Is This The Most Livable City In The World?

For someone with a stubborn hatred of cities, I was surprised to find myself liking Vancouver.

The city is well-known as being one of the most desirable places in the world to live, but what I hadn’t quite appreciated before arriving were the reasons for the accolade. I previously supposed that many of the reasons must be subjective — a dense and varied culture, plenty of material wealth, relative isolation, boundless potential for one’s leisure time — few of which I’d deem a necessity for a meaningful and contented existence.

But few of us would fail to be seduced and subdued by Vancouver’s intimacy with nature; unimposing and mellow urban landscapes set amongst — rather than dominating — the surrounding encroachment of ocean, mountain and virgin forest, each a short walk from any front door out of which you might step out.

And fewer still would be loathe to live in a place without a segregating hangover of class divides; where people of all background and origin live together, truly integrated, with not a whiff of the strained and confused attempt at multiculturalism with which Europe still struggles; where striking up conversation with a stranger on a bus or in the street is a pleasant, expected part of daily life; and where one feels that all that makes Vancouver great is acknowledged and appreciated by those who live here, whether Vancouver born and raised, immigrant citizens of several years, or fresh new arrivals. This seems to be a place of gentle contentment, of free expression without pretension — and of good old-fashioned fun.

Ben and Vancouver

My brother Ben and I were staying with some friends of his who had invited us to make use of the two spare rooms in their house. Set very handily in the central district of Kitsilano, we used this spacious family home as the base for a variety of forays, including several epic inner-city hikes, a social visit to a coffee shop in which Ben worked for 2 years while earning his permanent Canadian residency, a day of spring skiing at nearby Whistler-Blackcomb — and, of course, Vancouver’s annual pillow fight, which took place by the steps of the art gallery and lasted a full half-hour.

A predictable scene in an all-you-can-eat Mongolia BBQ in Vancouver

This all-too-brief glimpse of life in Vancouver was rounded off with my obligatory swim in the chilly waters of the North Pacific, followed by an important trip downtown to the headquarters of Kona Bikes to collect a pair of gleaming Sutras. Because the visit, unfortunately, was not intended as a city break. No — I came to Vancouver to prepare for a new kind of journey; one which will in many ways be unlike any that have come before. Motivations change with time and experience, and there’ll be more on that in a future piece.

Collecting the bikes

By the way, if you’re a regular reader and you’re wondering what became of the Great Camera Debate a couple of weeks ago, here’s the answer. I ended up keeping my old digital SLR body (thanks more to Gumtree’s total and utter ineptitude than personal choice). I flogged all my lenses and accessories, however, and bought a fixed-length 28mm prime lens made in the 70’s. The camera will spend the next two months in full manual mode.

I hope that this will put in the constraints I was looking for, without the maybe-a-little-extreme measure of carrying film canisters around. As with so many of the choices we face, the best answer turned out to be a compromise.

My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe. Read more about the gear they’ve supplied.

Comments (skip to respond)

6 responses to “Is This The Most Livable City In The World?”

  1. Although I don’t enjoy sounding like a kill joy but it seems your view of Vancouver omits some of the stark realities of the city — namely the fact that it is the most expensive city in Canada to live in to the point that ordinary people can no longer afford to live there, it having become a dumping ground for ‘hot’ money from China. I lived there for close to 20 years in the 70,s to 90,s and I loved it but not sure I could afford it now.

  2. Rhonda Leduc avatar
    Rhonda Leduc

    I’m glad you enjoyed our city. Vancouver has changed as it has grown over the years, but thankfully the connection to the environment and west coast friendliness has endured. Thanks for a great website! (BTW.…Go Canucks Go…you can do it! )

  3. Maureen avatar

    Come over to Victoria, we’re even nicer, lol!

  4. It sounds a lot like Newcastle,friendly people , good local scenery. Good post Tom. I’m starting my 5 ‑6monrh trip around Europe at the end of May, wonder what cultural delights await me !

  5. Richard avatar

    Insightful and thoughtful, as usual. Having spent 9 weeks of my life so far in various locations around the city of Vancouver, I can accord with many of your observations. Some cities seem to become liveable during certain seasons or major events. But having been in Vancouver at differing times of the year, I can say that it remains enjoyable, relaxing, and harmonious throughout. Having spent almost 40 years living and enjoying England’s green and pleasant land, I’m not really a city person either. However, if pushed,I could probably just about live and thrive in this cosmopolitan and friendly city. I will be interested in your comments and comparisons when you reach San Francisco!

  6. I think you sum up Vancouver perfectly. I certainly was surprised with how I, ‘a country born and bred girl’, fell in love with Vancouver the very first time we arrived there and still feel the same after several more visits.

Something to add?