The Globe and Mail's Report on Business carried a sob story this week about three 20-something Vancouverites who can't afford to buy homes in the city.
Reader's heart-strings were plucked by the trio's plight as they agonize over their inability to purchase real estate on the upscale West side, where even modest bungalows sell for $1 million-plus.
Indeed, even their chances of living in—eeewwwwww—East Vancouver all the way past—gasp!—Commercial Drive are reportedly slipping away due to the "dramatic increase" in the number of homes citywide that have been assessed at $1 million or greater.
"The challenge is to set down roots in the city you grew up in," The Globe quoted Vancouver urban planner Andrew Yan.
Perhaps a more accurate quote would have been the immortal words of Julia Child: "Oh, boo-hoo!"
On a list of the ragged and wretched of the earth who deserve our prayers and tears, upper-middle-class, university educated, scions of West Coast hyper-entitlement denied the privilege of buying homes within easy jogging distance of Stanley Park would definitively be a few spaces from the top.
In fairness, as in all things of course, it's not really their fault. The members of the Globe's anecdotal threesome are self-evidently victims of two great heaving cultural hoaxes in this country. The first is that Vancouver is a great place to live. The second is that we all have an absolute right to live in great places.
The idea that Vancouver is a great place to live is predicated on the misbegotten mythology that it is a place people can afford to live. It isn't. If you cannot afford to live in place, no matter how great it might seem, it can't possibly be great for you.
Unless you have the perfected combination of cash, mortgage headroom, childlessness and professional career upward mobility, you don't live in Vancouver. You live somewhere around it. Maybe somewhere very approximately around it.
Like, if you are lucky, Burnaby. If you're not, Surrey.
It has been ever thus, or at least it has been thus a very, very long time. My parents moved our family to Surrey when I was a child. My father was an electronics technician for the CPR. My mother was a nurse. Together, they could not afford Vancouver real estate prices, even though my father worked on Hastings Street downtown. That was in 1967. Plus ça change and all that.
Surrey was, to put it politely, the spit hole of the cosmos in those days. It has since improved by leaps and bounds, of course, and now even boasts its own celebrity duo of drug-addled terrorist bombing suspects. What growing up there taught me, however, was management of expectations.
We live where we can afford to live, and we have no absolute right to live where we cannot afford to live simply because we think our inherent greatness must be matched by the greatness of our surroundings. Obviously, we have every prerogative to work our way from swamp hollow Point A to a somewhat better Point B. The operative word is work. Scrimp and save are great words too, as are dream, plan, risk. But "assert a sense of entitlement as a right to live where we wish"? Ummm…maybe not so much.
Indeed, I would go further and argue that "setting down roots in the city you grew up in"—to use urban planner Andrew Yan's phrase—is something that should be avoided on a personal level, and probably actively discouraged as a matter of public policy. To have to relocate, as a matter of economic necessity, to an unfamiliar place when you are young and mobile and adaptable is an amazing source of education, of growth, of making the world your own.
Moving early and often chasing a career while raising a family showed me there was more to life than Surrey, indeed much more to life than Vancouver itself.
Why, there's Edmonton and Calgary and Ottawa and Montreal and even dear old Hamilton where, I am told, great communities are abundant with affordable housing, and remarkably free of the heartbreak and tearstains of 20-something entitlements.