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Vangroovy Vancouver

When outsiders look at us, what do they see?  Photo by Linda Solomon

Here we are in a beautiful Calgary garden. The groovy newlywed young engineer who designed and installed the very Vancouver garden spent his childhood in Richmond. He offers me a veggie burger  and with a straight face says, “What’s it like in Vangroovy these days?”

“Vangroovy? So 1950’s,” I think.

When & How

Minutes into the meal I overhear, “It’s getting impossible to move back.”

Then I twig: Everyone at this enjoyable get together of 30- and 40-somethings wants to move to our city, has plans that are now on hold for who-knows-how-long, and they are frustrated. By making all sorts of compromises, financial and otherwise, maybe they will get to the groovy place. But when? And how?

Some vaunted particulars:

  1. Vancouver is sought after as a tourist destination.
  2. Vancouver is sought after as a place to dream about living in.
  3. Vancouver is sought after as the warm place with hip food and lavish scenery.
  4. Our city is hip.
  5. Vancouver is maybe more cool in all kinds of ways we who actually live here don't think of.

Hence the moniker Vangroovy. But is Vancouver groovy only from the outside or is it groovy on the inside too?

The Crunch

At the Calgary garden party I realized that Vancouver is the desired destination of many who live outside the province because they either developed their envy from afar, based on a few visits, or they got caught in the 2008 economic crunch and could not sell their non-Vancouver homes for any profit that could get them into BC, let alone near the stiffly-priced real estate of Vancouver.

 The Groovy Term

 “Mark and I didn’t invent the term, but we use it a lot,” says Lori Choma on telephone from Calgary last week, partly with envy and partly with a knowing ironic inflection regarding “Vangroovy’s” fast traffic and overabundance of rain. After stifling the urge to explain the Pineapple Express, I listen as she relates that husband Mark wants to return to the lower mainland partly because he grew up in Richmond and partly, I am guessing, because he and Lori like the latest in eyewear and interior design. No matter what irony accompanies it, honest envy accompanies their invoking of the Vangroovy moniker. 

These envious out-of-towners know that there are things always going wrong here, like the Olympics juggernaut taking over each of our wallets or the gang killings. Still, Van remains groovy in their minds.

Wanna-be Vancouverites know that the economy stalled big time in Alberta and elsewhere so they are unable to sell their expensively mortgaged condos or suburban homes in what they deem to be a kind of very ungroovy trap. They have either grown up in Calgary, Edmonton, or Canmore, for example, or gone there prior to or during oil booms and now got stuck when things shut down too quickly.

EXPO ’86 = What?

The folks at the garden party had been children during the Vancouver EXPO ’86 upsurge that, depending on your paradigm, was a boon or a bust for the nourishment of the city. Some had grown up in Vancouver and just attended the 6-month event as a matter of course. Others had visited from outside the province and it had quickly highlighted the seductions of our city in a palpable way. All hold our city in high respect, whether they know it well or not.

They are all disillusioned about the promises of new cities, new business, newly rich families surrounding them. That drives them here to our city and we better get ready for the moves. They better get ready to downsize.

What attracts are the neighbourhoods, the restaurants, the bigger ideas in the institutions (think Van. Art Gallery or David Suzuki Foundation) and their perceived greater involvement of the public in the arts. Ironically, at the Calgary summer garden parties the prospect of the Olympics in 2010 did not impress. They thought it was mostly business and not very inspiring or long-lasting in terms even of business. When they look at the benefits of the Calgary Olympics, they are disappointed. Of note, not one of these people voted for the ruling party in the latest provincial election. Of even more note: These folks are waiting to have children until they move to Vancouver.

Turmeric or Cardamom

 Edmonton friends nearing retirement are planning to move here. They like the weather, but basically they think Vancouver is great for golf and a general lack of freezing weather. I remember once a conversation with them in which I observed that “People in Vancouver know what to do with turmeric or cardamom.” It was a gentle warning to these would-be Vancouverites stuck in meat and potatoes Alberta. I guess I was saying that Vancouver is groovy.

Thomas Hobbs and our Groove

 But before I cultivate the snobbery of the hip, I speculate further about using the “Vangroovy” moniker vis-à-vis the serious implications of the appearance at the Parks Board this week of the venerable Thomas Hobbs of Southlands Nursery fame. Close to tears, he observed that closing down some unique city park attractions makes us look like Winnipeg. “Suddenly we are Winnipeg,” I think he said.

 Don’t Fiddle with the Groovy

Vancouver is often well-documented as an example of the requisite creative and artistic support of the entrepreneurial or the innovative, one of the best bastions of intelligent community development based in inventiveness and solid community commitment. This is what Hobbs is pointing to poignantly: don’t fiddle with the groovy that helps the entrepreneurial and the innovative.

But there is little Vangroovy at City Hall and the Parks Board this week. The City has forced the Board to deliberate the futures of the Macmillan Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, the Stanley Park petting zoo and other ways of saving money when city coffers are at record lows. There are groovy ways to maintain a creative city, but shutting things down is not one of them.

Hmmmmm, so groovy is dependent on money? Just asking.

 Vanrific Vantastic or Vanipeg?

 Could be that Hobbs has a very important point beyond money. Do we value this city as much as people who have no Vancouver in their daily lives? Those who envy can do little more than visit and begrudge. But they have also given us a chance to identify with a new moniker for a healthy city. What kind of nicknames would we use for our city? Maybe Vanrific, or Vantastic, or even Vanipeg, if Hobbs is right.




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