Sunday, June 4, 2017

After The Goldrush

After what has surely been the dreariest and wettest winter/spring on record, an early start to summer appeared with the Queen Victoria Day weekend.  The sun was shining, the outdoor patios & beaches were crowded and everyone had forgotten about the provincial election which had resulted in no clear winner. A brief respite from the unending trio of Vancouver woes; real estate prices, traffic congestion, and pipelines.

After a week of sunshine the rain returned and so did the three headed hydra. The Liberals attempt to dismiss the monster as a figment of people's imaginations didn't work but the NDP/Green plan to slay the beast wasn't all that credible either. The NIMBYism of certain Vancouver neighbourhoods wasn't going to allow for denser, low cost housing solutions, and neither was the absence of a speculator's tax, so people were fleeing to the suburbs and getting caught up in oil fuelled traffic jams on obsolete roads & bridges that nobody wants to pay for upgrading or replacing.

Just as in the olden days of previous gold rushes, the speculators and people with money continue to pour into the city hoping to cash in on a slice of paradise. An entire house of cards economy is built upon ever increasing layers of loans and finance to keep everything in motion.  Luxury shops spring up everywhere to take money from the rich for overpriced, trinkets, baubles, and articles of clothing while elsewhere merchants for the regular folks struggle to stay in business with ever increasing rents and competition from the Internet.

Oblivious to the more dangerous threat of oil being delivered by rail car as opposed to pipelines, the city`s futurists plan for an economy driven by video game programming, craft breweries, and installing made in China solar panels, with people cycling everywhere.  Meanwhile people living outside the lower mainland wonder what they will do for a living once all the oil & gas exploration, mining, and logging has been shut down.

The history of B.C. has always been one of boom and bust, which is what happens when the lure of easy money becomes stronger than the desire to be grounded in reality. In a land of super abundance it always seems like the good times will never end. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and the question we should be asking ourselves now is what happens after the goldrush?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The In Crowd

For the second year in a row Vancouver's annual 4/20 event was held at Sunset Beach and police estimated the crowd at more than 35,000 which was even bigger than last year's. 4/20 (which stands for April 20th) is, for anyone who didn't already know, the world recognized day of celebration for the planet's dope smokers. Throughout the day the Vancouver locals make their way to the designated rally point and spend the day skipping out (if they work or go to school) lighting up, and waiting until 4:20 precisely when everyone exhales at the same time and blows a cloud of marijuana smoke into the atmosphere. In Vancouver this has been going on for 22 years.

Getting together to smoke some pot at 4:20 p.m. has been allegedly happening since 1971 when some high school students in San Francisco coined the term. In past years the event was held in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was formerly the city's courthouse, in a none too subtle dig at the forces of law and order which, until this year, had deemed cannabis to be an illegal substance. As with alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or any other substance governments try to ban under the hypocritical guise of morality, it only serves to drive it underground and into the hands of criminals who thrive on the profits. With a government that has finally seen the light, Canadians will soon be free to get drunk or stoned with impunity.

On the 3rd/4th Sunday of every April a very different sort of get together happens and that is the Vancouver Sun Run. For 33 years now thousands of people have been getting together for a 10 km run/walk through the downtown to promote health, fitness and community spirit and to support amateur athletics. It has grown to be one of the world's largest race events that even Vancouver's occasional rain can't suppress.

What the two events do have in common however is group think. Not for these folks the quiet contemplation of life while getting a buzz or leaving footprints in the sand/snow where nobody has gone before. Yes it's all in good fun but it's also another example of sheep-like behaviour where collective actions overrule individual thinking. Too often this has been the cause of most world problems and not enough of the solutions when everyone so desperately wants to be part of the "in crowd".

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In

Nelson back in English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
Nice to be back in the ocean again after such a long winter. While in theory I could have kept swimming in the ocean and stayed warm enough in my 5mm wetsuit, it was a nice change to be inside for a few months and work out with some of my Aquatic Centre buddies. Needless to say it's a completely different experience with all the crowded lanes and everyone rushing to beat the clock.

Crowded Vancouver Aquatic Centre
 As someone who has to compete everyday in the workplace I can't understand why people would want to spend their leisure time in such a competitive training frenzy instead of just enjoying the pleasure and exercise of a good swim.There's more to life than competition and anyways, they haven't a hope of beating any of Michael Phelps' Olympic records. Out in English Bay there are no time clocks or crowds, just some birds, the occasional seal, and the opportunity to contemplate life as you float in Nature's watery embrace.

 Vancouver Aquatic Centre from the inside - photo by Junie Quiroga
The first thing you notice about the Aquatic Centre is that it's completely closed off from the outside world. Not a window in sight to let in any light or to share the view of English Bay even though the building itself is right on the beach. A truly ugly, concrete bunker that must have been designed by a blind man or someone who specialized in Cold War bomb shelters.

