Blogging in ‘Blandcouver’

Vancouver

By: Michael Mortimer

I am in Vancouver as I write this.  One in every four or five cars here in the city’s central business district seems to be a German or Japanese luxury marque, with the occasional Bentley or Maserati sprinkled in for flavor.  Window shopping at a real estate brokerage demonstrates the nearly inconceivable prices for housing anywhere near the city center.  The affluence here is palpable.  With easy access to Asia, a mild maritime climate, an inviting combination of mountains and the sea, relatively available Canadian visas, and nearly at the top in the world for urban resiliency (Grosvenor, 2014), Vancouver competes for foreign wealth and talent as well as any city around the globe.  Vancouver ranks 4th in the world for number of foreign-born residents—a mix of people described as ‘hyperdiverse’ (Todd, 2013).  It is where East meets West like no other city—it happens in real time.  “Eventually, Vancouver’s complexion, like its skyline, will more resemble Hong Kong than Toronto.” (Khanna, 2016, p. 124.)  This city, it seems, is not so much a part of Canada as it is an extension of the inexorable expansion of people and wealth emanating from Asia.  If a city ever embodied the cultural mashup of East and West that Ridley Scott’s iconic tech noir film Blade Runner forecasts for 2019, it may be 2016’s Vancouver.

Why does any of this matter? Canadian cities generate nearly ¾ of the country’s GDP, with Vancouver alone accounting for 7% (Statistics Canada, 2014).  Vancouver is an exemplar of thoughtful urban planning and design.  It embodies both the reality and the potential of a global city.   Vancouverites are increasingly likely to have less in common with the rest of Canadians than they do with the residents of other West Coast cities in the US, and for that matter with residents of other coastal cities around the world.  Differences between a place-based cosmopolitan urban identity and an oft-competing broader national identity are emerging, painfully perhaps for some, but inexorably.  Not only in Canada, but also in the major cities of the United States and around the world.  But this is not necessarily a problem.  As nations flummox about, flailing for even stopgap solutions to environmental problems, global cities are increasingly interconnected by supply chains, a new common identity, and by a mutual commitment to action.  We can expect disorientation among citizens of both these cities and their hinterlands as this reordering of identities unfolds.  But the promise, the aspiration, is that these interconnected cities with their shared global urban identity, will be able to lead for solutions that nation states and jingoists cannot begin to imagine.  The real challenge will be in ensuring that as cities lead and leap forward, that wealth, benefits, security, and prosperity also accrue to their hinterlands, that the rest of national citizenries are not left behind.

Resources:

  • Grosvenor Group Limited (2014). Resilient Cities Research Report. 18pp. (http://www.grosvenor.com/news-views-research/research/2014/resilient%20cities%20research%20report/)
  • Khanna, P. (2016). Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Random House, New York, NY. 496pp.
  • Statistics Canada (2014). Economic Insights—Metropolitan Gross Domestic Product: Experimental Estimates 2001-2009, no.42.  (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-626-x/11-626-x2014042-eng.htm)
  • Todd, D. (2013). Vancouver fourth for foreign-born residents.  But is it ‘cosmopolitan?’  Vancouver Sun July 22. (http://vancouversun.com/news/staff-blogs/vancouver-fourth-for-foreign-born-residents-but-is-it-cosmopolitan)