This month marks the 20th anniversary of my move from Toronto to Vancouver, trading the dirt and ice of late winter for a riot of sunshine and blossoms.
Talk about Lotus Land: city crews with blowers blew thick blankets of petals off the sidewalks and I walked around in a daze of cherry blossoms, magnolias, daffodils, tulips, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.
After Toronto, Vancouver seemed like a West Coast Theme Park, with the Forest Ride, the Ocean Ride and the Mountain Ride. Everywhere I went, there were marvels: snowcapped peaks minutes from downtown, sandy beaches, giant trees, and critters you don’t often see in a city: seals, herons, eagles.
What a beautiful place, I thought.
After a while, I began to notice something else. The downtown, especially down-at-heels sections along False Creek and Yaletown, were plastered with development application signs. Promising one 35- to 40-storey building after another.
Looking back, I have to smile, as I simply didn’t believe it. I thought post-Expo enthusiasm would die down, and Vancouver would lapse into its natural groove as a place where the glistening waters of English Bay were full of sailboats at 2:30 in the afternoon, and people sauntered down Georgia.
But I was wrong. Every one of those 40-storey condos was built, and then some. Every square inch of the core has been redeveloped since I got here, and SkyTrain has allowed the high-rise virus to extend into Burnaby, Coquitlam and beyond.
After a pause for breath in the ’90s, we’re into another frenzy of development leading up to the 2010 Olympics, and I’m beginning to wonder two things: Will we ever be done? What have we done?
Let’s be frank. We will never again be that laid-back little slice of heaven from 1989. I’m an optimist, so I have faith we will be able to overcome our world-class challenges: gridlock and gangs, the loss of decent, affordable housing and the intangible friendliness that’s running out of room to bloom.
We can do it, but only if we remember what we’ve got, and don’t let greed overwhelm good sense. This is still the best place on Earth, but what will it be … 20 years from now?