Vancouver Aquatic Centre from the outside
Crystal Pool from the inside

Crystal Pool from the outside
Even its predecessor the old Crystal Pool, which lasted from 1928 - 1974 until the Aquatic Centre opened a few blocks away, had at least one window. It was also the pool where Elaine Tanner, Canada's last great female swimmer and winner of Olympic, Pan Am and Commonwealth medals, trained. Thankfully the time is coming soon for the Aquatic Centre to be replaced with a new facility, but, where it goes and what it will look like, are closely held secrets.

Sunset Beach
The most obvious place to build a new facility would be around Sunset Beach which right now is nothing but a hot dog stand, a muddy playing field, and an empty parking lot. The view of the ocean and mountains is fabulous and, with a little imagination, a world class facility could be built that really highlights West Coast design. A new Aquatic Centre could be built for free by one of the big developers and, in exchange, the old site could be turned over as compensation. Whether or not the City and Parks Board can arrange something this simple or get bogged down in all sorts of social housing, density, and bike lane arguments is another matter altogether.

English Bay - photo by Junie Quiroga
 As long as I have the ocean to swim in I don't really care what they do with the Aquatic Centre. As much as I appreciate the lifestyle of a high density city, being able to get away from all the people by simply slipping into the ocean is magical. I don't need windows either and, if this is my age of Aquarius, all I can say is let the sunshine in.

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Laughing Men - photo by Junie Quiroga
The biggest story so far this year in Vancouver has been the snow, the snow that just won't go away. Vancouverites pay big bucks to live here (as everyone knows) and one of the reasons is because we don't have to put up with snow like the rest of Canada. A little snow over the Xmas holidays is fine and, of course, all the snow the ski hills can handle is also okay, but it's not supposed to fall in the city. When it does it's not supposed to last and, once we get things all cleaned up and washed away, we don't want it to return.

Crying Men - photo by Junie Quiroga
But this year things were different and, as a result, the laughing men were no longer laughing, the mayor's bicycle obsession came to a screeching halt, and everywhere there were people stranded at bus stops while those in automobiles were playing bumper cars on the slippery unsalted streets.  The only people smiling were the auto body repair shops who had more work than they could handle. While parents fretted over school closures and losing their free daycare service the children themselves were happy at being able to legitimately cut class. For those who worry about the lack of exercise kids seem to get these days it was almost as if an "act of God" finally got them to put down their electronic toys and go outside to play.

Snow covered bikes - photo by Junie Quiroga
Most upset of all were the resident Canada geese population who were left scratching their heads at this change of circumstance. Used to not having to fly south in the winter or north in the summer they wondered what the heck was going on. Rain was one thing but snow was definitely not what the travel agent had promised. Angrily protesting on the beach they even nudged out the anti-tanker crowd who had to join forces instead with the anti-Trump protesters on Georgia Street.

Angry birds - photo by Junie Quiroga
While things got even tougher for the homeless people who continue to flock to the capital of British California in spite of all the bad drugs, the geese were more concerned with a lack of the good grass that was always legal no matter who was elected Prime Minister.

Birds searching for good grass - photo by Junie Quiroga
But the geese needn't worry because, in the West End there are plenty of misguided but goodhearted folks who are hoping global warming will one day become a reality but in the meantime are happy to contribute to the confusion and provide gluten free snacks to their feathered friends. This type of winter only happens every 20 years or so and, if the latest predictions are correct, this may be the last one before our weather changes to be more like San Diego's. If that happens none of us will ever have to think about going southbound anymore and all will be good.

Geese on English Bay in the winter - photo by Junie Quiroga

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vancouver the Beautiful

Most city skylines are defined by some sort of iconic building; the CN tower for Toronto, the Empire State Building for New York, the Sydney Opera House, or the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower in Shanghai but for Vancouver that signature building has yet to appear amongst the high rise forest in the downtown peninsula.

Some cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, and Chicago have so many interesting buildings it's hard to know where to begin. There can also be a monument like the Eiffel Tower for Paris, the Statue of Liberty for New York, Christ the Redeemer in Rio, or Big Ben in London that defines a city.

It could even be something as practical as a bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco, the Brooklyn bridge in New York or London's Tower bridge.

Nearby ruins and/or ancient buildings are often what defines a city like the Parthenon in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, the Forbidden City in Bejing, the Giza Pyramids of Cairo, or the Aztec Pyramids of the Sun & Moon in Teotihuacan/Mexico City. There's also those that ended up a little further away like the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza, the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu, and the Great Wall of China.

There are also all the religious monuments such as Ankgor Wat, the  St Peter's Basillica in Rome/Vatican, Mecca, Stonehenge, or St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, 

But none of these cities has the natural backdrop that makes Vancouver so unique. Rio and Hong Kong may have their forested hills and magnificent beaches but neither they or any other city has the snowy mountains on their doorstep in addition to the ocean that allows for residents to ski in the morning and sail or swim in the afternoon. It's what makes Vancouver unique and simply the most beautiful city on earth.