Literature Review

Abstract

This thesis investigates the phenomenon of the image of Vancouver, otherwise renowned worldwide for its liveability, as the “unfriendly” or alienated city and employs academic literature related to urban connectedness and social capital. It is a three-part project that includes a literature review and a two-part work of journalism, comprised of a magazine-style feature story with sidebars and a short video.

The Vancouver Foundation, a community foundation and charitable organization dedicated to improving life in Vancouver, conducted a survey on connections and engagement in the city. The survey, which polled 3,841 Vancouver residents in the spring of 2012, found a significant portion of residents who felt disconnected, isolated, lonely and unable or unwilling to form relationships with neighbours. Although the survey bestowed insight as to how people felt about their community, it did not explain why they felt that way.

This literature examines some of the theories that have been put forward to explain why cities in general and Vancouver in particular fail to foster public connections. One set of ideas is related to Vancouver’s physical environment, obsession with nature and lack of engaging public spaces, which suggest that residents possess less incentive or fewer opportunities in which to know their fellow cohabitants. A second set of arguments, in the literature surrounding public engagement, suggests that social capital or lack thereof is a possible explanation for Vancouver’s image as a city with a high degree of social alienation. A third examination examines the recent reporting in the local media surrounding the ongoing discourse of Vancouver residents and their feelings of isolation.

The feature-story element of this project is a work of journalism from the view of a newcomer who felt like an excluded outsider upon arriving in Vancouver but opted to take action against “unfriendliness” by creating a series of networking events for strangers to connect. Here, the inclusion of  public conversations that transpired simultaneously in Vancouver help to reveal why this loneliness affliction is cause for concern. 

 

Preface

 If you have ever lived in Vancouver, you have likely heard that it is an unfriendly city. Some say Vancouver is polite on the outside but otherwise insincere, some say it is snobby, while others say it is a hard city to adjust to. I’ve heard all of these things, on many occasions from residents young and old, established and new arrivals.

I first arrived in Vancouver 18 months ago to begin a two-year Master of Journalism program at UBC. Prior to relocating to the coast, I was a fun-loving social butterfly living a life of adventure and excitement in places such as Toronto, Montreal, Melbourne, Seoul and most recently, the sunny Okanagan. With new opportunities ahead, I was excited to move to one of “the most liveable cities in the world.”

I arrived in Vancouver on September 1, 2011, promptly found a place to live and organized my class schedule. The following five days were unscheduled and I was excited to spend them exploring the city and connecting with contacts there. However, after multiple attempts to schedule a rendezvous, it turned out that practically everyone I knew was unavailable. With no plans for Labour Day weekend, I decided it could be fun to meet new people on my own. I started chatting to people on buses, in parks, at bars, in cafés and wherever else I could find interesting looking people. The weather was amazing that weekend and I merely wanted to toss around a Frisbee or have a beer on a patio with someone. I found I could easily strike up conversations with people, because Vancouverites are generally polite, but it all felt somewhat superficial. The moment I suggested we exchange contact information, I could sense the energy shift and the connection slip away. I did manage to make a couple of contacts in those first few weeks, but nothing materialized further. I hated to admit it, but I was lonely. I began wondering if this was all part of adjusting to any new city, or if there was something about my loneliness that was specific to Vancouver?

Vancouver is comprised of people from all walks of life, all parts of Canada and all corners of the Earth. It is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the country with over 180 different ethnicities, which has allowed it to be considered the third-most-multicultural city in the world.  It is constantly lauded as one of the most liveable cities in the world, always finishing among the top in annual polls. Yet could it be that Canada’s most ‘”liveable” city is also its most lonely and most unfriendly?

 

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

 

In the summer of 2012, the first tangible piece of data on the subject of Vancouver’s sense of community was released. The Vancouver Foundation conducted an in-depth survey, Connections and Engagement, of 3,841 residents asking them how they felt about their city. The results of the survey were shared and suddenly there were official statistics to prove that many people in Vancouver do in fact view their city as unfriendly.[1] The results appeared to substantiate Vancouver’s reputation for “coldness” referenced in multiple articles, blog posts and city reviews. When HSBC surveyed more than 600 immigrants in 2012 across Canada about their relocation experience, Vancouver drew the lowest rating of any city.[2] In addition, a 2010 Angus Reid poll indicates Vancouverites are more addicted to social media than residents of any other Canadian city, but are among the least connected to friends and family.[3]

 

The methodology behind the Vancouver Foundation survey was to measure connections and engagement on three levels – from the micro to the macro level – of Vancouver residents’ lives. Catherine Clement and Denise Rudnicki of the Vancouver Foundation had designed the survey which examined firstly people’s friendships. Then they looked at connections to one’s neighbours and neighbourhood, and lastly they looked at attitudes toward the larger community of Metro Vancouver. The following are some of the key findings.

 

–       One in four respondents reported feeling alone more often than they would like and one-third said they consider Vancouver a difficult place to make friends.

 

–       Most people do not socialize with their neighbours and almost one-third of respondents said they had little interest in getting to know them.

 

–       Many people are retreating from community life. The most often-cited reason for not participating in neighbourhood and community life is a feeling  by survey respondents, that they had little to offer.

–       Most people feel that while diversity is generally a good thing, they still prefer to be with others from their own ethnic group. Over one-third of residents have no close friends outside their own ethnic group.

–       Significantly, more than half of respondents agreed that Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy and that there is too much foreign ownership of real estate. This view was particularly common among people aged 25-34, a group whose responses to many survey questions revealed a marked cynicism about the state of their communities compared with other age groups.

Prior to the survey, the foundation polled 275 charitable organizations and spoke to over 100 community leaders across Metro Vancouver. The foundation expected poverty or homelessness to be seen as the most common social ills, but instead what concerned people the most was a growing sense of isolation and disconnection.[4] They said we live increasingly in silos separated by ethnicity, culture, language, income, age and even geography. What they saw was a deepening civic malaise resulting in more people retreating from community activities.

Catherine Clement, one of the architects of the survey, said the Vancouver Foundation survey answers the question of how connected and engaged city residents are at all three levels – personal friendships, neighbourhood and community – by examining barriers and consequences. She said that the survey identifies how residents feel but that was merely a first step. What is still unknown is why people felt that way. [5]

 

This literature review expands on the survey results and the public discussion of social alienation and isolation by approaching it from a holistic perspective that incorporates historical, geographical, sociological and cultural aspects in the study. This consists of focusing on how the physical environment, built form and social capital influenced residents’ attitudes and how the local media’s understanding of loneliness have framed “the apparent state of unfriendliness” in Vancouver.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO: Public Spaces and the Physical Environment

 

Vancouver’s spectacular physical setting has always dominated, with the result that the city has developed most of its public spaces as settings which look onto and acknowledge the surrounding nature rather than as a space to connect with people. As a result, Vancouver has relatively ineffective interior public spaces that allow people to engage. Research on effective urban design, place-making, and social interaction points the way for public space to have an influence on public connectedness, residents’ sense of place and the overall liveability of the city.

 

2.1 Vancouver’s History and Geography

 

With its prime location near the base of the Coast Mountains, at the mouth of the Fraser River and nestled amidst the waterways of the Strait of Georgia, Howe Sound, Burrard Inlet, Vancouver has, for thousands of years, been a place of meeting, trade and settlement. Archaeological evidence shows First Nations having resided here 8,000 to 10,000 years ago as the first presence of people in what is now called the Lower Mainland.

 

Vancouver’s landscape has always dominated perceptions of the city. The last stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway, this coastal seaport city surrounded by natural wonders has always been attractive to the eye. One hundred years earlier, Vancouver visionaries were publicly conjuring visions of becoming a Paris of the Pacific,[6] as noted in early writings about the city’s prime location by prominent town designer Thomas Morrow.

 

Where was primeval forest yesterday, men are living and trading today and tomorrow there will be a large city, but ‘What will the men of tomorrow say of the city which we of today have bequeathed them?’ Will it speak of them only of meanness and narrowness of outlook; and its topography, fixed more or less of all time, fill them with despair and hamper their commerce and stifle their love of the beautiful at their very thresholds, or can we, by the inception of a wise policy and its steady pursuit, with our eyes ever on the goal set before us, insure that generations yet unborn shall hold our efforts in grateful remembrance.”[7]

 

Today with a rapidly growing metropolitan population of 2.3 million people, Vancouver is Canada’s third-largest city and is constantly referred to as the nation’s most liveable, laid-back, and spectacular city. Vancouver’s iconic identity exists primarily on the panoramic level, with the splendour of majestic mountains and sparkling seascape weaving its way around the city centre. At least half of the downtown peninsula – about 400 hectares – is dedicated to the lush rainforest retreat of Stanley Park. A 22-kilometre paved seawall was built around the periphery and extended to include most of the downtown peninsula and the adjacent shorelines of False Creek and Kits Point in addition to West Vancouver. These are known as Vancouver’s primary public spaces.

