NSIIP News

DESTINATION CITY | Vancouver-born becoming rarer

April 30, 2016

Vancouver Sun | Reporter Doug Todd found that two of three Vancouverites originate from somewhere else, most often overseas:

Gayle Swain often hears how “amazing” it is that not only she, but her parents, were born in the city of Vancouver.

Swain’s mother and father were born in East Vancouver during the First World War. Their house still stands on Keefer Street. Swain’s grandparents had arrived in B.C. from Russia and Lithuania, so were what Statistics Canada defines as “first generation.”

In most cities of the world, it would not be special to be a third generation resident. But some say Swain’s family, particularly her fourth-generation children, are as scarce as unicorns here.

Two out of three inhabitants of the city of Vancouver were either born in some other part of Canada or, even more likely, in a foreign country. Of major Canadian cities, Vancouver proper has the fewest residents born in the same province.

Montreal, Ottawa and Fredericton are among the many Canadian cities that have much stronger homegrown populations, with scholars maintaining such Eastern cities (in the U.S., too) enjoy a stronger sense of community because the residents are less mobile. Although Statistics Canada does not track the portion of residents born in the city in which they live, the 2011 General Social Survey shows only 35 per cent of the city of Vancouver’s residents were born in British Columbia.

For Metro Vancouver as a whole, the related figure is 42 per cent born in B.C. That’s much lower than the 63 per cent of Montreal residents born in Quebec; the 56 per cent of Ottawa residents born in Ontario and 73 per cent of Fredericton residents born in New Brunswick.

Metro Vancouver’s rate of multigenerational locals is even lower than New York City, a major international hub, where 50 per cent of residents were born in the state of New York.

Swain shared the story of her outof-the-ordinary Vancouver-born parents while sitting at a sidewalk table with four friends at Wicked Café, at Seventh and Hemlock. One of those friends was born in B.C., in Port Alberni, while two are immigrants, from Britain and the U.S. The foursome had mixed feelings about what is happening to this fast-changing city, where relatively few have deep roots. Even though they valued how the world’s cultures peacefully coexist in the city, they also regretted how in-migration has been a factor in the city’s fast-rising housing prices and in the way neighbourhoods are becoming “construction zones.”

When a flashy sports car interrupted their conversation by roaring down Hemlock, the friends also commented on how traffic in the city was becoming increasingly “aggressive” and “crazy.”

According to interactive online maps created by Vancouver statistician Jens von Bermann, the café at which Swain and her friends were sitting is in a neighbourhood of Fairview in which roughly one third of residents are B.C.-born, one-third were born in another province and one-third were born in a foreign country.

One of Swain’s friends, Barbara Jaquith, who came to Vancouver from Massachusetts in the 1970s, said her personal network generally echoes the demographic ratio of the neighbourhood. Jaquith believes the fact many Metro residents have arrived recently (the city takes in more than 30,000 newcomers a year) affects “community life, and the ability to help your family.”

Her friends agreed, saying it’s harder to support children and grandchildren when they’re being forced out of the city of 2.5 million by extreme housing prices. Said Jaquith: “This is an overwhelmed city.”

A few blocks away, the owner of Ararat Oriental Rugs on Granville Street said most of his Metro Vancouver friends “are from somewhere else.”

Jalal Etemad, who arrived here from Iran in 1986, said he values Metro’s cosmopolitan culture and safe streets. He mostly spends time with people from the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Only about 15 per cent of Etemad’s friends were born in B.C. He met them all through his children’s West Vancouver school.

Von Bermann, creator of the Census Mapper website, says Metro Vancouver is a much more mobile place than most cities in Eastern Canada, such as Montreal and Quebec City (where multi-generational residents are often referred to as “old stock”).

“They’re much more stable cities in the East. They’re not as transient. They have more of a feeling of being close-knit communities,” said von Bermann, who was raised in Germany.

According to Census Mapper, which is based on Statistics Canada data, 42 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents were born in B.C., 16 per cent were born in other regions of Canada and 42 per cent were born in foreign countries.

Von Bermann said migrants from outside B.C., and beyond Canada, are more likely than those born in the province to live in Metro’s more expensive neighbourhoods.

“People with higher mobility tend to be a little better off,” von Bermann said, with many having “knowledge-based jobs.”

