Vancouver has it going on

by Yule Heibel on September 4, 2010

I spent the last 36 hours traveling to and from Vancouver, taking the daughter back to UBC. She volunteered to help orient incoming new students, which meant that she got to check in a day early. Nice. Very low-key move-in, no stress.

The weather was fantastic – we made a reservation for the noon ferry leaving Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, but, arriving 7 minutes before the 11a.m. departure, we found we were able to take that earlier boat instead. (So we forfeited the nearly $18 reservation fee to save one hour.) When we arrived at Tsawwassen terminal about an hour and a half later, we first thought we’d drive straight to campus to get Emma settled.

But somehow, 15 minutes into driving, we all decided that taking a lunch break would make sense. Kerrisdale seemed like a good mid-point, so we opted for that. I used to go to Kerrisdale every year on my birthday, right after Christmas, to shop for shoes. Canadian stores used to have weird rules about when they could have sales, but the post-xmas sales were always a big deal. And for some reason, Kerrisdale always had pretty good shopping, including nice shoe stores. And of course my birthday, on Dec. 27, fell right into that xmas sales thing (this was before post-xmas sales started in bloody October…).

Kerrisdale hasn’t changed much – except it has become so much denser (and better), and even more richly furnished with retail diversions. And yes, we found a nice lunch place, too!

On to UBC, where moving in was a breeze. After some time figuring out whether or not the fridge should go under the bed (raise the mattress) or next to the desk (lower the mattress enough to create a head-rest), everything was sorted and we said our good-byes.

Werner and I left to check in at our downtown hotel, which ended up infuriating me to the point (nearly) of tears. The Marriott Pinnacle has a ridiculously tiny approach to its lobby, and because of some idiotic honking huge tour bus taking forever to decide whether it was actually leaving, I was told to leave my (parking) spot thrice by clueless (and not particularly caring) valets (or bell-hops or whatever). Further, it took my husband forever to check in because the lobby was mobbed – which is why I was in the “check-in” parking apron in the first place. In short, the visit started with pandemonium – and it didn’t improve once we got in the elevator to try – emphasis on “try” – to reach the 31st floor.

Someone told these guys that “security” would be improved if access to floors is controlled by guests shoving their key-cards into a slot in the elevator. Problem was, there was just one slot (on the right-hand panel) even though there were two panels for pushing floor buttons (one on each side of the door). The consequence: you couldn’t reach the panel in a crowded elevator. On our first try, there was a gaggle of UK tourists whose key-cards didn’t work for them (didn’t for us, either, as we found out when we finally got a chance to try it). Instead of making room to let other people try, these Brits stood around the damn slot like a bunch of seagulls flocking to a slice of toast: there was no shifting them. So we all rode up the elevator (without being able to get off) …and then all rode down again (without hitting our floors).

The employee who “explained” the idiosyncrasies of the idiotic elevator didn’t help either (“you have to jiggle the card ‘just so’,” he opined), and by the time we finally got to our room I was fuming. It gets better though: I then discovered that the hotel does not offer wifi in the rooms, and that accessing the internet via an ethernet cable means getting dinged $16 daily. WTF? (I later learned that there is free wifi in the lobby, but as for the rooms? Nada.)

The room was nice, but lack of free internet and vicious elevators (in a later episode we witnessed the elevator trying to kill a guest by snapping the doors on him prematurely), as well as bedlam at checking-in with a vehicle in tow ticked me off.

As for Vancouver: fantastic. We spent the evening at Sura and then wandered back up Robsonstrasse to Granville and the malls. Everywhere something was going on, people were about, not a square inch was dead.

It made me wonder how they did it. One thing struck me: when I lived in Vancouver in the early 80s, Robson was lively – although nowhere near as vibrant as it is now. But at one end of Robson lay the lively and dense “village” of Denman and the West End, while at the other end lay another hub, namely downtown itself. Somehow, planners encouraged a pattern of development that added residential density to this connecting “spine,” which in turn allowed commercial development that could be supported to grow alongside it. I don’t think it was “overthought” – as can be the case in Victoria, where we talk a big game about “spines,” but have no clue how to let development actually take place or how to encourage residential growth. Heck, growth here is all still happening in the sprawling suburbs (for residential) and in Uptown or Langford (for commercial). And it’s sucking the life out of downtown.

When, in contrast to Vancouver, we drove back into Victoria at 6:30pm today, the city was for all intents and purposes like a graveyard, with dead “spines” and nary a soul on the street. Sad. So sad.

Earlier today, still in Vancouver, we had a nice lunch at Kamei Royale (love all the second story restaurants in Vancouver that allow one to “spy” on the street from a high perch), after which we drove to Commercial Drive to check out the neighborhoods where Werner used to meet friends to practice Aikido, after which they’d all go for espresso at Bar Centrale. I could imagine living there – certainly Kitsilano and other chi-chi west-side ‘hoods are completely out of reach. But East Van has a nice vibe, and it’s spreading.

One last thing: tree amenity. Vancouver does trees incredibly well. Whether downtown or in the neighborhoods, whether old areas or brand new developments: tree amenity is a big deal in Vancouver, and that’s a good thing.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Coman September 6, 2010 at 7:28 am

Paul in 2012!!?!!

Yule September 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm


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