 

 

2.2 The Meaning of Public Space

 

 

There has been an increasing dialogue in recent years surrounding the importance of “public space.” Along with the spaces themselves has been an enlarging awareness and resulting dialogue around the importance of the term. This includes the discussion as part of a municipal planning process, as a means of grassroots organizing and as community development initiatives. In Jeffrey Hou’s book, Insurgent Public Space: Guerilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities, he sets out a comprehensive definition of the subject.

 

Public Space is seen as a constituent element in ensuring positive social relations and well-being as well as a more robust opportunity for social inclusion in cities and communities. It is not only for the generalized public, but also for populations where the potential for isolation and marginalization is higher.  The term is understood to have multiple literal and metaphorical meanings and is conceived as: a component for democratic health, a site facing the threat of corporate incursion, and, concomitantly, as an antidote to an increasingly privatized physical (and mental) landscape, and a space of refuge for all residents that comes generally – thought not exclusively – without an admission fee.”[8]

 

An undeniable connection exists between a city’s public space and residents’ perceptions of a place. There is not only a clear physical connection between people and spaces, but a strong psychological component. In other words, people feel better in certain spaces.

In Rethinking the Meaning of Place, Lineu Castello explains how certain public spaces stand out within the greater space in which people circulate. “Behind the identification of a place lies a whole process of appreciation of the space, which may well be attributed to the perception that people have (or will acquire about) that space.”[9] Our feelings for a place are instilled with a strong connection to whether that place sets the stage for positive interactions and happy memories or serves to illuminate an isolated and lonely ambiance.

 

Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings, in their book Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems, define the satisfaction attached to sense of place as something that “encompasses a feeling of connection to a place, a lived engagement with people and land, and an understanding and appreciation of the patterns and processes in time and space.”[10] Healthy and active cities reap the benefits of a strong sense of place that develops a connection between the social sphere of the inhabitants and the surrounding environment. This connection allows people to enjoy a sense of deeper belonging to the bioregion, including a deeper affection that encourages sustainable practices and community minded initiatives.

 

Public space is largely integrated into residents’ sense of place and, as Andrew Pask writes in Insurgent Public Spaces, “(public space) has become the leading article in a new, more inclusive, more integrated phase of civic advocacy…. The health and well being of a given public space (a park, square, or walking plaza) is intrinsically linked to the overall liveability of the city. Conversely, a threat to public space in one area (a trend, toward privatization, a sate of disrepair) is a threat to the city’s public realm as a whole.”[11]

 

 

2.3 Withdrawal from Public Space?

 

While public space advocacy is on the rise, there has been a decline in face-to-face encounters in public spaces. This is partially due to current technologies and private interests that dictate city design.

In the last few decades, a number of practices have further challenged what remains of public space in both its physical and political dimensions. Most notably, the privatization of public space has become a common pattern. This is seen with well-manicured parkettes built around office towers, in addition to shopping districts being transformed into themed malls and so-called “festival marketplaces.”[12] Whereas the physical form and appearance of the spaces may look familiar to the traditional public space of the past, their public functions have become limited.

 

Sociology professor, Richard Sennet, author of The Fall of Public Man, comments on the erosion and decline of public space where “the private and the personal have taken precedence over the public and the impersonal, as society becomes less interested in public matters and more driven by private interests and personal desires.”[13]

 

In addition to the limited public functions, the privatization of public space has important implications for the political spheres of contemporary cities. In Margaret Kohn’s book, Brave New Neighbourhoods: The Privatization of Public Space, the University of Toronto political scientist writes, “When private spaces replace public gathering space, the opportunities for political conversation are diminished.”[14] And political theorist Benjamin Barber observes “the mall-ing of America has sometimes entailed the mauling of American civil society and its public.”[15]

 

Despite this recent shift from public to private over the past generation, Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl perceives the main attraction of city space, the same as it has always has been – as a meeting place.

 

One hundred years ago, the city’s most important qualities were its diversity and sensory impressions and opportunities to meet people. Today it is these same free pleasures that attract and motivate people to visit the city… The Character of new city life requires careful planning and appropriate invitations. People need to feel welcome and experience city spaces as comfortable and beckoning.[16]

 

Following the character of the city, Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, in their 2002 book Cities: Reimagining the Urban provide a provisional diagram on how to understand the city in a better way. As the title suggests the central theme is to introduce a new way of looking at “the urban.” The authors stress the importance of physical spaces for networks of engagement with other citizens and encounters in the city. Networks are always more or less interwoven with other networks and human encounters are key to the bridging these networks.

 

Encounter and the reaction to it is a formative element in the urban world. So places, for example, are best thought of, not so much as enduring sites but as moments of encounter, not so much as ‘presents’, fixed in space and time, but as variable events; twists and fluxes of interrelation.[17]

 

In today’s metropolitan cities the flow of people is massive and occurs at a global scale, but with technological advances propinquity is no longer a measure of distance. The authors acknowledge that ‘thick’, local face-to-face interaction is being replaced by ‘thinner’, at-a-distance communities producing alienation, dysfunction, anomie and stress the importance of face-to-face communication versus the necessity of close contact. “All the technology in the world does not replace face-to-face contact when it comes to brainstorming, inspiring passion, or enabling many kinds of serendipitous discovery.”[18]

 

Amin and Thrift discuss the connections between public space and politics and the importance of mingling and interaction in the use of shared spaces. Their usage of the term “community” is described as a function of propinquity and flow in the city. They argue that everyday life itself is a further form of community. Everyday life is here defined as, “the ‘whatever’ or white space of conjunctions, meetings and discussions, the part of the event which is non-reducible to the state of things, and that ‘meanwhile moment’ between that which ‘neither takes place or follows’, but is present in the immensity of the empty time.”[19] Using public spaces for the growth of a civic public relies on this interaction and that these ties of civic association provide an alternative to ties of family and kinship. “Cities are theoretically ideal for a participatory democracy, with the presence of institutions, associations, public spaces and social vitality within them. However, in addition to providing a stage for participatory democracy, good public space allows us access to human interaction within the public arena.”[20]

 

 

2.4 The Effect of Vancouver’s Public Spaces

 

 

In explaining the effect of Vancouver’s public spaces on its citizenry, a disclaimer must be made about Vancouverites and how they have historically been perceived by the remainder of Canada. For better or worse the typical Vancouverite’s personality and sociability have been long associated with the physical landscape of the city. Much has been written about the uniqueness of Vancouver: some say it is the poster child for urbanism and urban planning is Canada, while others say its spectacular setting makes it the most beautiful city in the world. An urban core of glass towers and mixed architecture sits amidst a backdrop of lush green trees and majestic snow-capped mountain peaks with mystical ocean waterways weaving in and out of the landscape. This is the classic image of Vancouver. It is inviting and desirable, but could it also be a source of alienation?

 

Elvin Wyly and colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s School of Geography articulated Vancouver as an urban anomaly in their article on “suburban involution.” “Vancouver likes to think of itself as an exceptional city, furthermore, Vancouver just likes to think of itself as a city that does not fit the mould, perhaps even a city that redefines the mould.”[21] Vancouver writer and artist Douglas Coupland, in City of Glass: Douglas Coupland’s Vancouver, claimed that “Vancouver is not part of Canada… Vancouverites have much more in common with West Coast Americans, and at the same time remain highly distinct from them.”[22] Vancouver planner and urban designer Lance Berelowitz was acutely aware of this connection in his 2005 book Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, where an entire chapter was dedicated to comparisons to Vancouver’s “alter ego” Los Angeles. [23]   Like the California metropolis’ moniker of “La la land,” [24] Vancouver has a similar label for the self-centered tendencies of the local culture: “Lotus Land”, adapted by Bruce Hutchison and Allan Fotheringham[25] in the Vancouver Sun in the 1960’s, is a reference to Homer’s The Odyssey in Greek mythology. The hero Odysseus and his crew of mariners land on a fantastical island and encounter “lotus eaters” who invite them to eat the fruit of the lotus. The mariners fall into a state of blissful forgetfulness after eating the lotus fruit.[26] “Lotus-Land” refers to Vancouver’s laid-back attitude, relaxed laws on drug culture, and prioritized time to enjoy nature and its outdoor environment. Chris Robinson’s Island Times Magazine article similarly describes “lotus eaters” in modern terms, as “taking time to smell the flowers, or lotuses, so to speak.”[27] This image of a city of people who exist in a sort of blissful, selfish apathy is framed in part by stereotypical associations with a hippie, stoner, and/or new age culture stemming from Vancouver’s west coast location and close connection to the lush natural environment.

