Vancouver, I need a housing hug. Work with me!

KizmitWent to the really great marketing ploy, Gesamtkunstwerk (be careful how you pronounce it), to listen to Jeff Derksen, a poet and English prof at SFU speak to the future of the city and how social housing might be re-imagined in Vancouver.  Enjoyed some wine and a very tasty pretzel bun dipped in grainy hot mustard too. Thank you very much.

The first thing I learned, or had reinforced, given that I already sort of knew it, is that if you want to market something, give it a really cool name that’s hard to pronounce for everyone who isn’t fluent in German.  Get some intelligent, in-the-know and interesting individuals as speakers. Put it in a stark space. Include an exhibit with architectural drawings and small models. Turn it into a “go-to” event. They, whoever they are specifically, did a really great job at putting this on.

Derksen was comparing the approach to social housing in Vienna versus Vancouver. What I’m saying here is my bastardization of what he said. But it will give you the idea.  They actually have a will to do social housing in Vienna which ranks as the top place it the world for livability.

In Vancouver, social housing only ever seems to gets imagined in a very unimaginary way and always in relation to those on the lowest rung, (actually, they’re not even on a rung, they’ve dropped onto the street). In contrast, in Vienna, 60% of people live in some form of subsidized housing and Vienna is ranked as the No. 1 livable city in the world. Gee. I wonder if there’s a correlation? Ya think?

There is imagination in Vienna around social housing that is apparently lacking in Vancouver. Or given the gold mine of creativity that exists here, I guess it’s really just the will that’s lacking. Derksen did seem to be treading lightly of course, given that the people hosting him have the main goal of selling more condos.  Specifically at a cool looking place called Vancouver House.  Interesting but not quite as exciting for those of us who can barely afford the furniture in the lobby of new said building when it’s done, let alone a whole condo in an architectural sculpture. And just to be clear, I’m not knocking it. I just want Vancouver to provide more options based on a spectrum of bank accounts.

Sometimes when you live in Vancouver and purchasing a place to live is not a option, you begin to feel like it’s normal to be on the outside looking in all the time. Like that’s the way God wanted it.  The chosen ones are in condos. You’re not. Oh well. And it’s not that I even desire to live in a condo. I’d rather live in a yurt or a couple of shipping containers that have been architecturally renovated, one arranged like a block on top of the other and in a little sunny clearing in a forest. That’s way more my style.  A condo does not factor into my dreams.

It isn’t until you go to a talk like this that you begin to think, hey, just a minute, who made the rules anyway? Who said that the only thing dictating everything has to be money?  Is it enough for a city to receive all the love? Doesn’t it have to give some back? This unrequited love thing might have gone too far in Vancouver.  Is there any other city in the world that’s as self loving as Vancouver? If so, let me know where. I don’t ever want to go there. Is it enough to love a city or should we also expect that the city might give more of us, proportionately, some love back? This is sort of what Jeff Derksen asked. Read his essay on it (unless you’re over 50 and then the teeny, weeny print will mean you won’t because it will be too hard to read).

While you’re at it. Take a look at this short description of the approach to social housing in Vienna where 5,000 to 7,000 social housing units built each year and that equals 85 percent of the new housing stock there annually. It’s a  big fat bear hug if not outright love. It’s commitment to everyone, rich, poor, elderly, youth.

So, that’s the long way of saying what kind of city would you rather live in. Exclusive or Inclusive?

* The photo above, taken on Salt Spring, is the entrance to the house behind a very creative little coffee place/gallery called Kizmit that’s kind of its own little exhibit, Salt Spring style.