Monday, March 3, 2008

Vancouver -- The Downside

Recently I posted about Vancouver being chosen as the Number One most livable city in the world in 2007, for the fifth year in a row, by the Economist. I think the photos I used to illustrate that post would be enough to convince anyone that the city is indeed beautiful, with the snow-capped mountains rising almost straight out of the water.

But now let's consider the downside of Vancouver. You could say it is a bit rainy here. We define a Vancouverite as someone who runs between the raindrops, not bothering with an umbrella, although we all have them in the car. I usually have about half a dozen or more in the trunk or boot as some say. If you forget yours I can certainly lend you one, maybe even match your outfit. However.....

Although popularly thought of as being a rainy city, Vancouver has only 166 days per year with measurable precipitation on average, and 289 days with measurable sunshine. Nonetheless, from November until March, it is not uncommon for there to be 20 consecutive days with some amount of rain.

In actual fact, the total rainfall here is around 45 inches or 1155 mm for the metric folk. Compare that to the annual rainfall in my hometown of Sydney, Australia. 1175mm. Now did you ever hear anyone call Sydney a rainy city? I don't think so.

But Vancouver is in Canada for heaven's sake, so there must be snow. Well obviously the higher elevations receive snow but at sea level it is less common. The snow tends to be quite wet and road conditions are less than ideal when it snows. We have limited snow removal equipment and the bus routes are the priority. We don't really know how to drive in snow and we mostly drive with all weather tires instead of real snow tires so accidents abound.

Outside my front door, wet snow, early December 2007

We actually have only a 13% chance of having a white Christmas. Within a 24 hour period the blizzard of 1996 brought a 24 inches snowfall which brought the city to a halt for several days. Low temperatures usually range from just above freezing to -3 or -4 degrees Celsius, with only an average of 46 days per year below freezing. We are not called the banana belt region of Canada for nothing.

So now we have dealt with the weather, let's turn to the complaint which James always makes about this city. Well he needles me about it on occasion. Vancouver is the drug capital of Canada, he says. Well if you google that statement guess what comes up? The number one spot belongs to James's post where he used that expression. The only other reference using that statement is the one he cited in his post. Other more likely references are Vancouver being the crime capital of Canada.

Of course drugs are a problem here. Due to the mild climate here we get many drug addicts and Vancouver is a port city on the Pacific Rim, hence the heroin and cocaine trades are alive and well. The property crime rate is the highest in Canada because that's how the drug addicts support their habit, with breaking and entering. Or prostitution. Another story.

While smoking marijuana is not legal in Vancouver, it is not a crime the police spend a lot of time pursuing. In fact several Mayors have called for marijuana to be made legal and sold like alcohol or tobacco but this has never come into effect.

But let's talk about marijuana grow-ops. In BC there are an estimated 18,000 grow-ops. In Vancouver these are in houses, usually rented, where marijuana is grown hydroponically. Police raid them periodically and dismantle them but seldom charge anyone. We had one directly opposite us for almost a year in a rented house and never knew until it was raided and a crop estimated to be worth $375,000 was removed, a crop that you can produce every couple of months, so I'm told. Grow-ops are everywhere and no area is exempt from them, no matter how upscale. In fact BC is known for its high quality marijuana. BC Bud, as it is known, is like a brand name, in fact. Did you know that marijuana cultivation also plays an important role in British Columbia's economy? According to some it plays a bigger role than forestry, for it is estimated to be a $6 billion industry on an annual basis.

The latest drug-related industry in Vancouver is the production of ecstasy. Just this past week, in a court trial, five men were convicted of producing a controlled substance (ecstasy), possessing drugs for the purpose of trafficking and conspiracy to commit an indictable offense. The sentences handed down ranged from 4 years to 8 years. The two industrial-sized drug labs these men operated were located inside upscale residences in Richmond, B.C., a suburb located south of Vancouver.

It seems that it is legal to import the compounds used to manufacture ecstasy into Canada whereas this is not the case in the United States. However these individuals were discovered by tracing a 600 kg shipment of sodium borohydride which is used in the manufacture of ecstasy. Although it seems that some of these shipments enter through the Vancouver port illegally, in the following example supposedly as water chesnuts. This time 4500 kg of MDP2P (3,4-methylenedioxy-phenyl-2-propanone) were seized. Sigh. Another reason for the Americans to dislike us. We seem to supply their mind-altering drug habits.