 

The proximity to nature and the spectacular Vancouver landscape has meant that there is less attention paid to the provision of public spaces. What public spaces do exist are predominantly oriented towards a focal point or view rather than creating public meeting and socializing spaces. This has been identified by some as the reason city residents tend to emit a sense of entitlement or self-centeredness. Several academics, architects and urban planers who have addressed this phenomenon, perceive the impact of Vancouver’s physical setting as the very impediment to the development of more social public spaces.

In his book, Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, Lance Berelowitz posits that Vancouver has reduced its public spaces to serve the private experience along with nature. “This is a young city, and for many of its residents, it is actually an excuse for the place, a necessary inconvenience on the natural landscape; it is a means to an end that has little to do with urban living but a great deal to do with the private pursuit of nature and leisure.”[28] Preoccupied with the experience of nature, Vancouverites reduce their public places to serve private experience. “The public flaneur (an idle man-about-town) becomes the private voyeur.”[29] Thus making the transformation from performer (of public engagement) to consumer of spectacle (in this case nature), a shift that has a profound effect on public culture. This effect is best epitomized in what Berelowitz terms the “cult of the view,” referring to how the natural landscape is the source for inspiration when creating urban form. “There is a strong sensibility that unsullied nature is superior to human artefact, and that the urban form is an intrusion on, and not a complement to, the landscape.”[30]

 

If public spaces are where civic rights and rituals traditionally occur, then Vancouver is deficient in this area. There is a lack of centralized urban spaces conducive to public ritual  and a plethora of outward-looking public spaces around town, where in most cases, the public is rendered passive.  The largest example may be the seawall.  Lookout points in Vancouver typically place the viewer’s back towards the city while the major public activities are in the contemplation and appreciation of nature. As Berelowitz says, “Public life requires collective activity, but these are platforms of individual and private consumption. When tourists point their cameras toward the surrounding nature, they point them towards the edges of the city.”[31]

 

Vancouver architect Shane Czypyha examined our underused public spaces in his architectural thesis, The Walking City: The Transformative Role of Pedestrians in Public Space. In that research, Czypyha posited that Vancouverites’ greater emphasis on the relationship to their natural setting has been the cause of ignoring or overlooking the city’s urban spaces or architecture. He argues that most of the central public spaces are quite ordinary. Although the temperate climate is ideal for inhabiting streets and squares, the majority of the city’s prominent public spaces exist along the water’s edge.

With no major public spaces drawing residents and tourists to the centre as in many other major cities, people often flock to the public spaces on the edge of the downtown in droves.

He explains further that in those spaces there is no possibilities to have chance encounters and that the city’s edge-based spaces such as the seawall and the beach are primarily seasonal.“ (Chance encounters at the beach or seawall) only last until September, what about October to April? When you don’t have public spaces that people are flocking to, you’re not going to run into people you know.”[32] He sees the need for more defined public squares and lauds their uses as powerful democratic forums. They are places where city dwellers meet, share ideas, exchange goods, exercise, and get access to fresh air and sunlight. [33]

 

Great public spaces contribute to a city’s sense of place. They are attractions for tourists and recreation spaces for residents. They serve as connective points between neighbourhoods. They are what make cities great…. Beyond Stanley Park, and the Seawall, Vancouver has very little in the way of great public space. It has a few small green spaces and a number of decent, if unspectacular public squares.”[34]

 

Vancouver, despite “its good looks and healthy citizens” has not utilized its public spaces in a very community-minded or socially efficient manner. Berelowitz’ section titled ‘The Missing Centre’ examines how Vancouver lacks the centralizing grand space analogous to Old World cities such as London’s Trafalgar Square, Prague’s Wenceslas Square or Venice’s Piazza San Marco, in addition to public squares in newer cities such as New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. In comparison, the few central spaces in Vancouver are overshadowed by the grand and compelling waterfront edge. Mentioned is Robson Square, carved out of three blocks in downtown Vancouver. It encompasses the Vancouver Art Gallery, the provincial law courts, terraced landscaping and urban space. Berelowitz points out that “this is a square in name only” as it is not a primary, substantial open space. Also referenced is Victory Square at the corner of Hastings and Cambie, another space that remains largely underused for all but one day of year, Remembrance Day.[35]

Berelowitz also analyses Vancouver’s beaches, seeing them as a series of discreet public spaces, in terms of their built environment and social formation and use. He points to the translocation of public life away from traditional sites of political activity (town square, city hall) as being accompanied by a corresponding change in the emphasis of use of public space to one of personal leisure.[36] Historically, the roles of public spaces are essential to the democratic impulse; every city and every society needs public spaces for the exercise of democracy. Vancouver’s only truly democratic spaces are the beaches, waterfront parks and seawall. The city as a natural amphitheatre surrounding a public space of water is never more evident than on Vancouver’s annual Celebration of Light fireworks show. At the moment of climax everyone stands facing the sea, their backs turned to the city, transfixed by the explosive finale.[37] Yet for all his praise of Vancouver, Berleowitz sees the city as having a curiously distorted public culture, represented by its architecture and use of public spaces. He sees the highly organized, tourist-oriented and socially approved public spectacle as increasingly replacing genuine spontaneous public life, with Vancouverites becoming passive consumers of, rather than active participants in, their own culture.

 

 

 CHAPTER THREE: Social Capital

 

In media coverage of the past year, Vancouver has been termed as an unfriendly, cold, and lonely city whose inhabitants are not much more than a network of strangers. However, the issue of social isolation is not unique to Vancouver, nor is it unique to the contemporary scene, as a review of the academic literature clearly indicates.

“Unfriendliness” is a popular term for the feeling associated with a sense of social alienation. The Vancouver Foundation results helped substantiate the public discourse on social alienation by listing “loneliness” as one of the key findings of its survey. The public conversation in Vancouver that currently focused on the city’s apparent state of social isolation is also part of a wider sociological issue. What the media stories and studies are addressing in actuality is the presence and absence of what is termed Social capital.

 

Social capital is part of a long-standing discourse around social alienation that began in the late 19th century. The term focuses on the core idea that social networks possess value. [38]  Many sociologists have emphasized different aspects of social capital in recent history but the key concept is the network of social connections that exist between people and their shared values and norms of behaviour. These networks enable and encourage mutually advantageous social and economic benefits, derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. [39]

 

Two comprehensive sources on social capital have emerged in recent years, with prominent Cuban-American sociologist, Alejandro Portes and, Harvard Political Scientist, Robert Putnam as the authors. Portes’ 1998 article in the annual review of sociology, Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology,[40] incorporated the ideas of many previous authors. This included contemporary thinkers Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman.  Putnam’s expansive essay turned into a book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is seen as the modern-day source on the concept of social capital.

 

To explain social capital’s effects, Putnam gave the example of a screwdriver as a form of physical capital and a college education as a form of human capital. Both forms of capital can increase productivity, which can occur on both an individual and collective basis. Social capital also includes the formation of social contacts, which can affect the productivity of individuals and groups. [41]

 

When people talk about Vancouver as “unfriendly,” what they are referring to is the low level of those kinds of network exchanges that are understood as social capital. The descriptions of Vancouver as unfriendly, as lonely, and as divided into enclaves are manifestations of what, in academic circles, would be termed a depletion of social capital.  The normal social networks that prevail in more tightly bound communities appear to be missing here. Young people cannot connect, people feel they cannot call on their neighbours for help, nor do they feel they have anything to offer the community, and a surprisingly high number of residents are experiencing feelings of loneliness. Those absences reveal themselves through the Vancouver Foundation’s survey results, the three Vancouver Sun series released in 2012 which relate to the perceived eroding of community, and a public discourse that circulates stories of Vancouver’s reputation as an unfriendly city.

