Why the West End Topped Our Livability Index

This neighbourhood came out on top in our Neighbourhood Rankings for 2018. Writer Nikki Bayley reflects on why.

March 23, 2018

By Nikki Bayley / Photo: Ariana Gillrie

I fell in love with the West End before I ever set foot inside Canada. It’s the pin-up in that billion-dollar Tourism Vancouver beauty shot: all gleaming high-rises; the ocean hugging the beachfront shoreline; Stanley Park glowing greenly at its tip, with snow-capped mountains rising majestically to complete the can’t-believe-it’s-not-Photoshopped image of perfection.

When I moved to the city in 2012, I wound up in a sublet in Kits and would longingly stare at what felt like the “real” Vancouver across the water. As soon as I could leave, I did so, and found my home among the gay bars, gyoza joints, all-night supermarkets, beautiful beaches and gorgeous green spaces of the West End. I loved that this was where the city comes to party: for Pride, for the annual fireworks, the concerts in Malkin Bowl and movies in the park. I loved its easy walkability, discovering the beauty of Mole Hill, the heritage homes scattered like hidden treasures, the summer market in Nelson Park and the contrary joy of snickering at the drum circle and fire-stick twirlers at Third Beach while secretly loving them.

From nesting crows randomly dive-bombing our heads in the spring to the nightly urban adventure of dodging skunks and begging tourists to stop feeding raccoons: we might be in the heart of the city, but our leafy ’hood is alive with nature. And if you ever need a break from the gleeful shimmer of the disco lights strung along Davie Street or the noisy bustle of hungry diners as they wait in lineups to devour bowls of ramen and triple-fried Korean chicken on Denman and Robson, escape is a few minutes away into the hush of Stanley Park, our big and beautiful backyard. I fall in love with the city every single time I walk around Lost Lagoon, seeing those glass high-rises glittering across the water, framed by soaring firs.

 I found my home among the gay bars, gyoza joints, all-night supermarkets, beautiful beaches and gorgeous green spaces of the West End.

The first apartments in the West End were just three floors high, then six, and in the ’60s and ’70s, an orgy of high-rise building broke out, with more than 200 towers pushing their way into the skyline. The West End became one of the most densely populated areas in North America, and that hodgepodge of people living in close quarters blossomed into a network of communities. From the LQBTQ+ support of Qmunity to the Gordon Neighbourhood House on Broughton, with their almost-daily community lunches and programs of everything from qigong to family-friendly play sessions and social events for twenty- and thirtysomethings, there’s a deep sense of community in the ’hood—and, in a city that has a rep for social isolation and being tough on newcomers, the West End welcome is especially warm.

Of course, in this city, that warmth comes at an increasingly high price. When I got here, you could easily find a decent apartment for around $1,000 a month; five years later, that’s simply not possible. “The challenges in the West End are partly because it is so desirable,” says MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert. “Rents have gone crazy; long-time residents are really squeezed and hit by large rises; we have an occupancy rate of 99.6 percent in the West End, and there’s steep competition for that 0.4 percent.” Although Herbert’s team has done essential work helping end fixed-term tenancy loopholes and outlawing the odious Geographical Area Increase clause (a clause in the Residential Tenancy Act that said a landlord should be able to charge more to existing tenants if other nearby rents were higher), he says that as a government they’re playing catch-up: “I’m a positive guy, but we need to make changes to stop it becoming a playground for the rich.”

I fall in love with the city every single time I walk around Lost Lagoon, seeing those glass high-rises glittering across the water, framed by soaring firs.

With luck, those safeguards will be in place as we transition through the West End Community Plan, which currently has 10 towers under construction with another four on the way, and seeks to add some 7,000 to 10,000 new residents over the next 30 years. It’s a plan that Green Party councillor Adriane Carr voted against, over fears that the Georgia, Alberni and Burrard developments would push land prices sky-high (which they have) but, an optimist at heart, Carr says she remains hopeful for the “interior” of the West End—which has limited opportunities for increased density, and for the positives of the plan: increasing community support and maintaining the leafy green centre of the West End.

I know that the West End is going to change with such increased density, and although Peter Meiszner, editor-in-chief at UrbanYVR, a Vancouver-based real estate, architecture and urban-planning news website, tells me that “the city’s West End Plan has pushed up land values so high because of the increased density now allowed that luxury condos are really the only thing that make economic sense,” I know we’ll find a way for our communities to stay strong; after all, if you’re going to live in Vancouver, there’s simply nowhere better to live than the West End, and all of us residents know that. Each spring brings the beauty of cherry blossoms to our streets. It’s an appropriate natural phenomenon for this ever-evolving ’hood: sakura viewing is meant to teach us that beauty is fleeting, that we should enjoy what we have right now. Part of loving any urban neighbourhood is accepting change and savouring the moment—and keeping the spark alive in this magical place while it’s here.

See what neighbourhoods ranked as runners’ up in our neighbourhood ranking this year right here.

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