But you are not convinced that the above factors are a downside. After all the drug scene does not affect the life of the ordinary citizen, apart from the break-ins and we all have alarms. Just like many other people you want to come to Vancouver. And come they do. From other parts of Canada and from all over the world. It's a lovely city and very multicultural so you'll probably feel very much at home very quickly. Of course you'll have to find somewhere to live for you and your family and that means you'll have to consider the real estate situation.

Let's consider this house below, currently for sale. I know this house very well, for I lived in the house two doors to the left of it for 14 years before moving to the larger house where I live now. The grey house you see to the right is owned by someone in my Thursday walking group.

The house itself is over 60 years old and very ordinary. A tiny 800 square feet stucco bungalow with two bedrooms and an unfinished basement. Not a family home, maybe for a couple, as lived there when we were neighbours. The lot is not bad, 53 by 130 foot. It's been rented so probably not in great condition. It's a nice location but a fair way from the bus and the shops. The school is very close but then you can't have children in this house for it's too small. In fact it is probably a knock down. Why they even suggest it. Build your dream house.

So the asking price is $1,700,000. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, one million seven hundred thousand dollars, for basically a standard block of land, about 9 km from downtown. Now how is that for a downside to this city? One of the most expensive cities in North America for real estate. In fact prices have almost doubled in the last five years.


4035 W 37TH AV, Dunbar, Vancouver West,

Excellent location, steps to Pacific Spirit Park, close to UBC. Build your dream house on large 53 x 130 south facing lot. Needs 48 hours to show as tenanted. All sizes and ages are approx only, buyer to verify if important to buyer.

Finished Floor Area: 800.0 sq ft. Property Type: House, Lot Frontage: 53 ft. Basement: Unfinished, Lot Depth: 130 ft. Bedrooms: 2, Age: 66, Bathrooms: (Full:2, Half:0)

Update: Today I found out from my friend who lives in the grey house next door that the above house has just sold for $1.8 million dollars, $100,000 over the asking price. It will continue to be rented for two years when it will be demolished to make way for a new one.

Did I mention that we are in an earthquake zone? More than 100 earthquakes of a magnitude greater than 5, which is strong enough to cause damage, have occurred off Vancouver Island in the past 70 years. The three different tectonic plates off the island constantly collide or slide past each other or move apart, actually pushing Vancouver Island upward and putting it under tremendous stress. In this area a major damage-causing earthquake is expected to occur every 20 to 50 years with the "big one", the catastrophic one, at 8.5 plus on the Richter scale, occurring every 300 to 600 years. The latter is said to be long overdue in the region and would have the following effect:
A recent study based on this scenario predicts 10 to 30 per cent of the area's homes would be damaged, 60 to 100 per cent of the older, unreinforced masonry buildings would suffer some degree of collapse, 15 per cent of the highrises would be rendered uninhabitable, many of the bridges and schools would be severely damaged, and thousands would die. It would be the largest natural disaster in Canadian history. (From here.)
Oh dear, but since I am always recommending Vancouver on this blog it seemed only fair to show the other side of the coin. But now I wonder if I should pack up and leave. I am turning myself against living here by considering all these factors and who knows what I have forgotten.

I think that I will go look at my other post. Vancouver is a beautiful city and after 46 years here it does feel like home. After all, nowhere is perfect, is it?


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

A fine answer and a wonderful insight into a city I love.

Janice Thomson said...

Great post JMB! Your final statement pretty much sums it up - it doesn't matter where you live there are definite downsides. In the end Vancouver is indeed a beautiful place to live.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

A balanced presentation but you had me at "Vancouver".

Anonymous said...

Regarding the weather - though Vancouver has that reputation of being a rainy city and it is in fact not that wet in terms of total cumulation, the low hanging grey cloud is what makes it feel more rainy. It may only drizzle for a few days amounting to a few mm's of rain, but the low hanging grey cloud will hang over our heads that entire time. For 6 months of the year, it's not the amount of rain that sucks in Vancouver, it's the lack of sun.

Vancouver Music said...

Everybody has its own opinion and true image about the place one is living and it`s not necessarily positive. What concerns me I`m quite biased with Vancouver as I love this bustling life here with its culture especially I would like to highlight the Vancouver music scene which is remarkable. I think that what concerns the drugs it become a banal theme as the usage is very widespread throughout the world especially in cities and from this reason I wouldn`t mention it while depicting a picture about the city.

Josie said...