 

3.1 Social Capital Origins

 

When the Industrial Revolution was causing dramatic social upheaval in the 19th century – with young people moving to cities, the family becoming a weaker force, and the smaller world of village ties becoming eroded – the idea of social alienation began to garner attention.

 

Alejandro Portes dates social capital’s beginnings to the days of Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx, who theorized that involvement in groups could have positive effects for the individual and the community. They began to focus on alienation and social isolation as the erosion of community and group involvement made people become aware of this intangible force that had held people in place until then.

 

Durkheim saw group life as an antidote to self-destruction.[42] He described how social order was maintained in societies based on two very different forms of solidarity. A mechanical form based on uniformity, command and control, and an organic form that protected individual rights and interpersonal diversity, developing collective commitment through the institution of civil society.” Durkheim’s theory makes the distinction between harsh, retributive types of justice in early societies and the more liberal forms of social control through civil law in later ones. Formal institutions, laws and associations became part of the mechanisms for maintaining social control in the organic order. According to Portes, the term “social capital,” which did not come into use until decades after Durkheim’s work, simply recaptures an insight present since the beginnings of the discipline.[43]

 

Portes and Putnam, in their historical research of the term social capital, have documented the evolution of the term from the early 20th century. One of the first credited with using the actual term social capital is L.J. Hanifan, state supervisor of a rural school in West Virginia in 1916, who wrote to urge community involvement in order to create successful schools.

 

“The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself. If he comes into contact with his neighbour, and they with other neighbours, there will be an accumulation of Social Capital which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbours.” [44]

 

The term social capital resurfaced in the 1950’s, when Canadian sociologists used it to characterize the club memberships of arriviste suburbanites; in the 1960’s, by urbanist Jane Jacobs to laud neighbourliness in the modern metropolis; in the 1970’s, by Harvard economist Glenn Loury to analyze the legacy of social exclusion and group inequality; and in the 1980’s by French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu to underline the social and economic resources embodied in social networks. Bourdieu was a pioneer in the field of analysis of social capital.[45] He defined it as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition, or in other words, to membership in a group which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a credential which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word.”[46]

 

James Coleman, a sociologist and empirical researcher, put the term firmly on the intellectual agenda in the late 1980’s, using it to highlight the social context of education.  He identified social capital as being defined by its function.

 

It is not a single entity, but a variety of entities with two elements in common. (Social Capital) consists of some element of defined social structures. And they facilitate certain action of actors – whether persons or corporate actors within the structure, like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence.[47]

 

Coleman more closely examined some of the dynamics of social capital, such as reciprocity expectations, group enforcement of norms and the consequence of privileged access to information. His studies also examined the motivations of recipients and of donors in exchanges mediated by social capital. Recipients’ desire to gain access to valuable assets is understandable. More complex are the motivations of the donors, who are requested to make these assets available without any immediate return. In his analysis on the systematic treatment of the core process of social capital, he distinguishes among a) The possessors of social capital, who are those making claims, b) the sources of social capital, consisting of those agreeing to these demands and c) the resources themselves. [48]

 

Coleman’s essays have undeniable merit of introducing and giving visibility to the concept of social capital in American sociology, highlighting its importance for the acquisition of human capital (the skills and knowledge possessed by an individual) and identifying some of the mechanisms by which it is generated. He also observes the base level ties between a certain number of people in a given community that is necessary to guarantee the observance of norms.

 

Both Coleman and Bourdieu emphasized the intangible character of social capital relative to other forms. Whereas economic capital is in people’s bank accounts and human capital is inside their heads, social capital inheres in the structure of relationships.[49] To possess social capital, a person somehow be must be related to others, and it is those others who are the actual source of his or her advantage.

 

3.2 Portes and Putnam

 

Both Alejandro Portes and Robert Putnam are highly regarded as theorists on social capital although their views are not in perfect alignment.

 

Alejandro Portes’ research documents the principal ways social capital is enacted and its inter-relationships. He distinguishes three basic manifestations of social capital: as a source of social control, as a source for family support, and as a source of benefits through extra-familial networks.

 

To achieve social control, the tight community networks created by social capital are used by parents, teachers, employers and police authorities as they seek to maintain discipline and promote compliance among those under their charge. For family support,

intact families of two parents possess more of this form of social capital than do single-parent-families. Less desirable educational and personality outcomes were present in single-parent families who tended to move more often and have fewer adult contacts in the community, thereby weakening the potential for inter-generational support. The primary beneficiaries of intact families are, of course, the children whose education and personality development are enriched accordingly. By far the most common use of social capital is as a source of network-mediated benefits beyond the immediate family, when social capital allows access to certain employment, a level of mobility through occupational ladders, and heightened entrepreneurial success.

 

Robert Putnam, by contrast, expounds on the idea of generalized reciprocity, defined by philosopher Michael Taylor as “a combination of short-term altruism and long-term self-interest; I help you out now in the (understanding) that you will help me out in the future.”[50] Putnam theorizes that a society that relies on generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society. His version of social capital refers to “features of social organizations such as trust, norms and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.”[51] In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” attests that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.[52] He also includes references to Tom Wolfe’s “favour bank” in the novel Bonfire of the Vanities and even Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “If you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, they won’t come to yours.” [53]

 

Putnam’s exploration of regional governance and civic community in Italy led to his article Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. It was this work which inspired his focus on the decline of civic engagement in the United States in Bowling Alone. He attempts to explain why we are less civically engaged now than in our society’s recent past; reasons include pressures of time and money, the movement of women into the labour force, the decline of the traditional nuclear family and residential mobility, in addition to suburbanization and sprawl. He also points to changes in the structure of economy, including the rise of chain stores, the service sector and globalization. Technology and the mass media are also blamed, along with overall generational differences. Putnam’s explanation for civic disengagement pins a good chunk of the blame on the joint impact of the change in generation and increased exposure to T.V. [54]

 

He illustrates five distinct areas where social capital is vital: child welfare and education; healthy and productive neighbourhoods; economic prosperity; health and happiness; and democratic citizenship and government performance. Putnam confidently presents evidence that social capital makes us smarter, healthier, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.

 

But his praise for civic engagement has come under criticism from other theorists, namely Martin Paldam and Gert Svendsen, whose 2000 journal article, An Essay on Social Capital: Looking for the Fire Behind the Smoke [55] viewed the “Putnam Instrument,” as an overly simplified circular approach to civic engagement.

 

Following the publication of Bowling Alone and An essay on social capital: Looking for fire behind the smoke, Portes penned The Two Meanings of Social Capital in an attempt to reduce the confusion concerning the actual meaning of social capital and the growing controversy about its alleged effects.

 

But it was the celebration of community that caught the eye of scholars in other disciplines. For Coleman, community ties were important for the benefits they yielded to individuals. Old people could walk the streets at night without fear and children could be sent to play outside because tight community controls guaranteed their personal safety.  A subtle transition took place as the concept was exported into other disciplines where social capital became an attribute of the community itself. In this new garb, its benefits accrued not so much to individuals as to the collectivity as a whole in the form of reduced crime rates, lower official corruption, and better governance. [56]

 

 

Portes examines both social capital as a feature of communities, and after giving empirical evidence for the need of alternative application of the term, he looks at its effectiveness in the educational attainment of immigrant children.

 

 

3.3 Bridging and Bonding, Ethnicities and Immigration

 

To understand social capital in the context of ethnic and immigration studies, Portes defines social capital as the capacity of individuals to command scarce resources by virtue of their membership in networks or broader social structures.[57] Putnam develops the conception of social capital of groups by further breaking it down to two major categories, bridging and bonding. Bonding, which is exclusive of social capital reinforces specific reciprocity by mobilizing internal solidarity within groups. Bridging is an inclusive term of social capital links one social group to external assets and information through social network ties.

 

Bonding social capital, dubbed “sociological superglue,” is important for mobilizing solidarity and accessing benefits of reciprocity. Bridging social capital, in contrast, dubbed “sociological WD-40,” is better for linkage to external assets and connecting to different networks. [58]

 

The bonding social capital, which is largely based on familial networks and friendships within one’s own ethnic, social or class community, is a strong tie, but it is less effective and beneficial to job searching in terms of diffusion of information and social contacts.[59] Both Portes and Putnam point out, that bonding social capital may explain the formation of enclaves among minority immigrant communities. An ethnic enclave may provide an economic niche for newcomers and their children.