NATIVE-BORN IN SUBURBS

Generally, Census Mapper shows Metro’s suburbs have significantly more born-in-B.C. residents than the region’s higher-priced core.

In large sections of Coquitlam, Delta, North Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Maple Ridge, 50 to 65 per cent of residents were born in B.C. Justin Fung is among the Vancouver-born who are struggling with whether they should become more mobile.

Fung has a solid career in Vancouver’s high-tech industry. But he believes he could get more out of his salary if he moved to the Seattle or San Francisco areas.

Fung, his wife (also born in Vancouver) and young daughter squeeze into a small condo in Vancouver. “There’s no space to yourself.”

He believes the family could afford to live in a larger home, even a detached one, in the U.S.’s West Coast high-tech regions.

Many of Fung’s ethnic Chinese and Caucasian friends with children have already moved to the suburbs or other cities.

“But some are already coming back to Vancouver. They miss the city and there’s a long commute,” he said. “I feel frustrated at where this city is going.”

The key reason Fung’s family is trying to stay close to the west side of Vancouver is to be near his inlaws and parents, who immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in the 1970s.

Fung attended Eric Hamber Secondary School, where he said the student population in the 1990s became 95 per cent Asian, most with roots in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“There was a kind of cultural exchange when I was attending high school in Vancouver. But I think that’s largely missing now,” he said, adding: “There’s a general negativity” about Metro’s in-migration trends.

According to the Metro Vancouver regional district, about 85 per cent of the 30,000 people who arrive here each year are from other countries, particularly Mainland China, India, the Philippines and, to a lesser extent, Iran, Pakistan and the U.S. “I’m very pro-immigrant for the right kind of people, for those with skills who will bring innovation,” Fung said.

But, echoing the findings of UBC geographers and others, Fung regrets how the federal government has welcomed many “wealthy people who drive up housing prices and treat this as a resort town.”

UBC geographer Daniel Hiebert notes Statistics Canada has forecast that by 2031 only one-quarter of Metro’s population will be third generation Canadian.

“At that time roughly three quarters of the city’s population is projected to be either born outside Canada or born to parents who came from outside Canada.”

That means only one out of four residents will have grandparents who have lived in Canada. “There is no European city with anything like this demographic structure, nor will there be in 2031,” says Hiebert.

When Fung visits his parents on the west side of Vancouver, he notices many of the neighbouring houses are empty. It’s leading, he said, to a “hollowing out” of the city’s culture.

As Fung and his wife weigh whether to move to the suburbs or the U.S., the question they ask themselves is: “How do you put a price tag on mom’s home-cooked meals?”

‘HARDER TO GET TO KNOW’

Lorne Korman, a psychologist, is among the 16 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population who have arrived from other Canadian provinces or territories. He was raised in Montreal and has worked in Toronto. He finds Metro Vancouver’s inhabitants are “less connected” than Quebeckers and more “laidback” than Torontonians. “In Montreal, we knew all our neighbours. We’d always be having a cup of coffee or glass of wine with them,” said Korman, who came to B.C. a decade ago with his Chinese-Canadian wife.

Living in Richmond and working in Vancouver, he has found residents of the growing metropolis tend to be “friendly on the outside. But you can never quite know what’s happening underneath. They’re polite, they make eye contact, but they’re harder to get to know.”

Given the city’s high mobility rate, Korman isn’t surprised a Vancouver Foundation study discovered that “loneliness” is a leading anxiety of city residents.

Even though Metro has a reputation as a “Lotus Land” of nature lovers and yoga practitioners, Korman said he’s found it surprisingly right wing.

“The B.C. Liberals aren’t really liberals.” He thinks the predominance of right-wing politicians is due to an exaggerated individualism among the relatively transient population. The clinical psychologist says residents have allowed B.C. politicians to cut mental-health services to the marrow, unlike in Ontario. Too many people in Metro Vancouver, he says, “have a let-them-eat-cake kind of attitude. People without a voice are being neglected.”

With house prices and rents soaring in part because of wealthy newcomers, Korman wonders about the future of community and the middle and lower classes. “Who is going to drive our buses and make art?” He finds Metro Vancouver has a “surreal” quality. As he cycles each day to his Broadway office from Richmond, he notices how many grand-looking new houses are, despite appearances, vacant.

“Their sprinklers go on in the rain.”

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