The 2010 Winter Olympics may be the only reason people are now paying closer — OK, any — attention to Vancouver. Canada’s smart national magazine, cooler than The Atlantic or Harper’s, is called The Walrus. Here’s a great piece about Vancouver from the current issue:
Laugh at the clichés, but understand that leading-edge thinking elsewhere is often the norm here. From North America’s only supervised injection site to a police chief who openly supports the idea of making addiction a public health issue, not a criminal one; from UBC’s breakthroughs in sports medicine to the bold social experiment of the Woodward’s development, which combines public housing with high-end units; from inventors like Phil Nuytten, the father of the underwater Newtsuit, to Internet millionaires like Markus Frind (plentyoffish.com) and Stewart Butterfield (flickr.com); from D-Wave’s breakthrough in quantum computing to Saltworks Technologies’ cost-effective desalination system, Vancouver incubates far more than its share of striking new ideas. If the continent is a centrifuge, flinging novelty and eccentricity and experimentation to the margins, then what Portland and Los Angeles and Seattle are to the US — last-frontier outposts of wisdom and wackiness, civic laboratories for new ideas — so, in many ways, is Vancouver to this country and, indeed, the world….
It’s easy to forget now, a quarter century after Expo 86 introduced the world to Vancouver (and Vancouver to the world), easy to forget after the exodus from Hong Kong in the ’90s altered the city’s demographic profile and fuelled a real estate boom, easy to forget now that Hermès and Coach and Gucci fill our shop windows — and especially easy to forget during the klieg-lit invasion of the Winter Olympics — what a small city this is. With a population of about 600,000, it’s a quarter the size of Toronto proper. Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, and Ottawa have more citizens. Hell, Mississauga has more. Winnipeg has more. Vancouver’s American analogues are not Chicago and New York, but Charlotte, Memphis, El Paso. Include the metro area, and the population swells to 2.2 million, a third of metropolitan Toronto’s. If this city were an actor, it would acquit itself beautifully in a supporting role — Philip Seymour Hoffman before Capote. If it were a fighter, it would be a middleweight, albeit one so slick and well marketed that you think of it as belonging among the heavyweights — any of which would, in fact, clobber it.
Like my Dad, I was born in Vancouver and use the city’s name as my personal email address. I have very few memories of it though, as we moved to London when I was still a toddler. If you’ve never been, it’s a stunningly gorgeous city, its iminent arrival breathtakingly obvious after you’ve flown for long hours the width of Canada, signaled by the Rockies that cradle the city between mountains and the Pacific.