JMB, ah, yes, Vancouver does have its downside, doesn't it? I live in a typical condominium in Kitsilano, and a two-bedroom apartment here sold recently for almost $500,000. That is almost obscene.

But Vancouver is a spectacularly beautiful city, isn't it? As I sit here at my computer, the rain is pounding against my window. *sigh*

Yes, you and Leslie and I will definitely have to get together for coffee, or lunch. It would be so much fun to meet!

Carver said...

That was a good post showing a realistic view of your beautiful city. You are so right that no place is perfect. Your account of the snow made me laugh. Your snow of 1996 reminded me of our snow of 2000 when we got 21 inches of snow and our city shut down for about 2 weeks.

Love Bears All Things said...

Well, this is a little depressing. You didn't mention Meth labs which seem to be a problem where I grew up.
Mama Bear

Ellee Seymour said...

I'm ready to give it a go and, as you say, even paradise has its bad points too.

Tai said...

Well, you're right...each place in the world has it's ups and downs.
The most important thing is what you choose to see, perhaps?

Smalltown RN said...

Great balance JMB....I was born in Vancouver and lived in Burnaby all of my life....there are pros and cons to every city...and I think you did a great job of showing both sides...I am just astonished at the cost of housing....when you think it can't go any higher it does....I remeber when I bought my first house in would have been just like that one you showed on your was an old timer the yard was a bit larger, had a green house...and I was only two doors from a wonderful park...with that being said that was 1988 and I paid $112,000 for father was agast...he had twice the size of a house in sunny Penticton and her only paid $85,000. 7 months later I sold that house (long story) for $179,000.....did pretty good I thought....the people who bought it...turned around and sold only a few months later for $240,000....go figure....

jams o donnell said...

$1.7m? My God that is expensive and this from someone living on the edge of London!

leslie said...

This is a wonderful post, especially in the explanation about the rain. Having lived in Ottawa for 3 years and experienced rain there, I finally understood that people thought that's the kind of rain we get all the time here. But it's actually more like a drizzle or "spitting" and a heavy rain is extremely rare. When I compare our climate to that of San Francisco, people go "OH!" And yes there's a lot of drugs, but I've never seen any sign of it ever! Although there have been grow ops out in South Delta, too. Real estate is all relative isn't it? I've made a lot of money buying and selling, but now if I sold, where would I go? It's ALL expensive now! I love my house and will continue to update it so that when they do have to put me in the old folks' home, I'll have lots of $ to pay my bills there. Oh and btw, Delta is referred to as "Sunny Delta" cuz we have way more sunshine than the city does and we're only 20 minutes away. And for those who don't know, Vancouver and environs is also known as "Lotusland."

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

My goodness, you are honest about your city! I didn't know it was in an earthquake zone or for what reason the drug problem is so bad there. But you are right: all lovely cities have their drawbacks so most of us take the good with the bad. This is a great post, jmb. Oh, and I'd still like to visit Vancouver!

Mainly Mattias said...

Oh what a coincidence. I know Edith Bangayan, the realtor who sold that house. If I remember correctly, there was a lot of interest and though there were a few showings, no open houses! $1.7 million for lot value only.. sigh.. That's Vancouver for ya. But we love it. ;P

Sean Jeating said...

Very interesting read, jmb, ... especially for a villager. :)

Sarabeth said...

Having lived in Seattle for five years, I understand how the rain is annoying but not really a downside. I learned to live with the gray days, which made the sunny days that much more sweet.

Both Phill and I noticed the drug problems when we visited Vancouver a few times. A problem, for sure, in that it leads to property crime.

I've been writing some positives about New Orleans. I don't need to write the negatives. Most people know those, already.

jmb said...

Thank you James, I wonder what I missed.

Hi Janice,
I thought I should be fair and talk about some of these things, instead of always saying how wonderful Vancouver is.

Still a wonderful place, well till the "big" one!

Hi Anon,
That was my point, Sydney and Vancouver, same rainfall but what a difference. It buckets down in Sydney then sun. Here it drizzles endlessly sometimes.

Hi Vancouver Music,
Of course I love Vancouver and recommend it often here but needed to talk about some of the negatives. Thanks for the link to Vancouver Music.

Hi Josie,
Real estate here is something else. I don't know who can afford it. Beautiful here, no doubt about it. Let's do it some time soon.

Hi Carver,
Every city has its downside it's true. When you don't have a lot of snow it does cause chaos when it comes.

Hi Mama Bear,
I don't know about meth labs here, no doubt there are but over all we still love Vancouver.

