O Vancouver, City that I love

Vancouver has a hard, brittle beauty.

Walk down any street in Vancouver. We are a city of nondescript streets, where very few blocks possess a beauty of their own. But cunningly, cross a boulevard, or turn a corner, and there it is: a sharp beauty that cuts hard; that takes your breath away. Looking across the sea of slender glass towers from a Fairview street (was there ever such an understated name for a neighbourhood? Fair doesn’t begin to cover it. Whenever I see those spires as I cross the town east to west, our collective British origins are unmistakable, that understatement of the obvious such a particularly British sensibility), it can suddenly take your breath – such a startling beauty that it cuts deep. I’ve lived here for 20 years and it still happens with alarming regularity. And like a jeweller appraising a shiny bauble, we can do that here too. Our views change depending on where we are, but there are very few that do not reward the faithful.

Look east from the West Side, back across the downtown peninsula and see the slope of towers crest and fall, echoing sublimely the mountains that loom behind and to the left.

Look west from the east side, cycling along Adanac and see the echoes of our industrial past laid bare, waiting to be claimed by creeping modernity: our tracks towards destiny, the gleaming towers echoed by the shiny waters of false creek, slender sails echoing slender buildings.

Look south from the north shore, and feel the abrupt ending of where Capitalist dreams meet the water which is both a psychological and very physical divide between Vancouver and the North Shore, which conjures up not the sleepy, spreading suburb that it is, but rather the wild, untamed promise of all those mountains it is nestled up against. Look south from high enough and the beauty changes. The downtown no longer dominates, but rather seems a small bastion against a sea of squat structures clinging to the edge of the world.

Look north from anywhere and the city disappears: the mountains are ever-present, and the city simply pales against their terrible promise of inevitable collapse: They are stark reminders that we live on borrowed time. And when the mountains are no longer there it is somehow worse, hidden somewhere in the fog bank or clouds. At night, when the lights on Mt Seymour & Grouse float in the sky there is an assurance, and one when I travel I have come to miss greatly.

Vancouver does not love her children

Vancouver is a city that does not respect her past. She doesn’t care for her own children.  It is a city of immigrants, for immigrants – whether from across the Rockies or across the ocean. We tear down old buildings – where someone we knew grew up, or spent their free time, in favour of the new over and over again. Like cells, old houses subdivide into duplexes, fourplexes. Or two or 3 houses combine then divide into a squat complex of condos, all of which are heavily advertised elsewhere, or sold by the promise of the Vancouver lifestyle, which only the non-Vancouverite can still be sold by, because everyone who grew up here knows that they’ve been priced out. Or the lucky, have ridden that wave and now own a house worth vastly more than they could ever have imagined and think only of selling, and leaving.

No  one I know who sells a house in Vancouver they’ve lived in for 20, 30 years sells to move elsewhere in Vancouver. They go away. And those  in our 20s and 30s and 40s who grew up here. Their salaries don’t match the prices, and so we leave. And only if they return, having earned more elsewhere, and are no longer subject to the low-wage trap of Vancouver, are happy to return to Vancouver as newly-minted foreigners, ready to re-embrace the promise of Vancouverism, leaden with money earned elsewhere to buy, to invest, to pay for the ski passes and boat mooring and cars.

Vancouver is hard

Much like we are physically a thin band of people nestled between mountain  and ocean, this echoes deeply in our relationship. Our business dream smaller, and sleepier than those elsewhere. We temper our dreams of success with our dreams of “lifestyle”. My friends who work here, collectively, work vastly less than my friends in Toronto or New York or Montreal or San Fransisco.

We are the Spain of North America: we all cut out early to get 2 hours of biking or skiing or drinking on patios. And how could we not? We give up so much to live here, so we need to make it worth our while. And we continue to sell this lifestyle abroad and everyone abroad continues to buy into it and then they move here and some can reconcile their old habits with the demands of this lifestyle and some cannot and leave.

Investment here will continue to struggle. What’s a 10 million dollar round in the face of a 200km bike ride with your buddies every sunny day of the year? What’s an extra 25K a year in your pocket when – christ, did you see the mountains today? See you at Whistler on Saturday? And these things that are sold to us as goods; they are indeed goods but they are also a tax on us.These are the taxes we pay to celebrate living here. Because if you don’t participate in the Vancouver lifestyle, why are you here? These are steep taxes we pay, whether or not you take advantage of what they offer you.

And all this living, all this participating, the unspoken problem is that it creates a massive underclass of people barely making it. When those who can are sipping their pour-over coffees at the third-wave coffee-house, the people working there are barely making it, living in shitty apartments with friends in East Van or New West and likely going directly from pouring coffee to band practice, or more likely another job, their dreams “on hold” as they make rent and buy food and drink and live, but live a very different life of loud music and Hastings st and the Drive and not the Sea Wall, and while they too have been sold Vancouverism it is a very different one.

Vancouver has my heart

And yet. And yet. And yet I say all the above like these are bad things and they are not. They are the very reason I love this land like nowhere else I’ve been.

