Lamenting the Loss of the Livable

First David Hunter closed their doors. My garden centre. All of my gardens for the last couple decades have been stocked mainly from that store. Thankfully there are a couple smaller west side garden stores; Earthrise and the Natural Gardener stock some select plants and seeds. But I have to cross a bridge to get to the nearest nursery.

Duthies was next. A family owned book store. They’ve been in the neighbourhood for years. They had a great magazine section. And places to sit and read so you could check out a book before you bought. Or decided not to. My favourite Greek bakery up on Broadway is closed, it was called the Broadway Bakery as a matter of fact. They had the best spanokopita, unbelievably affordable whole grain breads, melt in your mouth honey cookies and shreddies (a version of honey-soaked baklova only it looks like shredded wheat). A fancy French bakery is there now.

Annapurna, a wonderful vegetarian Indian restaurant sits dark and empty with a lease sign in the window. I have so many happy memories of celebrating there with friends. Come to think of it, every meal there was a celebration. Palak paneer, malai kofta, basil and garlic naan, raita, buckets of chai.

Every couple of weeks, I buy a pound of coffee beans from Yoka’s Coffee. The beans are roasted right there. The landlord hiked the rent again, so owners Yoka and Tristan are moving to Victoria to try to make a go of it. Where will I buy my blend of dark roast Costa Rican and Swiss Water decaff Sumatran now? And who will chat with me about local politics and help out on a tour about  fair trade coffee?

The jewellery store where I got my watch batteries replaced is long gone. My mom and pop drycleaner moved out a year or so ago. Now there’s a purse shop in its place. Handbags run around $300 apiece. The tailor who stitches up the clothes I can’t mend or alter myself, is barely hanging on. David, my shoemaker was forced to move way, way down 4th Avenue because all the rents went up so high. Now only cell phone stores – “ there are several to choose from – “ and a variety of other chain stores can afford to reside there. There are two whole blocks of maternity wear, baby shops and yoga fashion geared to yummy mummies.

Capers, my beloved organic grocery store was bought out by Whole Foods. The new owners did make the full conversion gradually – “ the boiling a frog slowly method – “ but everything feels foreign when I walk in now. It looks more like a Safeway than a natural foods store. Many of the brands I like are gone, local produce is a rarity, conventional produce abounds.

Kitsilano was the “hippy” neighbourhood in the 1960’s. Every year on our summer holiday, my family would come to Vancouver and Dad would drive us down 4th Avenue just to look at the hippies and the psychedelic buildings. A few of those hippies still live in the ‘hood. One of them pushes a cart. Another plays a banjo for money. Some live on the street. Low rent housing is very hard to find now. The average price of a house in Vancouver just hit a million dollars – “ it’s probably more on the “affluent” west side where I am struggling to live. Half of my income goes to rent now. Why do I stay? Because I’ve lived here for nearly 25 years. It’s my home.

We have a livable region strategy in Metro Vancouver. The whole idea is for people to live and work right in their communities – “ thus making them more sustainable. For years, Kitsilano retained its funky nature with a lovely mix of local shops and services. You could get everything you needed here. Didn’t need a car to get around. But “Kits” is fast losing the character that made it desirable to live and work in. And if we’re talking sustainability and end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios, let’s face it, you wouldn’t last long on fried purse leather and boiled spandex.

I have lamented about this loss of livability to anyone that would listen. One righteous response still rings in my ears: Let the market decide. In other words, sink or swim baby. (Well, unless you’re a big bank and then we’ll throw you a ring buoy.) But that free market system doesn’t seem to be serving anyone too well at the moment. I’m sure the Greeks would have a few choice expletives for the free wheeler dealers. As with the community, so with the nation, so with the world.

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