 

The role of social networks is important in studies of ethnic business enclaves and ethnic niches, which are dense concentrations of immigrant or ethnic firms that employ a significant proportion of their co-ethnic labour force and develop a distinctive presence in an urban space. Examples are New York’s Chinatown, Miami’s Little Havana and Los Angeles’ Koreatown. These enclaves are able to colonize a particular sector of employment in such a way that members have privileged access to job opportunities, while outsiders do not.[60]

 

With 40 per cent of the population foreign-born, Vancouver has been referred to as the third most multicultural city in the world[61] (behind Toronto and Miami). By most accounts in the Vancouver Foundation survey, the ethnic enclaves provide a significant amount of bonding social capital for its inhabitants. This is seen in some areas of Richmond where up to 80 per cent of residents are of Chinese origin[62] and featuring a multitude of businesses with Chinese-only language signs that exclusively employ a Chinese clientele. Surrey is another visible enclave with scores of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim temples, located amidst East Indian restaurants and offices of immigration lawyers.

 

At the same time, Vancouver Foundation survey results indicate a lack of bridging social capital. Thirty-two per cent of respondents to a neighborhood question responded with “little interest in knowing them”[63] as an obstacle to both knowing their neighbors, and  having a more connected, trusting and ultimately “friendly” neighbourhood. As Putnam states, “Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division but anomie or social isolation. In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ – that is, pull in like a turtle.” [64] As to the survey’s question of people’s preference to staying within one’s own ethnic group? The response was 65 per cent of respondents agreeing, with 10 per cent strongly agreeing and only 12 per cent disagreeing.  [65]

 

 

3.4 Negative Social Capital

 

Portes’ research on social capital strongly emphasizes positive consequences but adds that studies have also been conducted on negative social capital, identifying four examples of negative consequences. One, the exclusion of outsiders, as previously mentioned, in ethnic niches. A second is the obverse of the first: excess claims on group members. A third example of social capital’s negative consequences is the restrictions on individual freedoms, which can breed conformity. Lastly, the downward-levelling norms that operate when members of a formerly oppressed group seek acceptance in middle-class, mainstream society, and then are singled out or attacked for their perceived leap from their roots.  [66]

 

Notice that social capital, in the form of social control, is still present in these situations, but its effects are exactly the opposite of those commonly celebrated in the literature. Whereas bounded solidarity and trust provide the sources for socioeconomic ascent and entrepreneurial development among some groups, among others they have exactly the opposite effect. Sociability can carry a two-pronged effect. While it can be the source of public goods, such as those celebrated by Coleman, Loury, and others, it can also lead to public “bads.” Mafia families, prostitution and gambling rings, and youth gangs offer so many examples of how embedded-ness in social structures can be turned to less than socially desirable ends. The point is particularly important as we turn to the more recent and more celebratory versions of social capital.[67]

 

Examples of all types of the negative social capital that Portes wrote about are common in modern-day Vancouver. British Columbia has seen a rise in gang violence in recent years, with gangs such as the Red Scorpions and the United Nations gang making headlines for all the wrong reasons including drugs, murders and other violent crimes in the Lower Mainland. Less violent examples of negative social capital consist of stories of everyday citizens who experience social isolation due to some pull of social capital from within their ethnic group.

In Douglas Todd’s Vancouver Sun series on Ethnic Mapping, he introduces Jeremy Lau, who wishes familial duty didn’t compel him to live in central Richmond. “I’d like a more typical North American city and lifestyle, with not so many Chinese people,” said Lau, who came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1993. “When you immigrate to a new country, you don’t want to experience just what you’re used to. You want a new adventure.”[68] But he remains in the heart of the largest and highly concentrated ethnic Chinese enclave in Canada to support his parents-in-law, who live with Lau and his wife. They cannot speak English nor do they own a car. Typical of many recent and elderly immigrants, Lau’s in-laws feel more comfortable in Chinese surroundings.

Another example from Todd’s Ethnic Mapping series featured Melinda Khiu, the editor for Vietnam’s Thoi Bao newspaper, whose office sits amidst the swath of Filipino outlets in an otherwise culturally rich neighbourhood at Fraser Street and 27th Ave. “This is the most Filipino neighborhood. And I’m stuck right in the middle of it,” said Khiu, who is constantly mistaken for a Filipino. “I don’t interact with the Filipinos too much. They have nothing to do with me. They don’t bring any business.”[69] A few blocks away, Khiu’s Vietnamese community is celebrating the renaming of the Kingsway strip east of Fraser Street as “Little Saigon,” but when members of the Vietnamese community submitted their petition for the name change, they made the mistake of not consulting with the entire neighbourhood community, which angered many locals. Now Vancouver Filipinos are asking the City of Vancouver to officially designate Fraser Street between Kingsway and 33rd “Pinoy Town.”[70]  Debate is currently surrounding whether the benefit of the re-naming will go to the whole neighborhood or just a certain segment. Thus continues the perception of outsider exclusion in Vancouver. Negative social capital, as identified by Portes and supported by Putnam’s discovery that ethnic enclaves tend to create distrust among neighbors.

 

 

3.5 Cyclical Effect of Social Alienation and Technology

 

In Bowling Alone, Putnam is careful to observe that there have been other periods in history when changes in the social fabric of society caused citizens to retreat from the wider notion of community. One was the decades at the end of the nineteenth century, which American historians have dubbed The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. [71] “In this era, there was a dramatic, technological, economic and social change… that rendered obsolete a significant stock of social capital.” [72]

 

Race, ethnicity and class divided Americans at the end of the 19th century much as they do today. Although Putnam’s example of today’s dividing lines differ in detail from a century ago (where Asians and Hispanics, for example, have replaced Jews and Italians as targets of discrimination) he also notes the sometimes nostalgic oversimplification of bygone eras, something we are guilty of today as we were 100 years ago. “It was, in short, a time much like our own, brimming with promise of technological advance and unparalleled prosperity, but nostalgic for a more integrated sense of connectedness. Then as now, new modes of communication seemed to promise new forms of community”[73]

 

This same nostalgia for more community and less isolation is evident today in an era where the Internet, and more recently, social media, is determining how we connect. This new space is setting up new possibilities but also new limits on human connection. A recent study was produced at the University of Utah that inquired into the phenomenon of Facebook and its connection to loneliness. Stephen Marchie in The Atlantic commented on the study with his essay in which he references Putnam’s attribution of dramatic post-war decline of social capital.

 

Within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.[74]

 

The decline of face-to-face interaction has been on the rise for years on a global scale so what is the particular connection of Facebook to Vancouver’s loneliness? Vancouverites, according to a 2010 Angus Reid poll, are the most addicted to social media of any Canadian city, with only 69 per cent of Vancouverites responding that face-to-face is their preferred contact, compared to the Canadian average of 82 per cent [75] One surmises that, Vancouverites, in comparison to the remainder of the country, expect more from technology and less from each other.

 

Most days in Vancouver, the rain can be blamed for fuelling residents’ social media addiction. On clear days, however, when a given citizen’s motivation to spend time on the city’s edges is not defined by their pursuit of solitary exercise, there still exists that void where – partly due to a lack of access to, and awareness of, the benefits of social capital – Vancouverites will spend more time alone. According the foundation survey, one quarter of the city’s residents see this less, as a state of solitude and more, as a state of loneliness [76]

 

Portes concludes by giving us his version of a reality-check. He thinks, despite all the current enthusiasm for the topic, that the various facets of social capital should be studied in all of their complexity.

 

The processes alluded to by the concept cut both ways. Social ties can bring about greater control over wayward behavior and provide privileged access to resources; they can also restrict individual freedoms and bar outsiders from gaining access to the same resources through particularistic preferences… A more dispassionate stance will allow analysts to consider all facets of the event in question and prevent turning the ensuing literature into an unmitigated celebration of community.[77]

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR: State of the media

 

2012 was a landmark year for the media depictions of Vancouver as a state of “unfriendliness.”

 

First Katherine Ashenburg’s piece Do Vancouver Men Suck was published in Vancouver Magazine on New Year’s Day, stirring the pot of disconnection in the dating scene. Jorge Amigo followed Ashenburg’s article a week later, with Do Vancouver Women Suck: A Reader’s Response. The Vancouver Magazine follow-up piece touched on topics of unfriendliness in the city and ultimately led to “Be My Amigo,” his bi-weekly networking event for strangers.

