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Exploring Vancouver

I realized soon after arriving that the last time I was in Vancouver was all the way back in 1986 for a conference called “Split Shift: The New Work Writing” when I came up with several Processed World colleagues and we did an early version of the Attitude Adjustment Seminar. In a restaurant downtown I came upon this scrawled graffiti, which echoed that long-ago visit:

Obviously the city has changed enormously since the mid-1980s. I also have another layer of memory from my first “independent” journey as a young fella, in 1973, when I came up here to hang with a high school crush while she visited her boyfriend at Simon Fraser University… that tells ya something, not sure what!!

Anyway, Vancouver is situated in a place that makes it endlessly beautiful to move around and see views of mountains and sea, but it’s also weirdly ugly, with an incredible number of Hong Kong-style glass highrise apartments having taken over a lot of the shorelines here. The area known as False Creek is remarkably similar to San Francisco’s Mission Creek, huge construction underway, up here they’re building the Olympic Village for 2010 Winter Olympics (much teeth gnashing about the waste of resources, and urban history getting bulldozed for the spectacle).

In fact, the building boom here continues what we’ve seen along the whole trip, Portland, Seattle and here, not to mention home in SF, where the financial crisis and plunging real estate values have not halted the frenzied efforts to build still more condos and offices. Here in Vancouver the sense of real estate opportunity is palpable, what with a spectacular setting, a relatively healthy local economy and a relatively small urban space (under 2 million, compared to Bay Area’s 6+ million)… But that’s just one part of the story.

Just below where I was taking these photos was a small park with a dozen junkies in full view shooting up.

There is also an intense outdoor drug injection culture that we stumbled onto as we were cruising through alleys looking for stencils. Suddenly we were dodging dozens of folks who were ignoring us entirely, but many of them were in mid-shoot, blood and needles everywhere… really gross! Here’s the People’s Pigeon Park where a Food Not Bombs-like food table was working.

A short distance away were the alleys full of junkies. On the wall behind this odorific scene were many images, but one odd poster at the top of the right corner caught our eye:

The stencil scene here has made Russell very happy, as he’s been able to shoot a couple of dozen really nice works. You can check his ever-growing gallery on Stencil Archive. One artist a lot of folks have been telling us about is called “The Dark” and I snapped this of a billboard-size painting he did on a construction site:

Getting around Vancouver has been a delight. The city is pretty spread out, and right now at the end of June it is a lush green urban paradise. Bike boulevards crisscross the city, skirting ridges and valleys to make navigating around by bike very comfortable.

I’ve been delighted while riding to encounter a steady stream of cyclists on all the various designated bikeways, a huge population of everyday cyclists. The infrastructure is better, but still a ways to go, of course. One thing that’s worked nicely is the signal triggers for cyclists that seem to accelerate the signal change to allow us to cross large arteries:

The bike boulevards are named, sometimes by the street, but the one we’ve been on the most is called “Mosaic” and each of the traffic calming circles in intersections has its own mosaic decoration, quite lovely…

The traffic circles themselves are often green spaces maintained by neighbors too. Here’s one at 10th Ave. and the Ontario bikeway:

There are number of smaller bike facilities installed here and there, ramps and side paths. And in one small stretch near the end of False Creek there is the prototype of a new full blown side-path system that is supposed to be more widely implemented in years to come:

We were met soon after arriving by Colin McKenzie, who took us on a long, lovely ride to catch the sunset with drinks at Kits Beach on our first night here. We paused at some scenic spots along the way. Here’s Colin peering through a small lighthouse at one of our stops:

After the sun went down he took us over the Burrard Bridge, which we hope we’ll revisit later tonight on the big June Critical Mass here:

Some more public art we encountered during our wanders:


Another intervention elsewhere read “Capitalisn’t”… kinda funny meme…

Russell found this one on a sidewalk.

He also found a community garden while I was doing my reading yesterday:

Here’s Spartacus Books, our hosts and also their new store… neither Russell nor I drew many people to our Talks, but the store moved recently and apparently a lot of folks don’t know the new location. Also, the collective has been so busy with setting up the new store, it’s not clear they had much time to publicize our appearances, though it did show up on a lot of local email lists. In any case, I had a very good conversation with the folks who DID show up, and sold out of books too, so I’m happy with that.

A couple of the folks who showed up were Amy from Momentum Magazine, and Karl Anderson, who has relocated here from Portland. Here we are having a drink the day before, along with Mia who is also working on Momentum…

Gary Fisher was in town too, so after the Nowtopia talk last night he and I and Karl and Amy and Russell tooled around False Creek and saw various public art installations, chatting all the while… on our way home, Russell and I stopped for pizza and while gobbling it up, a crowd of about 75 bicyclists suddenly rode by on Commercial Street, laughing and talking. We caught up with them and found out it was the regular last Thursday of the month Midnight Mass… we rode along for a bit, I had a chat with someone named Mark about 3D plotting of urban environments, and then we turned back towards our abode, calling it a night at 1 a.m…. Tonight is Critical Mass!

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One Response to “Exploring Vancouver”

  1. 1
    rob_:

    there was also a bike film night on the same night as your reading which is why I and perhaps a few others were not able to attend…

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