I just read Gary Mason’s Alone, so alone, in Vancouver article in today’s Globe and Mail.
None of what he said came as a surprise. As Mason mentions, Vancouver has long been known as a difficult place to make new friends. If you’re new to town, good luck getting beyond a cursory smile at the grocery store. Vancouverites are polite, but not friendly.
This stereotype has now been confirmed by a recent study distributed by the Vancouver Foundation, which states that the top concern of Vancouver residents is the feeling isolated.
Although I understand this to be true for many people, on a personal level I have made more true friends here than I have anywhere else. I think this has to do with being part of two great communities: Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, and the arts community.
In terms of the latter, some food for thought: BC has one of the lowest per capita rates of funding for the arts in Canada. Knowing that a vibrant arts scene helps build community (I would personally attest to a stronger sense of community thanks to great events like the Parade of Lost Souls and Illuminares), would it be fair to say that the lack of arts funding and the increasing sense of loneliness may be correlated?
I should admit that my experience in the arts community may be different than most: I haven’t just participated in events, I worked in the industry for a few years and still have many like-minded friends from that time who appreciate theatre, music and dance as much as I do. It’s a small community, and we can all relate to each others’ trouble and pleasures.
Vancouver is all about micro-communities: skate boarders, writers, actors, activists, etc. If you’re not part of one of those niches I can see how someone would find it hard to fit in.
Of course there are many factors that contribute to feeling isolated, including the fact that we spend a lot more time online, I think this sense of loneliness also has to do with the kind of people BC attracts: people who want to escape into nature in an isolated cabin in the middle of the wilderness. This is how we’ve branded our province. Our license plates may as well read “Come to BC to escape from civilization!”
As a counter argument, you might raise the idea that any large, metropolitan city is difficult to integrate into as an adult, and that’s fair. I can’t offer much in terms of a comparison to other North American cities except for Calgary, where I moved from. Growing up overseas I was part of the ex-patriot community, which is often tight-knit in an “we’re all in this together” kind of way. But I’ve often heard of tales from across the continent of newcomers being – brace yourself – asked to dinner or coffee upon sharing the news of their recent arrival. My sister moved to North Carolina a month ago, and she and her husband have already been invited to join another couple they met at the dog park for dinner at their home. Ontarions tell me it’s acceptable to find people mingling at the bar and speaking to strangers, an act unheard of in Vancouver.
What do you think? Is Vancouver the loneliest place in Canada? What experiences have you had with feeling isolated?