 

In the summer, the Vancouver Foundation produced results from its survey, while the Vancouver Sun amplified the survey’s findings with a five-part series Growing Apart. Tara Carman wrote about unfriendly joggers, the distrust of neighbours, communities that retreated from civic life, the disenchanted 25-to-34 demographic, and the belief that Vancouver is becoming resort town for the wealthy. The Vancouver Sun ran a 12-part series later that summer titled Who We Are, focusing on 12 Vancouverites of different ethnicities and demographics. They also re-ran on-line from the previous fall, Ethnic Mapping where Douglas Todd and Chad Skelton used 2011 Census Canada data to reveal the precise ethnic make-up of the city’s neighbourhoods. Together, they created interactive ethnic maps that provided comprehensive, street-by-street detail on where the Chinese, South Asians, Filipinos, Europeans and many other ethnic groups tended to cluster in Metro Vancouver.

 

In the fall, Simon Fraser University’s Public Square held a community summit that lasted five days and included 11 distinct events with the theme of connecting in the city. The local government also became involved, selecting 22 citizens to form the mayor’s Engaged City’s Task Force, which aimed to tackle the barriers to citizen engagement and connectivity.  Along with other new initiatives from community leaders, teachers and ordinary citizens doing their part to make Vancouver a friendlier place to be, suddenly becoming connected in Vancouver was a topic of attention.

 

In all, four major magazine articles or news series appeared in 2012 depicting Vancouver as a disconnected community. This included the Vancouver Magazine dating-scene debate and three separate series that appeared in the Vancouver Sun. Throughout all of the documentation, persistent references to un-neighbourliness, ethnicity and comparisons to other cities surfaced. Some themes that curiously were not covered included the city’s physical environment, competition in the city, and the downsides of neighbourliness.

The impact the Vancouver Foundation’s report was rather significant because it was the first large-scale survey that produced tangible data on how Vancouverites truly felt about their community. The amount of media and community response to the survey’s results proved significant, especially considering the reporting had scant mentions of anything positive from the Foundation survey.

 

4.1 Vancouver and the Importance of Neighbourliness

 

The Katherine Ashenburg article, Do Vancouver Men Suck? was a colourful magazine feature story that pointed a finger at the largely unmotivated, un-masculine and passive men who populate Vancouver’s single scene. Originally written as more of a critique on Vancouver’s gender divide than the city in general, it provided some interesting insights on the rude behaviour or perceived un-neigbourliness of people in the city.  As Ashenburg wrote:

 

When Kate moved to Vancouver she assumed she’d lost her appeal or become ‘too old’ to interest men. Also, that she had mysteriously landed in a place where strong men saw no reason to help a smallish woman with a heavy suitcase or balky door.[78]

 

Jorge Amigo’s rebuttal piece in Vancouver magazine, while balancing out the gender, provided further commentary on this trend of rude, un-neighbourly behaviour.

The most common way to approach a woman in Yaletown is to direct your ice-breaker towards her pet Chihuahua, and then hope that she gets off her phone and actually says something other than “yahh, OMG, totally, wait… there’s a creeper trying to touch my dog, LOL” and disappears into a yoga studio.[79]

 

Tara Carman’s “Growing Apart” was the first Vancouver Sun series to appear after the Vancouver Foundation report was released. Her first article “A Community of Strangers,” highlighted feelings of isolation and the theme of residents’ complaints of rude behaviour. She profiled a jogger who commented on how other joggers would routinely avoid displaying the same greeting protocol (a nod, smile, thumbs-up) that one typically finds in other cities. Newcomers to the city related how it would be weeks before anyone would offer to show them around or invite them for dinner, while apartment dwellers relate a distrust of their neighbours to the extent that they were afraid to allow their children to play unsupervised outside. Also featured was Bob Cowin, a Coquitlam resident, who felt there while there was a great sense of community in the 1980’s, he had lost a the connection with his neighbours over the years. “Houses started being sold, and a different, and increasingly multicultural, demographic moved in.”  The increasing ethnic diversity, he felt, was a mixed blessing for his neighbourhood.[80]

 

The theme of non-trust is evident in Carman’s second story in the series, “Friendships: A Tough Place to Make Connections.” She focused on the difficult social atmosphere that Vancouver creates for newcomers and the seemingly icy response from the locals. The reader is introduced to a 30-something single Torontonian who felt Vancouver was cold and its inhabitants superficial upon first arriving, followed by a newcomer from Calgary who said, “Being almost 30, I find most people my age already have their group of close friends. I’ve been homesick for more than one year, in large part because I haven’t made any good friends that make me feel like Vancouver could be home… People I know who have lived here and since moved back tell a similar story.”[81] In Carman’s third article we were introduced to West End resident Iris Dias.  She described herself as a private person and commented “It already feels like I’ve lost a piece of privacy living in an apartment, so to give up more of that and get to know my neighbours …really feels a little bit too invasive for me.” [82] Dias said she has no problem chatting casually with neighbours in an elevator, but feels no desire to learn their names or which unit they live in.

 

4.2 Vancouver and Ethnicity

 

Each of the Vancouver Sun series had its own distinctive concept and commentary but there was much blending of the themes through many of the Vancouver Sun articles. Social isolation was commonly linked to ethnic diversity throughout.

 

Tara Carman’s Part Four, Communities: A Retreat from Civic Life, was in direct response to the diversity questions of the foundation survey where residents felt Metro was being divided along ethnic lines. Cora Maming was a new arrival in Vancouver who came from the Philippines to join her children, yet she was living a lonely, isolating existence. Several months after her arrival, Maming registered for ESL classes at Collingwood Neighbourhood House. She was the only Filipina in her class, but when she started reading, it was clear she needed to be in a much higher-level English class. She eventually became an assistant teacher and assisted her Chinese, Iranian and Mexican classmates with their lessons. “That was the first time I had many, many friends in a different language,” she said.  It was the beginning of her transformation from a frightened new immigrant living in an ethnic bubble to a woman at the center of her community.[83]

 

In Douglas Todd’s “Ethnic Mapping” series Part One, “The Pulsing South Asian Heart of Surrey,” 33 year-old Archana Sharma from India explained the draw to the dense ethnic enclave, “I like the familiarity, being with someone of my own background. It’s a very cohesive community where people really stand together.” Todd pointed out that “Surrey’s crime rate may be dropping, but Sharma overlooked reports that Surrey was ranked ninth highest in Canada for murders in 2009.” [84] Todd chose to feature positive characters such as Sharma, acknowledged there have been conflicts among the different groups, but played down such troubles. “Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Christians,” Sharma said, “tend to get along well.” [85]

Another example from Todd’s “Ethnic Mapping” series is Part Four, “Europeans in Peaceful Tsawwassen,” where readers were introduced to Laurence Tom, a Canadian born businessman whose father was from China. Tom refers to himself as a “banana,” one who looks Asian on the outside, but is culturally white on the inside. He has revelled in the community feel of Tsawwassen for over 20 years and has no interest in moving to an ethnic enclave in Richmond or east Vancouver, nor does he speak the Mandarin dialect of most new Chinese immigrants. In addition, most of his relatives are in interracial relationships.

 

In Douglas Todd’s “Ethnic Mapping Part Two: Some Richmond Enclaves 80 per cent Chinese” and “Part Three: Filipinos Live Beside Skytrain Stations,” the study of ethnicities are the common theme but two strikingly different immigration pictures are painted of ethnic enclaves in Vancouver.

In the Filipino article, one learns that the reason for its odd title: Many Filipinos Choosing to Live Near SkyTrain Stations, is that many of the growing Filipino army of low-to-middle-wage temporary foreign workers require inexpensive travel in jobs as nannies, cleaners, seniors’ care aides, security officials, service clerks, short-order cooks and practical nurses.[86]  Todd also wrote about workers sending remittances to the Philippines, as many low-wage-earning Filipinos in Canada can achieve a higher standard of living than they would in their poverty-stricken homeland. This article also included descriptions of “the pocket of ragtag, somewhat dowdy commercial outlets on Fraser,” containing posters promoting local Filipino events as well as the story of a murdered Filipino student Mao Lanot at a neighbourhood secondary school in 2003. [87]

Contrast that story to the Chinese in Richmond where Todd reports on mostly “well-off” immigrant residents among the highest rate of any major city in Canada, a buzzing neighbourhood, and an affluent suburb that is home to Vancouver International Airport and its scores of daily flights to and from Asia. Todd reported on Chinese immigrants expressed sense of comfort and security in this ethnic enclave.

