Literature Review: Chapter 1

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.



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