Can a New Yorker be happy in Vancouver?
September 25, 2011 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Can a New Yorker live happily in Vancouver?

TL;DR - Can a Brooklynite be happy on Burrard Street?

I wasn't born here, and didn't grow up here, but NYC is the only place I've ever really felt at home, and I absolutely adore living here. Of course it's expensive, dirty, difficult at times, and the weather is mostly crap except for two glorious weeks every Spring and Fall, but to me, that's a small price to pay. I'm sure many of you will know exactly how I feel.

Unfortunately, I face the prospect of having to relocate next fall for graduate school. Considering potential programs, advisors, and locations, Vancouver seems to come out on top, but I'm anxious about whether I'll be able to live happily there for the 5-6 years I'll need to do a PhD. The only personal experience I have in the city is a family vacation when I was much younger (13?). I liked it a lot then, but obviously I can't rely on those old impressions.

Places I've been where I can imagine living happily are London, San Francisco (which I love almost as much as NYC), and to a lesser extent, Philadelphia. I imagine I'd also do well in places like Chicago, Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Montreal. I realize these are all significantly bigger cities than Vancouver, and I'm not expecting to get as much from Van as I would from them, but they give a sense of the importance I place on city life.

It's important to me to be able to walk most places or take public transport, and I like cities where most other people do the same. I like density, and seeing lots of other people on the street day and night puts me at ease.

Similarly, having places to go and things to do on nights and weekends is of paramount importance. I don't care at all about sports, and Central Park is about as much nature as I'll ever need (though I don't mind admiring it from afar).

I don't mind so much the prospect of lots of rain if the city makes up for it, and the climate of Vancouver appeals to me very much in terms of average temperatures.

So, think I can make a life for myself on the other side of the continent, or should I look elsewhere?

Thanks so much for your help!
posted by dantekgeek to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
It would be helpful if you explained where you want to go to grad school. SFU Burnaby, SFU Surrey, SFU Vancouver and UBC have totally different campuses and would mean different things in terms of where you will live. Your tolerance for commuting to campus affects things too. You could live downtown and take 1-2 buses to SFU on the mountaintop in Burnaby, but that might drive you bonkers, if you don't like being on a bus for a long time. You could live downtown or in Kits and go to UBC, but riding a jam-packed bus might not be your thing. Or maybe you're happy to live in Kits, occasionally ride a bus and often ride a bike. But if you're at SFU Surrey, you've got a a long Skytrain ride from the more urban areas. It depends where you are and what kind of neighbourhood you like.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:10 PM on September 25, 2011


East coast transplant, here, also here for school. I love living here. Really easy to get around town, very walkable. Public transportation here is amazing, for the most part. But yeah, like Chaussette says it depends on what area you're in. I'm a UBC/Kitsilano person, and I really love my neighborhood. Driven to Burnaby a few times and was underwhelmed.
posted by wowbobwow at 10:16 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course it's expensive, dirty, difficult at times, and the weather is mostly crap except for two glorious weeks every Spring and Fall, but to me, that's a small price to pay.

Which city are you talking about there? Rest assured, if you like those qualities, you will LOVE Vancouver!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:18 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for pointing that out. I'd be going UBC. I don't plan to live near school, but rather the neighborhood that is the best fit for me. I'm used to a packed commute (40 minutes to over an hour each way depending on the day), so that's not a big concern.
posted by dantekgeek at 10:19 PM on September 25, 2011


Born and raised here (Van). It has been my experience that those who come from other places do best here if they enjoy nature/outdoors more than city life.

If your paragraph starting "Similarly..." is firm, my 30 plus years in the working and living here says it's not going to be the place for you.

If you were to look at it as an opportunity to learn to appreciate the outdoors/nature, there are few places better.
posted by larry_darrell at 10:30 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Live in the West End -- that is, right downtown, beside Stanley Park and with the Seawall and the beach on your doorstep -- and you'll enjoy yourself quite a bit. Kits is also nice, as is Commercial (but it's a f*ckload of distance on the bus).

Rent's not as bad as Manhattan, but it's still pretty nasty: the highest in Canada.

The rain will drive you mad: Vancouver isn't cold, but it's rain-washed and sorrowful and this can induce depression.
posted by jrochest at 10:34 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vancouver is not a late-night city. If you like post-midnight life, you won't like Van. If you like the outdoors, you will.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:34 PM on September 25, 2011


And, yeah, I pay over $1000/month for a 650 sqft apartment near City Hall.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:35 PM on September 25, 2011


I should clarify that when I say places to go/things to do are important to me, I don't mean that I have to be out until 3am every night.