 

4.3 Vancouver and Comparisons to Other Cities

 

In any critique of an issue that is particular to a certain city, it would be remiss not to inquire into how such an issue manifests in other regions. The phenomenon of social isolation in Vancouver was a persistent source of comparison throughout the array of media coverage. The authors and their subjects within the various reports consistently made reference to other Canadian and international cities that were friendlier, warmer and more welcoming than Vancouver.

 

In Katherine Ashenburg’s article on Vancouver’s dating scene, Vancouver itself was one of a handful of cities discussed, and in each case, mentioned in a much duller light. Ashenburg interviewed locals who commented how Vancouver “is lacking the genial bars and clubs of cities such as New York and Toronto,” while ex-residents returning from Vancouver to Halifax, said they could not be happier. “People are chattier in public places; (in Halifax) you can strike up a conversation in Canadian Tire while buying windshield wipers.”[88] Amigo, in “Do Vancouver Women Suck, A Readers Response,” essentially mimicked Ashenburg’s kind words for other cities with his praise for a certain Montrealer, the only friendly person he referenced in this article that was otherwise rife with reported rudeness and snobbery from Vancouverites.

 

The comparisons made by the Vancouver magazine articles set the tone for future contrasts with other North American cities. In the Vancouver Sun’s “Growing Apart” series, Tara Carman writes about people moving from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Saskatoon, Kelowna, St. John’s and even San Diego who remained feeling lonely after an extended amount of time spent living in Vancouver.[89]

 

This measuring-up to other cities, in the context of social isolation, continued in the local media. In November 2012, when the Vancouver Sun published “Vancouver least welcoming of Canadian cities: survey,” it was based on the results of an HSBC survey that polled 600 immigrants on their relocation experience, and made comparisons to other cites, to illuminate the results. Seventy-three per cent of survey respondents said they found Vancouver a “welcoming city” which would initially appear to be a positive statistic, but when compared to the other large Canadian cities, Vancouver paled in comparison. It placed last behind Montreal (89 per cent), Calgary and Edmonton (each at 84 per cent) and Toronto (79 per cent).

 

A 2010 Angus Reid poll showed Vancouverites the most addicted to social media of any Canadian city. Gillian Shaw wrote in the Vancouver Sun, “In Vancouver, social media rules, with 40 per cent of Vancouverites saying they can’t imagine life without it compared to 23 per cent who would say the same in Edmonton.”[90]

 

 

4.4  Favorability of Putnam’s Theories

 

Throughout all this kind of media coverage — the neighborliness, the ethnicity, the comparisons with other cities – The Vancouver Sun’s reporting on “unfriendliness” in the city tended to reflect and rely on a world view of social isolation as expressed by Robert Putnam. This worldview perceives more connections, friendships and neighborliness only as a positive. The comparisons to other cities are stem from Putnam-like assumptions that people and cities should behave in particular ways.

 

In section 4.1 the importance of neighbourliness was a common theme revealed in the reporting of social isolation in Vancouver. The story of Carman’s featured characters are reflected in the accusations of “cliquey” or “snobby” remarks made about Vancouver by newcomers. Carman’s portrayals reflected the Putnam view that in-group and out-group attitudes of bonding social capital need not be reciprocally related, but in many cases still are. [91] Un-neighbourliness and perceptions of rude behaviour was a reported hallmark of the Vancouver isolation phenomenon and has all the echoes of Putnam’s massive US study, thus rendering this issue not so local and confining after all.

 

In section 4.2, the study of ethnicities in Vancouver is revealed as a complex one and the reporting reflects such. Much of what has been written appears to be layered with confusing statistics, conflicting reports, and a tendency to echo the social capital research undertaken by Putnam.

 

Tara Carman’s article “Growing Apart Part Four” featuring Cora Maming as an immigrant success story echoes the proud picture of a diverse Vancouver as painted by Douglass Todd’s “Ethnic Mapping” series. This is especially evident on reports of Surrey as a cohesive community and Tsawwassen as an inclusive community. Todd’s articles put a positive spin on diversity, as do all six articles in his “Ethnic Mapping” series. However, the “other-ing” of non-whites re-enforces an in-group, out-group divide that Putnam discussed. Even many of the studies that Putnam and his team conducted went by the basis of “whites” and “non-whites.”[92]

 

The Putnam research on diversity can be somewhat confusing. In Bowling Alone, he was calling for more trust in one’s neighbours and being more civically engaged to increase one’s social capital. But his more recent diversity-lowers-neighbourhood-trust research is making theories on neighbourliness all the more opaque. This very opacity is reflected in the media coverage such as The Vancouver Sun’s various series.

In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital.” [93]

Unsurprisingly The Vancouver Sun is choosing to take a pro-diversity stance and report positively on diversity “success-stories” in Vancouver, even though the results from the foundation survey point to signs that there is a retreating community here. The inconsistencies in reporting are indicative of the mixed research on social capital. As Portes comments,

 

Putnam ambivalently lauds the positive long-term effects of immigration for these societies, while contending that it has a corrosive effect on social capital and hence societal cohesion. [94]

 

 

That mixed and often contradictory view of ethnicity was evident throughout The Vancouver Sun’s reporting. Todd referred to University of Victoria scholar Zheng Wu’s thesis on how new immigrants to Canada feel “protected” in enclaves but added that “people in ethnic enclaves feel less sense of belonging to their new country. Wu’s position unites with that of Putnam, whose extensive U.S. studies found enclaves often contribute to distrust among residents.” [95]

The content of the two articles paints a very different immigrant experience in Vancouver and make certain class distinctions towards either ethnic community. This was an important distinction to make as much of the previous academic research on diversity examined the whole issue as a question of “non-whites” vs. “whites”.  The Vancouver Foundation, in its report asked the “hard questions” about which groups would be most and least welcomed. Europeans were the most welcomed at 18 per cent, followed by Asians at 15 per cent, followed by South Asians at five per cent, with Middle Easterners and Africans at one and two percent respectively.[96] Not surprisingly, the absence of Douglas Todd’s reporting on Middle Easterners and Africans in the “Ethnic Mapping” series, reflect the low percentages of trust those groups received in the foundation survey. The result of their lack of presence in reporting was indicative of the Putnam theory that “as we have more contact with people who are unlike us, we overcome our initial hesitation and ignorance and come to trust them more.”[97]

The contradictions in social capital research on diversity are consistent with the way The Vancouver Sun reported on ethnicity in both series. The reporting of the Vancouver Foundation research, in turn, is based on much of Putnam’s theories of the eroding of community over the past generation that was discussed in Bowling Alone. Most of the reporting mentions his theories. His name and thought on diversity research are raised in more than half of the stories in both the “Growing apart” and “Ethnic Mapping” series. The Vancouver Sun became comfortable using Putnam’s theories as the driver of the diversity issue but as mentioned in the last section, there are differing viewpoints on the social capital and diversity. Namely from Alejandro Portes, who posits that in the context of ethnicity social capital can be used as a source of family support and benefits through extra-familial networks but also as a source of social control. It is not merely about an unmitigated celebration of community.

Preoccupation with declining expressions of trust and with alleged effects of diversity serves to detract attention from real and far more urgent problems. While some academics and policy makers wring their hands about how to increase participation in local associations and make people express more trust in each other, solutions to basic problems such as how to fashion an immigration policy that effectively incorporates newcomers fall by the wayside. In the United States, the millions of dollars spent in investigating whether public trust is declining or whether immigration reduces it could have been more fruitfully invested in devising a labour management program that flexibly incorporates immigrants.[98]

 

 

4.5 What Was Absent From Media Coverage

 

With ample commentary on rude behaviour, un-neighbourliness, ethnicity and lack of the social values of other cities, as contributing factors to Vancouver’s apparent ‘unfriendliness’, there was a consistency of a slightly concerned tone throughout most of the reporting; one that continually referred to the Vancouver Foundation survey’s results. Some of the themes that were not covered consisted of both public spaces and the physical environment and their impact on social interaction, competition in the city for jobs and housing, and the downsides of neighbourliness. As well, the reporting failed to mention positive aspects concerning the Vancouver Foundation survey results.

 

 

 

4.5.1 Public Spaces and the Physical Environment

As mentioned earlier, in Carmen’s first article, “A Community of Strangers,” she profiled a jogger on the seawall who said that other joggers do not have the same greeting protocol (a nod, smile, thumbs-up) that they have in other cities. This was the first character or voice of the dozens of “lonely” Vancouver citizens introduced after the foundation report was released.  Along with a mention of a dog park in “Growing Apart Part Two, Friendships: A Tough Place to Make Connections,” there was very little mention of public space and its connection to isolation in the city.