Identity: Solve this

  • The computer I use to edit my photos & videos is the home iMac. It’s where my Drobo is, it’s where I’ve installed Lightroom, it’s where we keep our iPhoto library. For various reasons, this Mac is tied to Leah’s iCloud account. our Apple TV’s, my iPhone’s Photostream are tied to my iCloud account. There’s currently no way I’m aware of to get photos from Lightroom into my Photostream without linking this computer to my account. Solve this.
  • We currently have in our possession 3 iPhones & 2 iPads. The old iPad 1 is more or less Liam’s portable gaming device – Leah uses it for recipes, but I’ve more or less moved to using the office’s iPad 3 for all my browsing/email needs. Because we download all our iOS apps through 1 account, my account, as a family account, all 5 iOS devices are tied to it. This somehow or other lead to my Game Center account being on all devices. My Pocket Planes game, which I play on my iPhone, somehow overwrote Liam’s Pocket Planes game, which he plays on the iPad. There were tears. I’ve now created & installed Liam’s Game Center ID on the old iPad – but now I can’t play games with my account there. Solve this.
  • Liam is 7, highly literate, fairly computer savvy, and interested in gaming & creativity apps. He doesn’t understand passwords. He doesn’t really get working in a budget yet. I’d love to give him the ability to buy some apps regularly, without my intervention – or least my direct intervention. I’d love to have diurnal review of his app-store activity so I could, as a last resort, retroactively remove an app, but not have to provide up-front approval/password entry to our shared iOS account, thus removing any semblance of freedom. Solve this
  • I’m currently working on a web app/social tool that will be used by kids as young as kindergarten, all the way through high school seniors. This means that many of the users of the app are pre-literate. However, we have to maintain identity. How do I create a secure login system for users that might not know how to spell their name, let alone have an email address or be able to remember a password? How can this then scale, linguistically and visually, as these users grow and become high-school seniors themselves? Solve this.
  • I  try and use Stv as my online handle across all social networks. This means I often end up signing up for early access, alphas, betas, etc, just so that I have a chance to reserve this 3-letter handle. Many networks don’t let me have a handle that is only 3 letters. On some networks like Twitter, it can’t figure out when someone from Scotland is address their local TV network, known as STV), that they’re not addressing me. In the real world, I personally know 5 other people who go by the name of Steve. We are rarely confused for each other. Online identity & handles need to be as flexible. If I want people to address me as Stv online, that should be possible across all networks, regardless of how the network itself identifies me. Solve this.

VanCity, I’m so tired of you

I’ve been a loyal VanCity customer since I moved to Vancouver in the mid-90’s. I wanted a local bank whose values seemed to match my own politics. I was swayed by their enviro-visa give-back program. I loved the annual $1,000,000 community-project fund. I loved that they were very progressive in their LGBT (or however you want to organize that acronym) support. So I switched. And for the first few years, I felt smug knowing that I banked with them. But then I tried to get a loan to buy  a new computer. And sure, I didn’t make much money, but more than enough to cover the monthly payments. But I was self-employed, so they said no. Eventually, after having my parents co-sign it, I got a loan. I should note I payed it off early. When Leah & I first bought a car, VanCity refused to loan me money. We ended up leasing through Ford Finance, which was a horrible experience. At the time, I figured it was ok that they refused us, because I didn’t make much money, but I felt I made enough & was definitely disappointed. Because I was self-employed, I wanted a Line of Credit to help deal with months where maybe cheques didn’t come in on time. That was flat-out refused – despite having good credit, a long history with them & my having a decent ‘salary’. At work, we re-arranged our company from a Partnership to a Corporation in part so it I could list myself as an employee of a company rather than an owner. Work did well, I started making more money. After Liam was born, we wanted to buy another car. Toyota jumped at option to give us a loan to buy a car, at a great rate. I called Vancity, who not only would not match the rate offered by Toyota, but wouldn’t even approve me for a loan without a co-signature. So we used Toyota financial (which was a great experience, for the record). When we bought a house, we used a mortgage broker who got us a great rate. Again, because I was loyal to Vancity, I checked with them to see if they could match the rate. Again, no, they couldn’t. It’s just endless frustration when dealing with them.

My experience with them for business banking has been if anything, even worse. Every time we asked for things like a Line of Credit, we were refused – in part, as far as I understood it, because they needed  Jeff and I as co-owners to co-sign for it, and so it was based on our credit rating. But our credit rating was suspect because we were business owners of a company that was looking for credit. What??? And it seemed like every time we needed them to help us, by quickly clearing a cheque, or whatnot, they couldn’t.  And despite being heavy bankers, we could not get a personal banker assigned to our account. We eventually switched to HSBC, in part because we were immediately assigned us a banker to look out for us – who has, simply by helping us get a better US exchange, likely saved us thousands of dollars. But is also a single person we can call and ask business-banking questions to. And who gave us a line of credit, without issue, quickly. And as anyone else who runs a small business knows, having a line of credit is one of those essentials for doing business. I have friends who run a local small business, who also bank at VanCity. According to them, they weren’t able to get a line of credit with VanCity until they met, and became friendly with the CEO of VanCity at a conference, and all of sudden doors opened for them. That shouldn’t have to happen.

Leah and I opened a BMO account also to have a joint account, and also because my parents banked there, and I’m lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me with a down-payment on my house – and because it was going to be so tricky with VanCity for my parents in Toronto to transfer me money, it was simply easier to open an account at BMO. But dealing with BMO has been so much less painful than dealing with VanCity, the chances of me talking to BMO next time I want something are pretty high. When I next buy RRSPs, I doubt it’ll be VanCity. Or when I next buy a car & want a car loan. Or line of credit. Or want investment advice. So why do I stick with VanCity? Particularly when I look at their community involvement, it seems to have dropped to the same level of tokenism as the big banks, so why should I stay?

Here’s what I want in my bank. I want to have a person with a name & phone number & email to whom I can ask questions. Who’ll review my info at least once a quarter and suggest things – new investments, or more optimal account packages, or suggest an RRSP loan, or whatever. Ideally, I’d like a bank that I could also do my business banking with that seems to actually understand how my small business works and is willing to work with us to find solutions. Maybe I am asking for the sky, but I don’t feel like I am. I feel like I’m asking for something quite reasonable, but maybe not.  But I do think that I might be done with VanCity. I’d love to be wrong. I want to love VanCity again, but at the moment, I just don’t see that happening.

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