I go out to eat once or twice a week, and to a concert about once a month. I guess the key is more about having the option and variety. Having these things going on around you, and the potential to go partake yourself, does a lot to give a place it's energy.
posted by dantekgeek at 10:44 PM on September 25, 2011


It's important to me to be able to walk most places or take public transport, and I like cities where most other people do the same. I like density, and seeing lots of other people on the street day and night puts me at ease.

You can have this in Vancouver while going to UBC - I did, and so did a lot of people I know.

Look into Mount Pleasant/Commercial Drive/Kitsilano/West End/Yaletown depending on what kind of people you want to surround yourself with, all of those neighbourhoods are commutable to UBC by transit, some moreso than others.

Similarly, having places to go and things to do on nights and weekends is of paramount importance.

What kinds of things? If you're into theatre, I think you'll be disappointed. If you're into live music and art, you'll probably be fine.

Vancouver is not a late-night city. If you like post-midnight life, you won't like Van.

I disagree somewhat. There are some really great places that are open late and you can easily have a great time at those... but I agree that there isn't a good cluster of late-night venues outside the bridge-and-tunnel circus that is Granville.
posted by ripley_ at 10:44 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Larger city to Vancouver transplant here. What I found tough was the relative lack of 'culture' - the theatre wasn't as interesting, exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery didn't grab me. Vancouver is a newer city, neighbourhoods and interesting little streets are fewer. The food scene is great, plenty of bands come through town and its easy to get around. Late night life is better every day, but its not NYC. Public transit is decent but live as close to downtown as possible.

Its a great city, your options just aren't in your face like NYC or London. City life is there if you want it.
posted by N-stoff at 10:53 PM on September 25, 2011


I've spent a fair amount of time in Vancouver and agree with most of what's been said above. For me, Vancouver represents a highly walkable city with great food and decent cultural representation - but at a MUCH SLOWER PACE than NYC or SF. In fact, that's usually why I go there - to get my head together and slow down a bit.
posted by fake at 11:22 PM on September 25, 2011


I'm born-and-raised and am currently living in Vancouver, have lived in SF for a while, LA too, and have spent a bit of time in NY.

From the info you've given, I'd say you won't be as smitten with Van as you are with NY, but you certainly won't go out of your mind. If UBC seems like the best school for you, I'll bet you could make the lifestyle work. Vancouver is known for it's natural junk (it's one of the top things keeping me here), but if you'd be happy with the urban life in SF, I'd say you'd be fine here.

If you're from Brooklyn, my guess is you might want to look at living around Main St/Broadway (or Mt Pleasant, as has been mentioned). The closer you are to Broadway, the quicker it'll be to get to UBC. Despite what's been mentioned, I'd say that our public transit is crap. If you're used to the Subway, prepare for disappointment. I've only spent a little time in NY, but I loved the subway and the walkability, though I didn't leave Manhattan much. Here, transit lines radiate from downtown out, generally speaking. If you're trying to go east-west across Vancouver, it's a trial. The exception is the express bus lines that run down broadway.

If you'd like to go more bohemian (and further away from UBC), there's Commercial drive. There be hippies. There's more money in kitsilano (and it's closer to UBC) and more families, but if you stick near broadway, 4th ave, or the beach, you might find what you're looking for.

How much do you like world-class, first-rate cultural amenities? Vancouver gets some nice things every now and then, but nothing near the scale of what NY has, and for me that's the major difference.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:25 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


In terms of culture, I don't need much high minded or globally recognized. I've only ever been to Carnegie Hall and The Met once each, and both times were to complete course assignments.

More important to me is a fairly active indie music scene, and all the hipstery/bohemian stuff that, as has been pointed out, Brooklyn especially has to offer.

Waking up at noon, walking to brunch, browsing a book store, hitting the flea market, and catching some live music is pretty much my perfect weekend.

FWIW, I currently live in the Brooklyn Heights / Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn and love it.
posted by dantekgeek at 11:33 PM on September 25, 2011


Waking up at noon, walking to brunch, browsing a book store, hitting the flea market, and catching some live music is pretty much my perfect weekend.

I think Vancouver might be a better match for you than you'd expect. It's not NYC, but there's great local culture. Hipsters abound, there's a great art scene, lots of local music.

