The West End

I can’t let last month slip by without acknowledging that my neighbourhood, Vancouver’s West End, was awarded at the beginning of November the title of Great Neighbourhood in the fifth annual Great Places of Canada competition. (The contest is sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Planners, the same folks who bestowed the title of Great Street of Canada on Lacombe, Alberta, a couple of years ago.)

What makes the West End so great, according to the jurors of this year’s contest? They selected it because of its walkability and its diversity, and for the natural beauty that is its heart and soul: Stanley Park and the beaches of English Bay.

In short: it’s a community that rates high on the livability scale.

About that walkability: the main streets lining the edges of the neighbourhood allow easy access into and out of the West End for vehicles ― both public and private ― but what’s unique about the neighbourhood are the numerous parkettes, round-abouts, and one-way streets used to discourage traffic on residential streets. More than 40 percent of the population walks to work ― that’s a higher percentage than anywhere else in Vancouver. West Enders also typically walk to access their services, whether it’s their grocery or produce store, their butcher, fishmonger, or baker, the liquor store or pet store, or a doctor, dentist, or hairdresser. (Your every need met within a ten-minute walk!)

About that diversity: the West End, in particular Davie Village, is home to Western Canada’s largest LGBT community. Almost half of the neighbourhood’s 45,000 residents are between the ages of 20 and 39, a demographic reflected in the high number of residents (80 percent) who rent their homes. That, and a large concentration of Asian language students, makes for a high turnover in residents.

Despite being a transient population, the West End has more children than many areas of Vancouver traditionally considered family neighbourhoods. Those children are educated in two elementary schools and a high school that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014. The West End is also home to a large concentration of seniors (evident by the number of times I have almost been mowed down by one of them on a scooter). They have their own community centre at Barclay Manor, a heritage house in the centre of the West End.

Vancouver’s West End is bordered by West Georgia Street to the north, English Bay to the south, Burrard Street to the east, and Stanley Park to the west. As is all of Vancouver, the West End is unceded Coast Salish territory that was logged and developed after the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. By the 1890s, it was home to Vancouver’s elite. When those elites crossed False Creek and began to settle in Shaugnessy, the West End became the transient community ― peopled with new arrivals to the city and the country ― that remains its defining characteristic to this day. Robson, Denman, and Davie streets became the business hubs, and apartments buildings were built: low-rise ones in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and multi-storey towers from the late 1950s on. Even so, many of the original houses from the late 1800s are still in use, creating an interesting architectural mix of heritage and modern buildings.

With everything it has to offer as a great place to live, work, and play, the West End is not without problems, however. Its housing is the least affordable in the city, yet the median annual income of its residents is far below that of Vancouver as a whole. St. Paul’s Hospital is being relocated some three kilometres away, leaving no acute care facility in the entire downtown peninsula. This is a worrisome issue in a city where a major earthquake that could happen at any time is likely to collapse all of the bridges that provide access to the downtown peninsula.

Development continues at lightning speed, and the buildings are becoming taller all the time. In a three-block stretch of Davie Street alone, three five residential condo towers are being proposed ― that’s a lot of construction in my near future only steps from my door.

But for all that, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. And so, here’s a photo that shows everything I love about my neighbourhood: natural beauty, architectural diversity ― and my own beach (that I, um, share with several thousand neighbours).

Sunset Beach

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