 

As both Berelowitz and Czypyha noted in the second section, the missing center and outward nature focus has been a deterrent for socializing in the city. For Vancouverites, “the private pursuit of nature and leisure” trumps socializing with friends in the city, or making new friends for that matter. Urban socializing typically becomes a lower priority compared to trips to Whistler, hiking in the north shore mountains, or the heading to Vancouver Island for the weekend. With dozens of individual articles written throughout the various Vancouver Sun series, it’s surprising how minimal the media coverage was on Vancouver’s public space and physical environment. There was no mention of the periphery-based focus of leisure time for the average Vancouverite and more shocking, for such a Vancouver-focussed story, was the absence of Vancouver’s “star attractions” such as the seawall and spectacular natural environment.

 

 

4.5.2 Competition Conundrum

 

Newman and Jennings in Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems point out the potential for a breakdown in community and social relations in their chapter on economy and society.  “Social disparities grow as the rural poor join the ranks of the urban poor. In cities where urbanization has created sprawl and car dependence, a sense of community has been eroded and social alienation has increased.”[99]

 

Vancouver has a plethora of new condos in the city, indicative of a move toward greater density, but that has been met with resistance from some residents and the expensive realities of investor-owned units. A March 2013 report [100] revealed that Vancouver is leading the way in Canada’s large cities for non-resident and investor-owned units to the extent that one finds as many as 22,000 units sitting unoccupied in Metro Vancouver.[101] The neighbourhood of Coal Harbour with its towering condos and relatively little street life or thriving businesses was Vancouver’s “emptiest” with 23 per cent of the units sitting vacant.

The inverse of Vancouver’s empty condo dilemma is the residential boom in the city, where high rates of population growth are outstripping employment growth and changing the social economics of the city. For every 100 new residents arriving in the city since 1971, only 70 new jobs have been created.[102] This cannot be a sustainable trend over a long period of time.

 

Wyly’s study, Vancouver’s Suburban Involution, theorizes about cheaper land causing the employment base of the suburbs to expand, while downtown Vancouver’s condo culture has an urbanized replica of suburbia. This is emphasized with an “entrenched pattern of mediocre and repetitive architecture” and serial reproduction of “vertical gated communities.”[103] The high price of these units and lack of high paying jobs is causing a divide and making the average homeowner poor while intensifying competition for employment.  Wyly articulates his point. “The city has an emperor’s new clothes character, with its shortages of high-paying jobs, value-added functions, leading industries, and prominent corporate players- and a severe dependency on real estate, speculative capital, and personal-services jobs.”[104]

 

In applying Newman’s and Jennings’ urban sprawl observations through the lens of Wyly’s suburban involution theory, it becomes easy to perceive why social alienation has remained a constant struggle in Vancouver. In addition, the layering of inconsistencies of high desirability, a scarce job market, high real estate prices, and the lack of permeability of established networks suddenly only serve to augment this struggle.

 

Throughout the various Vancouver Sun series, there is repeated mention of busy lives, commuting and affordability in Vancouver. But rarely, if at all in the series, were empty condos, the homogeneity of downtown housing and the competition for scarce opportunities taken into account as a reason for the apparent unfriendliness.

 

4.5.3 The Downsides of Neighbourliness

 

The overall tone of the Vancouver Foundation connections and engagement survey was one of concern. The Vancouver Sun’s reporting reflected the mood of the Vancouver Foundation report. There were snippets of positive elements, in “Growing Apart: Part One,” Carman mentioned, “Much of the news was good” in reference to overall neighbourhood and community relations. In Part Two, “more than half of residents reported having at least four close friends they see at least two to times a month” But the bulk of the reporting focussed on Vancouver residents experiencing negative responses and anxiety concerning lack of friendships, non-trustworthy neighbours and an eroding sense of community.

In Carman’s “Growing Apart: Part One,” the single paragraph about overall good news was overshadowed by five paragraphs where “some troubling trends emerged.”[105]  They were in reference to many of the Vancouver Foundation’s survey’s statistics (covered in section one) where Vancouverites feelings of loneliness and lack of neighbourliness was revealed.  In Part Three, the on-line article had a video accompanying it with the title West End Hermit and the description: “West End resident Iris Dias talks about why she has no desire to know her neighbours.”[106] Part Five introduces a 28-year-old native Vancouverite “who doesn’t know her neighbours and says that doesn’t particularly bother her.”[107] Added into the mix was the reaction within the stories that tended towards hearing the opinions of more neighbourly types such as Dean Inglis. “It feels to me like people almost seem like they’re kind of scared to have a sense of community for some reason,” said Inglis. “It would be kind of nice if it had that… homey-type feeling.”[108] Characters such as Dias were presented as oddities, while ones such as Inglis were presented as the norm. The Vancouver Sun’s coverage took on the position of neighbourliness as a good thing. It also heightened the alarm about non-neighbourliness as a bad thing to the point where it seems as if the readers should beware of the “hermits” in their building who, “God forbid,” don’t care to know them.

The emotions expressed about neighbourliness reported in the Vancouver Sun reflect a particular view. Robert Putnam’s view of social capital – entrenched in his pro-civic stance in Bowling Alone – and referenced many times throughout the Vancouver Sun’s reporting, was the formula that was predominantly followed. The coverage did not explain in any way the Alejandro Portes theories of negative social capital and social control.

To approach these processes as social facts to be studied in all of their complexity, rather than as examples of a value… Communitarian advocacy is a legitimate political stance; it is not good social science. As a label for the positive effects of sociability, social capital has, in my view, a place in theory and research provided that its different sources and effects are recognized and that their downsides are examined with equal attention.[109]

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Conclusions

The discourse in Vancouver surrounding social isolation and the reputation for unfriendliness has been greatly influenced by the Vancouver Foundation’s report which suddenly bestowed in-depth analysis to years of hearsay. This apparent state of “unfriendliness” has been shaped, in part, by Vancouverites obsession with the physical environment, lack of socializing spaces and a perceived lack of social capital, particularly when it comes to bridging the gap between ethnic enclaves and established social networks groups. One cannot discount the extent to which media coverage tends to favour or ignore certain themes in producing a new cultural lexicon by which social isolation is understood in Vancouver.

Another interesting aspect is the context of the Vancouver Foundation’s results. Much concern has been expressed about how 24 per cent of Vancouverites are alone more often than they would like to be while 31 per cent of residents find this to be a hard place to make friends. What about the 76 per cent of people who are satisfied with their amount of alone time and the 69 per cent of Vancouverites having no trouble making friends?

The Vancouver Foundation was rather in depth with its survey, asking 3,841 residents what they thought of human connections and engagement in their community. Was it is possible that the expectations were too high? Or was the follow-up reporting too skewed in one particular direction? Neighbourliness is something to be celebrated, but is it possible that the constant reiterating of Vancouver’s issues of loneliness, isolation, divides in ethnicity and a disenchanted demographic of young adults is just a self-fulfilling prophecy that continues to keep Vancouver in this apparent state of unfriendliness?

While the local media was focusing in on the social isolation and general “unfriendliness” in the city, the international media was lauding Vancouver for their “liveability.” According to The Economist Intelligence Unit,  the London-based authority of the quality of life index, Vancouver was rated the third most “liveable”city in the world in 2012[110] and was rated 5th on New York-based Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey[111].  Such international accolades associated with moving to a city whose iconic image exists on the panoramic level, conjure high expectations from newcomers and can be a basis for disappointment. This carries a particular impact in the early stages of living in a new city, a time crucial to shaping one’s identity, and one’s thoughts and feelings within that space.

Is Vancouver particularly different from other big cities with a transient and multicultural population? The factors studied in this thesis help explain Vancouver’s particular relationship with an apparent state of unfriendliness.  The Vancouver Foundation’s report of 2012 clearly showed that there are major deficiencies in the city’s community engagement and the media’s reporting, whether intentional or not, has perpetuated a feeling of social isolation.  Yet the additional awareness to the topic was the first step toward debunking this stigma or at least understanding it more comprehensively. Vancouver has a been assigned a label for “unfriendliness” rightfully or wrongfully so, but the nature of the reputation now more clearly understood, renders it accessible to be studied from a broader, more holistic approach rather than being simply based on rumours of Vancouver as an unfriendly city.

 




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