Commercial Drive is a pretty significant commute to UBC, but sounds like it has the type of culture you want. The West End and Mt Pleasant, too. Kits is nice, but overrun by yuppie yoga moms.
posted by auto-correct at 12:19 AM on September 26, 2011


In a fairly typical Vancouver evening, I just saw a great concert featuring James Blake, but by the time it ended (12:20am) everything was closed and the trains had stopped running, so I had to walk 10 minutes and wait 15 minutes for a bus. (not that the trains are very useful, as they cover a very limited part of the city.)

Vancouver is the State U to New York's Harvard. It's got everything you need, and it excels in a couple of key areas, but it lacks both the depth and breadth of New York. Fortunately for you we do indie hipsterdom pretty well; your weekends sound a lot like my weekends. There is a nice music scene with lots of cheap underground shows, as long as you like indie pop, noise, garage, or hardcore. And if you just want to go to a concert and don't need to get that close to the ground, Vancouver is a stop on most major tours and there are always tons of bands coming through. See here for music listings to give you an idea.

But it's no New York. It's no Toronto, and Toronto is no New York. It really quiets down at night, especially during the week. Large parts of the city seem to lack soul or character, and those places that still have it seem to be shrinking. It's provincial, and you can tell. It's a great city with lots to offer but you will give up a lot, and you have to think about whether it's worth it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:44 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course it's expensive, dirty, difficult at times, and the weather is mostly crap except for two glorious weeks every Spring and Fall, but to me, that's a small price to pay.

That sounds just like Vancouver :)

Vancouver is denser than American cities of a similar size, due to the geography (and the fact that Canada never had white flight leading to hollow cities). Only the suburbs aren't walkable. I found it full of life and people, though that was in areas like East Hastings and Main (where the street life may be too vivid for you) and the West side(?) or West End near Stanley park which was just like the Annex in Toronto (Jane Jacob's favorite urban place) but is probably even more expensive.

One thing to be aware of: I don't know what your financial situation is, but most graduate students don't have as much money as other people their age, and this does affect how much/in what quality they can eat out, go to concerts, etc -- esp in a city with rents as high as Vancouver.
posted by jb at 7:14 AM on September 26, 2011


I like density, and seeing lots of other people on the street day and night puts me at ease.

Most parts of Vancouver are ghost town-esque really early. There's basically no patio culture. I have friends who just moved from Vancouver to Toronto (where I am) who are raving about all the people out in the evening. And as someone said, Toronto is no New York.

One big reason: there are very few bars. Berlin, NYC, Chicago, Toronto: there are millions of little drinking holes run by young people. In Vancouver, it takes YEARS to get a liquor license, and hardly anybody has the money to gamble on building a bar and then getting denied by the city. I have a friend who finally got his liquor license after 2 years, and he's opening practically the first bar (not restaurant) in the hippest corridor of the city, the Main-Broadway-Kingsway-and-now-Fraser area.

Instead of bars, there are a few indie venues, and there are restaurants, but the hipster drinking scene is isolated to (a) shitty ironic places like cheap pool halls, and (b) the odd clubhouse type place like the Anza.

More important to me is a fairly active indie music scene, and all the hipstery/bohemian stuff that, as has been pointed out, Brooklyn especially has to offer.

DON'T live on Burrard. Move to Broadway and Fraser, as the Main St scene and the Commercial Drive scene are slowly reaching out to one another.

The beards will feel more real than Brooklyn beards. But Vancouver's scene is really cliquey. I remember taking the L to Williamsburg in 2002 and laughing at how identical the hipster uniforms were, and that had nothing on Vancouver's hipster monoculture. It was a relief to come to Toronto and see all sorts of people at shows with Pitchforkish bands (even though sometimes that means putting up with frat boys who are somehow into Destroyer).

Once you fall in with some locals, you can have an absolutely great time. What Vancouver lacks in cultural infrastructure, it makes up for in house parties, beach parties, drinking illicitly in parks. But for the same reason, it always seems kind of like I'm in the Smashing Pumpkins 1979 video when I'm there. Kids make their own fun, but half the time they're complaining about living in No Fun City and hanging out in parking lots.

I think of Vancouver as aesthetically really captivating--the mountains, a certain aura of post-pioneer-town desperation in the Downtown Eastside and in the industrial zones you are always driving through to get from place to place--but not as 'livable' as people say.
posted by Beardman at 7:54 AM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I first moved to Vancouver from the East Coast (Toronto to Montreal), I found it so slow here. Drove me nuts! We used to joke that everything came to a halt at the Rockies, when going east to west.

However, I have adapted. Vancouver has changed tremendously in the last twenty years. It's still quite a young city.

I've lived in SF -and I don't think any other city compares to that kind of vibrancy. SF has a strong social scene - music to politics. I would suggest that Vancouver is more reserved than that. The communities are much smaller and less vocal.

