There’s an article that usually pops up in the summer, prepared by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, called “The Best Places to Live”. It’s a very serious undertaking by a very serious magazine but for all the seriousness and academic rigueur what we all want to see is the list. And it’s the usual list that make those who dwell in the places mentioned smug with pride, while everyone else dismiss them as delusionals who secretly hate living in Zürich, or Stockholm.
I am, generally, sided with the latter team and for good reason. Take this year’s list; it features two European cities, Vienna and Helsinki. Lovely as they might be I struggle to believe that hordes of retirées will, Economist in hand, abandon their villas in Algarve and crowd into a Finnish block of flats or an Austrian row house.
Amongst the Viennas, Aucklands and Melbournes a regular guest star of these lists is the city I find myself in today, Vancouver. Promising as this might sound the cynical bastard that I am was certain, while climbing out of the metro’s Waterfront station, that I would leave yet again convinced of the rubbishness of such lists. No way, I thought, that I will leave Vancouver wishing to stay.
Boy, was I wrong.
I suddenly found myself in a spotlessly clean neighbourhood gleaming under a welcoming sun shining in a sky so blue that it reminded my of those pitch perfect days in the Alps. Around me passer-bys, content smiles on their faces, strolled holding hands and exchanged kisses at pedestrian crossings. A lollipop girl coupled with a duo of traffic policemen exchanged a little small chat with me, while the two cops didn’t mix every indication with a “You c**t” as their London colleagues usually do. Unwillingly, I started humming a Kings of Convenience tune.
The waterfront is maniacally well kept, blue sky scrapers reflecting in the fjord’s waters while the mountains contour the horizon. The seaplane terminal seems to have been built with the precise intent to allow the local tourist board to brag about it, while only spotlessly-clean and modern-looking cruise ships are allowed to moor at the cruise ship jetty. Upstairs, in a large piazza amongst trendy bars and brasseries, line upon lines of insanely fit people seem to be worshipping the Sun for having given them their spectacularly good looks while, instead, they are doing aerobics.
An occasional stroll through roads chosen randomly in the gridline of streets that makes up much of Vancouver’s downtown reveals only well-kept streets, beautiful buildings and public spaces that must be kept tidy by an army of OCD-affected gardeners. I have been to wealthy areas before, places where every driveway is adorned with at least a Porsche Cayenne, but nowhere seemed to possess the same attention to public spaces I see at every turn in downtown Vancouver. Resting outside an IGA supermarket, I find myself thinking that the city’s founding fathers must’ve sat down and designed the city not only to look pretty but also to be a pleasant place to be in. On a single road I count more benches than you could find in any given London borough, and all of them are equipped with a bin, something that Bonkers Boris’ dream team hasn’t thought of yet.
A city’s street furniture and buildings won’t necessarily make you want to live there, no matter how pretty they are. Location plays an important part, and the locals even more so. And, in case you were wondering, Vancouver is placed in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth and is inhabited by some of the kindest and friendliest Earthlings we could ever find.
I discover this while on board a waterbus (a glorified raft, in facts) headed to Yaletown as I pay my ticket: my accent (and bags, probably) deceives me for what I am, a tourist. I expect eyes being rolled and comments on the line of “Another effin’ tourist” , especially as I’ve made a mess of the tickets, change and direction but, instead, I turn out to be the attraction of the raft, er, water bus.
Conversation spills on the jetty of Yaletown harbour and I found myself invited for beer at a nearby Italian bar, drinking Peroni, scaffolders’ brew of choice, as I take pride in tellung my guests. Soon afterwards it’s time to leave, for my flight was due to leave at eight that evening. I leave Vancouver with a strange feeling: of amazement, envy and sheer admiration. I finally found a “most livable” city that doesn’t look like a museum filled with stuffed animals and, even if I have been there just a day, I cannot avoid thinking “Yes, I could definitely spend some time here”.