability” Vancouver is the lowest ranked city in Canada for life satisfaction. Vancouver is a lonely city, and it can be hard to make friends. According to research by StatCan “levels of trust and the quality of social connections in neighbourhoods and workplaces can influence happiness significantly.” A 2012 landmark study by the Vancouver Foundation discovered that our neighbourhood connections are weak, and there is a low level of trust within communities. They also found that people in Vancouver are less likely to participate in community life, and affordability has a profound effect on locals’ attitudes.
But maybe it’s not just that Vancouverites are anti-social, after all, studies show that residents are still cordial. Perhaps part of the issue is that many of the cities residents are so transient. Like the businesses that it in and out of high-rent spaces, the people of this city do not often stay long. It can be hard to maintain connections when people move away after a year, so at a certain point, why bother? This sort of attitude creates feelings of isolation, which can have a negative impact on long-term health.
A city might have all the components that allow for a good life, but if many of Vancouver’s residents are struggling to maintain the basic building blocks they are unlikely to engage with their community. Instead of telling people to move, we should encourage people to stay, and that starts with making life more affordable.
Read Point2Home’s full report on housing affordability in North America.