29 April 2014

Thank you Vancouver!

Cornelia and I moved to Vancouver last August because we wanted to be on the west coast of North America, while remaining in Canada. That meant Vancouver, a city with a big -- and mostly deserved -- reputation.

I wanted the chill-coffee-cannabis "culture" I grew up with in San Francisco and Berkeley. Cornelia wanted to discover the sustainable side of her country (she's from Calgary, known for floating on oil). We expected to find that people would be more friendly/accessible than the Dutch of Amsterdam, due to our cultural and linguistic overlaps. We expected that we'd get the kinder, gentler side of North America. We expected to find people on the cutting edge of the good life.

On most measures, we got what we expected, but the package was not enough to keep us from moving back to Amsterdam, and our move back here last week confirmed our hunch. It's harder to find friends and socialize in Amsterdam, but the quality of public life and public policy here means that we prefer to struggle with our personal lives while enjoying the public life around us.

But this post is more of an appreciation than a critique.

First, I'd prefer to live in Vancouver than any other city in North America, as it combines Canadian decency with west coast quality of life and friendliness.

Second, we found a wonderful group mix of people around East Vancouver (similar to Haight-Ashbury when I was growing up or SOMA today in SF) who were fun for talking, beer brewing, and taking a stand. These are the people I'd love to see over here in Amsterdam.

Third, Vancouver (and Canada in general) is pretty functional in terms of public services, transportation, work and affordability. This may be crazy to say in a city where the average house costs $1.2 million, but there are plenty of cracks for less-well-off to live in :)

Finally, we had a great time in the eight months we were there. Some of that had to do with our aggressive socialization, but a lot had to do with the fact that density of the "right people" is pretty high in Vancouver.

We don't regret coming back to Amsterdam because it has a more human environment, and we're lucky to have the EU passports that make it simple to live and work here legally, but we enjoyed the best of North America. I'm not sure if that continent will achieve Old World sophistication and sustainability in my lifetime, but at least we've seen what's possible.

Bottom Line: Vancouver is awesome if you want to resettle in North America, but it's not obvious that Vancouverites realize they can do better.* We're happy to see you in Amsterdam if you want to see the possibilities :)
* Suggestions: raise the price of resources (land, energy) to reduce consumption and sprawl, improve public services to reduce inequality. I'd prefer the Dutch version of cheap booze and expensive driving to the Canadian version of expensive booze and cheap driving. It's better to get drunk with neighbors than steam in traffic.


  1. Hey David,

    Hope you and Corelia are doing well back in Amsterdam. (Thanks for updating us on your travels to Riyadh! Looking forward to hearing more stories!)

    What public services in Vancouver do you wish to change so that inequality can be reduced?

    What type of inequality did you refer to?

    Vancouver was lucky to have you here, however briefly; let's hope that we'll become a better city in the future and retain bright and dedicated people like you.


  2. Hi Eric -- I'd change the balance to favor people over cars (less parking and congestion, more bikes and walking).

  3. Hi David,

    I like that, too, but what type of inequality does that reduce?

    Here's my guess: Only people who are rich enough to buy cars can benefit from jobs or business opportunities that require travelling by car. The transportation design induces inequality through unequal opportunities to pursue economic gains.

  4. Hi Eric -- Yes, I agree, but cars are expensive for everyone (a city without cars leaves everyone with more cash) and they have negative externalities (pollution, noise, deaths, congestion) that hurt non-drivers. Then there are the big picture problems with consumption of oil and other resources.


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