Sunday, January 31, 2010

Toronto vs. Vancouver

Well, not really. Nothing seems to generate vapid columns about common Canadian stereotypes than Globe and Mail columnists writing about any larger city - usually one of Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal. But usually Vancouver, I tend to think. Unsurprisingly, these never fail to generate lots of snarky comments from online readers. But first the offending article:
Please do not misunderstand me: I am not about to do the eastern-Canadian, passive-aggressive, Toronto thing that Vancouverites hate, which is to decry Vancouver as a beautiful but empty-headed woman you long to sleep with and then can't wait to ditch so that you can talk about something other than the muscle tone of her thighs.

Vancouver has always been unspeakably beautiful, but the Olympics stand to launch it into the global stratosphere.

At that point the city will completely replace Toronto and Montreal and (really?) Ottawa, which actually has more residents than Vancouver, as the go-to city in the mind of the world, when the mind of the world thinks of Canada – especially the mind of Asia, which is going to control most of the money on the planet for the next 200 years.
Yes, Vancouver will be the go-to city in the "mind of the world". I wish I could make such a turn of phrase up myself. The author goes on to describe a code of etiquette for city employees which apparently caused something of an uproar (I guess Vancouverites react badly to the implication that they're clueless and socially awkward), but that doesn't really bear mentioning here. The amusing thing is that the online comments invariably take one of three forms - people slagging Toronto, others slagging Vancouver, and a third smaller group of people calling for peace in our time.

This post reflects none of those positions. However, I did find this comment rather amusing:
By the way, an anecdote about Toronto subways to balance things up. I worked there for 5 years and, forgive me, but I don't remember everyone chatting to each other on the subway. Being thoroughly miserable in public was the order of the day - every day.
This, of course, is entirely accurate. Toronto is a big anonymous city. Vancouver is not nearly as big, but just as anonymous. I have come to realize lately that I'm not a "big city" person. Not anymore at least. I really enjoy visiting for days or weeks at a time, but that's about all I can manage. Everything's too spread out, too big, and there are too many people everywhere all the time. For all the enjoyment I get hanging out in downtown TO, most of the city consists of strip malls, character-less, cookie-cutter suburbs, and big box outlets. Oh, and lots of new condos. That all look kinda the same.

Vancouver is generally prettier, up to and including its suburbs like Burnaby and Richmond, but it's an appallingly expensive place to live and the stark class divisions between different areas of the city persists. Lovely place to visit, but I already live near the ocean, less than a 5-10 minute walk to the harbour or to Point Pleasant Park. I live within a 20 minute walk of almost everything I need, and most things are closer: several grocery stores, most buildings at Dal, the hospitals, my bank, drug stores, an excellent selection of restaurants, and, of course, an HMV. Not that I buy much there lately. If I need to go a bit further afield, I've learned that the buses are certainly adequate, and there are always lots of cabs - not that walking is usually a problem, as even downtown is only 20 minutes away at most.

So, yes, I love Hali. But there is a cultural element to this too. I hadn't fully appreciated it until I spent a year in Waterloo, but Ontario is... different. Smaller cities there are friendlier, certainly, but I didn't find K-W to be appreciably less anonymous. If Nova Scotia is friendlier - and I think it is - it's also somewhat less open, and there is a vastly stronger sense of history than most places in Ontario (I think!). Vancouver is even more ephemeral. If Toronto feels like it's in a constant process of reinventing itself (to varying degrees of success), Vancouver seems ever focussed on its natural beauty, "lifestyle", and - currently - the all important Olympics. Nothing too substantive there, and little more than handwringing over some of the worst social problems in the country.

Now, Halifax is far from perfect. Traffic problems are ever worsening, parking and living on the peninsula are fairly expensive (fortunately I only do the latter), and the less said about the sewage treatment fiasco the better. But it's almost the perfect size for a city. We just need some way of getting people on and off the peninsula more efficiently and without having to use their own cars. One day perhaps. One day soon I'll go home to the Valley too. Rural (or small town) living is perhaps a topic for another post, though.

1 comment:

Marie said...

I was convinced to spend a summer in Vancouver by an old flame once. He kept insisting it's so different. Nobody rushes. It's friendlier. I found quite the contrary. People rushed and were just as competitive - even in their free time wanting me to go rock climbing in the morning and scuba diving in the afternoon.

I just wanted to sit on the porch with a beer. I found much more of that going on out East, and in Waterloo for that matter. But that's just one anecdote.