It's a very diverse city - many ethnicities and cultures and thus, lots of interesting food choices and interesting people. Politics are about in the centre. I think Vancouver thinks it's more progressive than it really is.

Weather sucks - but sounds like your used to that. It's rainforest country here. And when it's not raining - it's dripping off the trees. The constant gray skies can be depressing.

People dress more casually here - likely due to weather and all the outdoor activities.

And it's very expensive. UBC is way out on it's own there and may be expensive to get too.

But....Seattle is very close!
posted by what's her name at 7:56 AM on September 26, 2011


Oh yeah, and beware: UBC teaching assistants make way less than at some other schools in Canada. For example: at U of T, it's $40 an hour. At UBC, it's something like $28. Rents are about the same.
posted by Beardman at 7:59 AM on September 26, 2011


I know this isn't exactly your question but it might be something to consider in your larger plan. If you're very tied to living in a large cosmopolitan city for most of your life, you might want to think carefully about what you are going to do after a PhD. If you're going for an academic career track, you might not have much choice about winding up in a sleepy rural college town in 6 years.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 8:01 AM on September 26, 2011


Waking up at noon, walking to brunch, browsing a book store, hitting the flea market, and catching some live music is pretty much my perfect weekend.

Then I think Mount Pleasant and Commercial Drive are where you should be looking, you can easily get all of that. Beardman mentioned Fraser but with all due respect I'd suggest waiting a few more years for that section of town.

UBC is way out on it's own there and may be expensive to get too.

Nope, transit passes are mandatory at UBC no matter where you live (and you get them at a discount).
posted by ripley_ at 8:11 AM on September 26, 2011


Beardman mentioned Fraser but with all due respect I'd suggest waiting a few more years for that section of town.

--Should clarify that I totally see this point of view. Fraser is only if you want to save some bucks and be on the vanguard.
posted by Beardman at 8:15 AM on September 26, 2011


I think Beardman, what's-her-name, and ripley are all totally spot on.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:18 AM on September 26, 2011


These are all great responses, and good probing questions that got me to specify (and realize) what's actually most important to me. A lot of my suspicions about the city were confirmed, some good, some bad.

I know I'm going to have to sacrifice for my science, particularly in where I live, and I'm willing to do that; it's worth it to me. I'm well aware of what the job market is like in academia, but I also know that if I do decide to prioritize urban life, there are enough universities in big cities that I should be okay.

It does sound like I could make Vancouver work, especially considering how busy I'll be with grad school (and how much more I'd like to work at UBC than the other options). Of course, its not on the same level as the world's great cities, but it sounds like it has a lot to offer in its own way, and most importantly, in many of the ways that I value.

I like the idea of a culture surrounding cafes and restaurants more than bars, as I myself don't drink, and generally prefer not to frequent bars.

Regarding expense, I'm well aware how pricey Van is, but even then, looking at apartment prices compared to what I'm paying now, it would still be a significant savings. I'm expecting to have to take out more loans for grad school, which I'm fine with, and have planned for, so I think I should be able to live relatively comfortably (though obviously not a penthouse in Yaletown).

Thanks, and do keep responses coming if you feel like you have something to add!
posted by dantekgeek at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2011


I agree with most who commented so far (I went to Vancouver for grad studies too, coming from Montreal). One thing stood out though; from Commercial Drive to UBC, you're pretty much stuck with the 9/Broadway bus all the way to UBC, which is, depending on your schedule, not too bad or hellish, but slow at anytime. You'll save a bit of time by moving closer (around Kits), though it's a very different neighborhood. You should definitely try to go there before or ahead of time and walk (it is such a walkable/bike-able city!) through every neighborhood to get a feel of them, that's what I did (after a bad year in graduate residences) and ended on the Drive.
posted by ddaavviidd at 6:36 PM on September 26, 2011


Do you ride a bike or can you learn? If you do/can, then all these warnings about the shittiness of the subway won't apply to you at all. Vancouver is extremely bikeable with awesomely maintained bike lanes, surprisingly considerate drivers, "traffic quieted streets," and bike maps everywhere. If you decide to live on Main or in Mt. Pleasant you're 15 minutes away from Commercial Dr. and Frasier by bike. You're also 10 minutes away from the city's amazing Chinatown. There are bikeable streets that will take you all the way to the UBC campus and it's beaches.

Also, literally everyone is on a bike. Especially in the hipstery areas like Commercial, 10th Ave, and Main.
posted by chichimimizu at 1:01 AM on September 28, 2011


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