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Steven Cox: the Cause+Affect behind Vancouver Pecha Kucha

I wrote down 'cause and effect' on a piece of paper,” says Cox. “But 'cause and effect' is just like action and reaction – so we changed it to 'cause and affect', which is action with a purpose.” VO's newest thing: Download the interview.

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When you look at other metrics like Monocle Magazine, for example, they have Vancouver slipping from eighth to tenth to 15th to 20th ...wherever it is now. They measure more unique cultural, influential things --like can I get a hot corned beef sandwich at 4 in the morning? Do people know the name Koolhaus on the streets, and when is the last time a project of significant architectural quality was built. They measure these things in terms of cultural potency.

I feel like what I read between the lines of what Monocle wants … is that they want Vancouver to act its age. Like: 'Look, if you want to pretend to be a global city, talk about being a global city, then you have got to deliver things that can happen in Vancouver and nowhere else. I feel like we do not do a very good job of creating those kinds of experiences, and we do an even worse job of celebrating the ones that we do have.

J: Is Vancouverism a romantic concept?

S: I think it could be. But currently, no, I think not. The skeptic in me thinks if I were a politician or real estate developer, Vancouver would be a pretty good model. You develop thousands and thousands of square feet of real estate. You increase property values exponentially, stretching the gap between rich and poor. And still people think you live in best place on earth. That would be a pretty good model to me.

There is still a concern from the outside that there is a lack of a soul, however. I think Vancouver has a soul, but it has done an absolutely terrible job at communicating that soul to the world.

And it's because Vancouver is owned by the tourism industry. The entire brand of Vancouver is all about tourism, all about beauty and leisure, looking outwards, all about the mountains, the water, walk along the seawall. But you almost never see a picture of the city itself, of things that happen in the city.

And what we have shown through Pecha Kucha is that the city has that incredible wealth of interesting things that happen in the city, and people that most people don't know about them.

If you were to travel, and people talk about Vancouver, they say : ' Oh, Vancouver is so beautiful. I love Whistler, the mountains and the water etc..' Nobody says: ' Oh, I love your music venues and the small art galleries and oh my god the food scene, the restaurants'. Nobody talks like that.

Like if you go to Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Berlin … when you go to Berlin, you'll tell me stories about a weird little bar where you go downstairs then you go upstairs again, and back upstairs, it only opens at 4a.m. ... That's the kind of experience you never had anywhere else and you'll never have it again.

If Vancouver had the ability to share those moments with more people, we would have a better understanding of our own brand, and ourselves.


L: You mean have more of those moments or share them?

S: I think we have them. I just think we don't share them.

L: So if we had the opportunity …

S: If we had the opportunity to share those things internally, meaning, the media might write about them. Radio might talk about them. Then we would learn about ourselves and we would grow our appreciation of the city. And when we go travel, we would go talk about those things. Someone says, what's so great about Vancouver, then you actually have something to say, rather than falling back on the propaganda that tourism industry gave you, which is that it's so beautiful, you can ski and play golf on the same day.

So when I look at the analysis of Vancouver by Monocle magazine, they've taken a very surface view of the city and haven't seen much. There's nothing that's making the really unique parts of our city obvious.

So I feel with Pecha Kucha, it's starting to open that channel. If I packaged our 20 shows and gave you 250 speakers and audiences of almost 20,000 people, there's so much content there. The city could literally publish a book and send it out to the world and the world would go, wow, Vancouver is so interesting. But they don't do that. That's where we're missing opportunities.

J: What are adjectives you would use to describe culture in Vancouver?

S: I think the most interesting people in Vancouver have an understanding of what a live/work balance is, they've understood how both those pieces of them can make each other interesting and rewarding.

For example, I met a woman the other day who said, “I don't like Vancouver. I'm more of a Toronto person.” She said, ‘I went surfing in Tofino and it was awesome, but I'm more like Toronto, go-go-go.”

I thought, that's interesting. You've yet to figure out how to do those two things at the same time, which is what I think the successful Vancouverite knows how to do. It doesn't mean everyone needs to golf or hike or surf, but you develop an ability to know that work doesn't go from 8 in the morning to 8 at night. You understand that life is more balanced and you somehow are a more interesting person because of it. You are more open to change, you are not so … directed.

Which is where innovation comes from. I think that's why we are a very successful entrepreneurial city. Entrepreneurism tends to be more creative and more free ...

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