carlyn yandle photo
If you haven’t seen the Fred Herzog show at the Vancouver Art Gallery yet, go. It explains a lot about Vancouver, especially to those who weren’t around before Expo ’86 changed everything.
Long before that era between Expo and the Olympics bid, when Vancouver was largely a three dressed up as a nine, Herzog’s images were of a port town of working people of another time, before we were all besieged by Hummer/Porche values and stretch SUV limos bearing self-congratulatory licence plates insisting that this is “The Best Place on Earth.”
I grew up here, so I’m still a little startled to round a corner and find myself smack up against yet another gleaming “world class” condo tower or another exquisite/exclusive martini lounge that looks like it was plucked off the streets of Soho.
However, I have to admit there’s some good stuff in all this growth, particularly in the burgeoning creative class. It’s there in provocative public sculptures like David Oppenheim’s Device to Root Out Evil (or, more commonly, Upside-down Church) in Coal Harbour. It’s in action at the massive, grassroots Illuminaries festival at Trout Lake and Folk Festival at Jericho Beach every July. And it’s evident every day in stores that boost their presence through inspired design and display that depend on artistic types to make it all happen.
Back in the port-town days, there was one way for retailers to entice Vancouverites to venture inside: line up as many wares as possible in the window, whether it’s hardware or handbags, each with an orange burst price tag. Practical and boring. Today, with skyrocketing store frontage rates and plenty of competition, especially from big-box retailers, smaller shops have to be creative to draw business, and it shows. Areas like Main and 25th, the Denman strip, Davie Village, the Drive, Broadway and McDonald, and Granville Rise are evolving into visually energizing communities. Artisans working in everything from metal to wool are setting a high benchmark in retail décor along Railspur Alley, the newest development on Granville Island. Well-known conceptual artist Ken Lum co-owns the deliciously designed Gastropod on West 4th Avenue. And “theatrical installation” is more fitting than “display” in the windows of LouLou Luv on West Broadway.
Suddenly, there are so many ingenious design ideas in my boring old port town. Like a tourist in London or Paris, I’m inspired enough to stop to make notes or take photos.
Carlyn Yandle is a Vancouver journalist with her own room-planning business,Home Reworks. She dwells on urban-home issues every Thursday in Metro.