Hi Ellee,
You are welcome here anytime. Spring is very fine.

Hi Tai,
Yes it does, as Ian has been pointing out in his community. I love Vancouver, on a beautiful Spring day, nowhere finer.

Hi Mary Anne,
I sure wish we had kept our house on West 37th as an investment but imagine the capital gains tax I would have had to pay!

Hi Jams,
Well I'm sure London prices are something else. I hope you already have a house.

Hi Leslie,
The rain is funny isn't it? The continuous drizzle but it can be very depressing at times. Yes Sunny Delta but that is just relative to Vancouver.

Hi Welshcakes,
You should come with Ellee to my beautiful city. Come in the Spring time however. Well that's my advice.

Hi Matthias,
Amazing price for basically a lot in Dunbar. My friend sold a similar house nearby two years ago for $920,000 and we thought that was outrageous. Little did we know.

Hi Sean,
Thanks, I hope you found it interesting. A large city but we all create our own village within the greater area.

Hi Sarabeth,
Seattle and Vancouver have so much in common. I think we share more with there than with Toronto which is Canada.
I am enjoying you showing New Orleans to us. You obviously like it a lot.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Political Umpire said...

Very interesting post. Interesting about the rainfall too - I grew up in NZ with endless jokes about the 'British weather' only to discover that London's rainfall is lower than Auckland's!

Thought of asking your advice actually JMB as I have a friend coming around soon who has developed a tiresome habit whereby she thinks we are 'great friends' and accordingly this disobliges her from bringing anything - though it doesn't debar her from enjoying what's in my cellar. Ho Hum. She does return hospitality but I would say over the past year there has been something of an inbalance, not in my favour. Remedy Mrs Ump has suggested, and I agree, is not to open any wine at all if she doesn't bring any. Just serve squash all evening. That will deliver a message of sorts without being an outright accusation ....

jmb said...

I guess the same thing is true of Auckland as Sydney, the rain is much heavier whereas both Vancouver and London feature more drizzle although we do get some pretty heavy rains at times.

As to your wine dilemma, I think the simplest thing is to stop taking wine when you go to your friend's house. She can hardly complain since this is her modus operandi with you. The remedy you suggest makes you suffer along with her. I assume she does offer you wine at her house and not just use yours. I also assume you value her friendship so just treat this a one of her quirks.

That said, being a teetotaler, there is always a huge imbalance for me since I always serve wine, take it everywhere I go and often pay for other's wine when we go out to lunch or dinner and we split the bill.

Political Umpire said...

Thanks JMB, wise words as always.

the teach said...

Whoa, jmb, such interesting info about Vancouver. Now I have some interesting tidbits to throw out at a cocktail party. Ha! Your houses are very expensive, even more than here in NYC I think. You police are smart about marijuana. I'd like to see it legalized here.

Anyhoo, I have an award for you at Work of the Poet (scroll down one post or maybe two if you come tomorrow) :)

CalumCarr said...

I said earlier, in jest, that I might move to V. No more! I might just about be able to afford the front door.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating post as usual JMB. That is an incredible price for the house, I needed a few tabs to calm down...

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

We had a minor earthquake here the other night. When I say minor, I mean, it made the News- here- but had it been California, I doubt it.
It jolted me out of bed though.

It seems Ok to live in by the sound of it. Not a place with many ghettoes, I imagine?

jmb said...

You're welcome PU, I hope it helped but you know I'm winging it just like everyone else.

Hi Mary,
I'm sure downtown Manhattan would make us cringe but prices are pretty gross here. Thanks for the award.

Hi Calum,
Actually your comment about emigrating here, along with James's, made me write this post. I can't tell you about the job situation but the housing situation is totally out of control.

Hi Muts,
I think we all need a few tablets to stave off the palpitations when you consider housing prices here.

Hi Crushed,
I'll bet you all got a big surprise there with this earthquake. I had no idea that GB was subject to earthquakes and five is damage producing, no doubt about it.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Ian Lidster said...

My hometown. Just like the portrait of Cromwell, "warts and all."

Liz said...

It looks like it will be the last two weeks in September we're going to be in the area. Please ask it not to rain for 20 days then!

Ian Appleby said...

Surely everywhere needs some shade to emphasise the light? And, anyway, it sounds pretty good all the same. Bradford, UK, has about 600 000 people, same as Vancouver, but I'm willing to bet that's about all they have in common...

paulmct said...

Good post. All true, but don’t forget this one: