Municipal Politics
Urban Planning + Architecture

Help Us Write a ManifestSlow for Vancouver

If living here feels increasingly out of control, what’s the fix? Help figure that out on Oct. 18.

By David Beers 10 Oct 2018 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

Check your pulse. Check your breathing. Check your anxiety level. Check how you feel, living in or around Vancouver these days. Check the speed of the treadmill under your feet. Are you sensing some unseen hand keeps cranking up the speed so that your heart, your brain, must strain just to keep up?

How can that be? We live in a place so natural, so casual, so famously laid back. That is the Lotus Land stereotype. But deep down we know Vancouver is quickly evolving into a 21st century paradox. If this city still appears peacefully “slow” to tourists, it feels faster (and faster and faster) to we who live here. We sense the shifts, we measure our speed of existence, in ways invisible to visitors.

Vancouver is where, as cranes raise towers while tractors raze homes, neighbourhood changes are ever accelerating.

Vancouver is where the gap between average income and housing costs is among North America’s largest. Merely affording shelter means running from gig to gig to earn cash while pitted against a world of money.

Vancouver is a city with speed freaks at the controls. They are bent, for example, on spending billions of dollars to move people just a few minutes faster across the heart of town below Broadway, as if such speed is everyone’s first need. We rarely are invited to pause, to ask whether those billions could be spent differently to make us content in more profound ways.

Vancouver, as one urbanist told me, is where you “hurry up and chill.”

Slowest City?

What would it mean if instead of trying so hard to be the “Greenest City,” Vancouver aimed to be the “Slowest City”?

It’s a question I’ve explored with city design professor Patrick Condon in these pages.

It’s a question I now invite you to ponder with me. On Thursday, Oct. 18, I will host an evening of communal brainstorming under the slightly tongue-in-cheek heading “Make Vancouver the Slowest City!”

Three brilliant panelists — and audience members including you — will together write a ManifestSlow for Vancouver, to then be published in The Tyee. We will be asking:

How do we redesign our streets, culture and economy to reclaim a sane pace of life?

How can residents be given more control over the evolving look and feel of their neighbourhoods?

How to make sure people who so valuably contribute their creativity and hard work aren’t forced out by unstoppable global forces?

What is too fast about Vancouver? What are we failing to notice and savour? When is slower better?

Those sorts of questions have fuelled a Slow City movement of 252 member cities which grew out of the Slow Food movement in Italy. Cittaslow, as the Italians named it, tends to focus on cities with populations of 50,000 or fewer (Cowichan Bay became North America’s first member in 2009). In the U.K., a Canadian named Tessa Watt also founded the club Slow Down London. “There are people in cities all over the world who have found all sorts of ways to bring a sense of relaxation to places where it can often be stressful to live,” notes the Slow London website. They “are interested in finding out how to make commuting a pleasure rather than a chore” and “how to reclaim time as the friend it really is.”

All of which is to say, if you come to the Oct. 18 event, you will be joined to a movement that is building (not so slowly) globally.

The panelists we’ve asked to help write our ManifestSlow include:

Meeru Dhalwala, author, chef and co-founder of Vij’s restaurant, will talk about the hidden, often harried world of new immigrants who work in small businesses, how to better support them, and what they can teach us about communal ties.

Melody Ma, tech expert and culture advocate, will critique Vancouver’s approach to attracting technology jobs, positing a “Slow Tech” approach as more sustainable. She’ll also draw on her Chinatown advocacy to share lessons in controlling the pace and shape of neighbourhood changes.

Mitchell Reardon, researcher for Happy City, on turning sterile public zones into fun gathering points, and what kinds of transportation experiences people truly prefer.

Then you and all others in the audience will be invited to add your points to our ManifestSlow. The event is part of the CapU Speaker Series. Ticket info is here.

The good new days

Before I languidly amble off, may I just say: Please don’t misinterpret where I am going with this. I am not arguing for some gauzy version of the old days. I am not wishing to throw Vancouver’s timeline in reverse. Cities are by nature transformers of culture, and our transformation must continue. Therein lies the opportunity. Together, let us contemplate, and then push for, more humane principles to guide that change.

Personally, I want a future Vancouver that is more ethnically diverse and livable for people of lower incomes. A Vancouver that is more welcoming to newcomers. A Vancouver, too, that is more cutting edge in terms of its policies and design. None of this contradicts a Vancouver that nevertheless feels much less anxious and out of control than now. Because the future Vancouver I am wanting feels more convivial, more inclusive in its decision making, more secure in every sense. The future Vancouver I would ask you to help envision with me on Oct. 18 would grant its citizens a sense of well-being that cannot be snatched away by unseen global forces.

So that’s me. What are you thinking?

A final note. When The Tyee announced the October event last week, National Post columnist Chris Selley quickly tweeted a gentle jibe: “Vancouver is already the slowest city, surely.” Perfectly understandable. As Selley’s bio explains, “Aside from six years in Montreal, where he attended McGill University, and two snowy winters in small-town British Columbia, he's a lifelong Torontonian.” To many Torontonians, Vancouver remains a quaint postcard. Perhaps Selley would like to be brought up to speed. If so, in the comments below, would some of you who do live here be willing to do so? Would you spend some of your increasingly precious time explaining what makes Vancouver feel like a relentless stress test?

In other words, have at the ManifestSlow!

If you’d like to find out more about the Oct. 18 event “Make Vancouver the Slowest City!” including ticket info, click here.  [Tyee]

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