Editorial: Young, educated Vancouverites are not widgets

Why an open letter about the plight of young people in Vancouver was so wrong—and so very, very right

June 8, 2016

By Max Fawcett

Like a lot of people in this city, I read Jennifer Fox’s “Dear John” letter to the Province back in March. And like a lot of people, I didn’t like it. Her description of the eight years she spent living in Vancouver as “an abusive relationship” was remarkably tone-deaf, and when she wrote that “Your people and politicians have failed me,” well, I confess that I fantasized about inventing a time machine just so I could go back and euthanize whoever it was that decided it was a good idea to give children an endless supply of self-esteem.

But here’s the thing: we should listen to what she had to say, even if we don’t like the way she said it. She’s not the only person her age who’s leaving Vancouver, and while most of them don’t write obnoxious letters before they go, many are making the same calculations that she outlined in hers. For many, those calculations practically scream out an answer: go.

Can those people be replaced? Sure. Vancouver’s an undeniably attractive city, and there will always be people from other parts of the province, the country, and the world who are willing to try their luck here. But young people aren’t widgets, and they can’t just be swapped in and out without there being a cost attached. One of those costs, I’d submit, is the pervasive sense of loneliness that’s the bass line to this city’s soundtrack. If young people are constantly coming and going it becomes difficult for them to develop a proper sense of place and belonging, much less the kinds of relationships with friends, neighbours, and casual acquaintances that lubricate a city’s social life.

So sure, let’s be critical of how Ms. Fox communicated her message. But let’s not lose the signal that’s buried in with all that noise. This city is an increasingly hostile place when it comes to the dreams and aspirations of young and educated people, and those are precisely the people whose dreams and aspirations we need to come true. A city in which young and educated people can’t imagine a future for themselves is a city that effectively has no future. You can read all about this in Trevor Melanson’s cover story.

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