Bittersweet Beginnings

I know I haven’t been blogging, but I’ve obviously been settling into a new life and don’t feel badly at all that my attentions are otherwise focused.

But I have to drop in for a quick hello, even if I have a busy day ahead. It’s worth commenting on this.

My heart’s breaking as speculation mounts that the Book Warehouse in Vancouver might be closing its four locations, the last indie book chain in town, sounding an almost-imminent death knell for independent bookselling in a city of 2 million.

The Playhouse’s last night inspired protests. Photo by Arlen Redekop of the Vancouver Sun.

In the two weeks since I left my hometown, which was a decision two years in the making, the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company has closed down after 49 years, a found 70+year-old “ghost wall” reflecting a time long past, uncovered in a demo, was unceremoniously demolished, and word was announced that the venerable arts-house theatre The Ridge would be shutting down and replaced with, yes, more condos.

I’m broken-hearted for Vancouver, and have been for a long time.

Many of us residents felt it was a joke that the City had so many arts events happening during the Olympics, and we were right, because as soon as the Games left town, so did this newfound arts embrace demonstrated by government.

It seems now the slippery slope of not respecting arts and not playing an active role in finding a way to keep culture alive in Vancouver has resulted in people wondering nationally if Vancouver’s not just a little kid in the sandbox, since the town clearly doesn’t grasp the effect a cultural scene plays in keeping a city vibrant.

And, the thing is, it’s not just about the City Council kicking arts when they’re already down and out, by giving developers carte blanche to go ahead and mow down iconic locations like The Ridge, but it’s the incessant stupidity of continuing to allow foreign investment in Vancouver, when it’s driving rents into ludicrous territory, because there’s no person making under $40,000 who can comfortably live in Vancouver — anywhere — now.

It’s the people who make under $40,000 who answer your phones, serve your coffee, teach your kids, act in the theatre, read poetry in cafes, sell you movie tickets, and more.

And soon none of them will be able to afford Vancouver.

Don’t think I’m the only one who had an exit strategy. That door out of Vancouver’s a revolving one now, man.

There’s no sense living in the world’s most beautiful city if you can’t afford to live there in a way that allows you to enjoy it.

I was born and raised in Vancouver. The Vancouver Playhouse was instrumental in my cultural upbringing. I’ve seen musicals and ballets and murder mysteries there as a youth.

The Ridge Theatre was where I saw my first independent arthouse flick, and turned me onto all things cinematical — from Easy Rider to Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout. From Baraka to Rear Window. I saw ‘em all on screen at The Ridge. Across town, The Rio Theatre is fighting to stay alive by trying to become a hip place where you can see live performance, filmed entertainment, and have a drink — but governmental idiocy will likely kill them too.

And, Book Warehouse, well, they were never my cup of tea but they have been an important part of Vancouver’s independent bookselling scene for a long time, and the more informed reader could walk in and score deals on writers that met the returns pile but should be more read here in Canada, like James Kelman, Iain Banks, and Colum McCann.

These aren’t just “businesses.” They’re the soul of a city.

Vancouver is a young town and it disses its heritage, saying “well, it’s only 70/80/90 years old, so…” because other towns have been around for centuries.

But heritage is where we come from, and I don’t give a fuck that Vancouver’s become a city of immigrants. It’s OUR HISTORY.

There’s no cultural soul anymore. It’s tech industry and more.

But here in Victoria, they’ve attracted Microsoft, largely because of the quality of life offered to those living in Victoria. I predict we’ll see more businesses deciding not to open in Vancouver because they know it’ll be too hard to attract entry-level employees making under $50K, who are the backbone of any enterprise.

Soon, Vancouver’ll be a city full of Lululemon pants, people who never say hi to each other, toy dogs, and business folk — no artists, no creatives, no funky people.

And I won’t be there when it is.

Yeah. It breaks my heart. I love Vancouver. I just don’t like what it’s become. Vancouver, to me, is like that girl who was always pretty and fun and great to be around, but didn’t know it — then one day she figures out she’s hot, gets in with the cool kids, stops being a geek, wears high fashion, and loses all the personality that made her great in the first place. Now she’s just another vapid hottie.

Vancouver’s quickly becoming the vapid hottie with no soul, and it never needed to happen. There have long been incredible artistic peoples in Vancouver.

There just won’t be, soon.

And if Vancouverites don’t demand change, if laws around investments don’t alter, if tax credits for artistic societies don’t improve, if housing options for those who aren’t working in big biz don’t improve, then, yeah, expect to see a continuing demise in Vancouver’s arts scene.

Please, don’t let Vancouver become a vapid city. Even from afar, I don’t think my heart can take it.

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