Move back to Vancouver? You’re kidding, right?
National Post columnist and Calgary resident Jen Gerson on why she'd love to come back home—and why she can't
June 6, 2016
Let’s start with the confession no good Calgarian should ever make: my husband and I both love Vancouver. I spent most of my childhood there; he, his undergrad. I miss the mountains, the ocean, the long treks in the rainforest an easy distance from home. Now pregnant with our first child, it would make all kinds of sense to return home like full-grown salmon eager to spawn (minus the death at the end, ideally). And we could do it, too. Our jobs are mobile, and we could both probably swing such a move. But we won’t. We wouldn’t. We can’t.
When my husband and I discuss our future, we talk about staying put in Calgary, or perhaps moving to Toronto. There’s even some distant fantasy of a rural acreage with an ocean view on the East Coast. But Vancouver? You’ve got to be kidding, right? We’re double-income professionals with a baby on the way, and we can do the math. That math is clear: moving home would be the dumbest possible decision we could make at this stage of life.
This is the point, Dear Vancouverite, where you’re bracing for the typical Millennial lament. Your housing costs are too high! Amazing people like us can’t afford to live there! The world owes us something! The government owes us something! Feel free to relax your hackles. No one is entitled to live anywhere, and Vancouver doesn’t owe us jack. The question of where to live is a simple matter of cost and benefit. The jobs are neither plentiful nor well-paying enough there to justify the cost of housing. So my husband and I wound up in a city where we could finish our education, build careers, own a home, and start a family by our early thirties.
That city was Calgary. We found a modest three-bedroom townhouse, a little run-down around the edges, but I cleaned up the kitchen with paint, new cupboards, and a glass-tile backsplash. We spend a reasonable sum on housing. We live across the street from a library, a joyless but functional kiddie park, a yoga studio, and a few hole-in-the wall Vietnamese joints. There’s money in the bank, a car in the garage, and a short drive to the maternity hospital where I was born. It was there that we saw the first ultrasound that confirmed a tiny nose, lips, and limbs that seem so bird-like that I worry about breaking them when I bend over.
Vancouver can’t offer me this, and that’s fine. There is a cost to everything, and I can’t afford to live in central London or Monaco, either. I don’t waste a lot of time railing against Boris Johnson or Albert II. But however content I might be with this state of affairs, I’m not sure Vancouver should feel the same way. From a distance, the city of fair weather and early tulips looks more and more like a resort town for the wealthy, or for the landed elite who bought in early and are now aging in place. And where once my friends settled for hellish commutes from Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, now they’re moving to Squamish and Comox. At those distances, they might as well be in Calgary or Saskatoon—places that offer more opportunities and better amenities.
More and more people my age are doing the same math, and coming to the same solution: just leave. Mountains are pretty, but you go where you can build a life. My mother and aunt and grandmother are settling in Vancouver as they age, of course. They’ve built their equity and want gardens and oceans and access to long green trails they can walk in winter. Distance is tricky, though. We’re training my mother on Skype for the grandchild she’s only going to get to hold on holidays. There is a cost to everything, after all.