Like many people, I was saddened and a little angered by the unrest that broke out in Vancouver after last week’s Stanley Cup final. The destruction was ugly, violent, and ultimately just really really stupid and pointless. As people across Canada (and I’m guessing the States as well) shook their heads and started passing judgment on Canucks fans and the city of Vancouver, one common protest started ringing out from all of my Vancouverite Facebook friends and Twitter contacts: “The rioters weren’t even from Vancouver! They were from the suburbs!”
Whether this is actually true or not I can’t say, but like a lot of large cities, Metro Vancouver is made up of several municipalities, including Surrey, Burnaby and Langley, as well as Vancouver proper. But are the rioters and hockey fans who came from the outlining municipalities really “not from Vancouver?” Yes, they have different regional governments and might shop in different supermarkets. But downtown Vancouver is still their downtown and many of them regularly shop, eat, and work in Vancouver. They have as much stake in keeping the inner city safe and undamaged as anyone else. Even if suburbanites were solely responsible (and I think that’s a pretty big “if”), it’s not as if the rioters were imported from a different country or province to destroy and loot from the downtown core without any worries or repercussions.
All this got me thinking: why are urbanites so anxious to distance themselves from the suburbs? Why is there such an “us and them” mentality when it comes to where a person chooses to live? This issue isn’t unique to Vancouver: how many times have you heart people in other cities complaining about the bridge and tunnel crowd or making distinctions between those with urban vs. suburban area codes?
Listen, I know that the existence of far-lying suburbs is not a great thing for all sorts of reasons. Urban sprawl creates all kinds of sustainability issues and whittles away at the vibrancy of a city’s downtown culture. I personally much prefer city living and try my best to encourage healthy urban development in my own city (which, by the way, is not Vancouver). But here’s the thing: as much as I participate in things that my city’s downtown core offers, I don’t actually live in the “inner city” zone. I can’t afford to.
There is something distinctively classist about hating on people who live in the suburbs. Traditionally, the “˜burbs have been the domain of the middle-class, with their big houses, manicured yards and white picked fences. But cities have changed since the original heyday of the “˜burbs. Yes, there is still a lot of poverty in most urban centers and many renters and public housing dwellers couldn’t afford a suburban home even if they wanted to. But, most cities, including Vancouver, have seen huge increases in the prices of downtown condos and the houses on the periphery of the inner city. Small run-down “character homes” in East Vancouver (which is definitely not the fancy part of town) go for at least $800,000. Want a modest sized house on the west side of town? Hope you have at least a couple of million dollars. So if you want to own your own home or have a yard for your kids to play in and are not exceedingly wealthy, even if you desperately want an urban lifestyle, the suburbs might be your only choice.
So, before you go hating on all those awful suburban people and gripe about how they’re ruining your city, remember that they aren’t necessarily materialistic jerks who want a private space and room to park their three cars. They’re people just like you, compromising certain things and doing their best to get by and create a decent life for themselves and their families. They have as much right to access the city’s downtown amenities as anyone with a downtown address.