Yes, Vancouver is green, clean, walkable and bike-friendly, and that’s what strikes you at first. But what truly sets it apart from other places is the web of quirky, and surprising institutions that are a proud tradition in this city.
Every neighborhood in Vancouver has a community garden. How does it work? For a few bucks you rent a box of soil, plant in it something green and edible, let the rain do the watering… and profit.
Walking around this locally sourced flora is fun, and not only for the children. I for one, for the first time in my life learned how exactly cucumbers arrive in this world. And you have to agree, a city that succeeds in raising awareness of cucumber growth practices among adult men, must do something right.
(Update: I’m being told that this is actually a zucchini, not a cucumber. Looks like when it comes to vegetable farming, I still have some learning to do)
Microbreweries On Every Corner
Vancouver has so many craft beer breweries, that many of them are named by the neighborhoods or even the streets they are on: Powell Street brewery, Main Street brewery, Coal Harbor brewery, Strathcona Beer Company, and many more. There are still streets, bridges and park benches unclaimed by a brewery, but those are disappearing fast.
Inclusive Public Pools
What can be less exciting than a pool? A chlorinated water reservoir where lined up bodies move in straight lines – hardly something to write about. Well, enter Kitsilano pool – the complete opposite of every boring pool out there. Located on the Kitsilano beach, its view on the North Shore Mountains and the English bay is breathtaking. Want more? It’s a saltwater and heated outdoor pool.
So what makes it inclusive? For one, it’s wheelchair accessible. Not as in “you can enter the pool building on a wheelchair” accessible, but as in “you can wheel right into the water” accessible. It also has aquatic wheelchairs one can use freely.
Operated by city, the public pools’ entrance fees are very low. In Kitsilano pool, it’s $6 for an entire family. That’s the closest to true communism the humanity has ever come.
Here’s another way the pools here ensure that everyone is comfortable using them: universal change rooms and “Trans people welcome” signs.
The children here are first-class citizens as well. The children corner in the Hillcrest public pool is a full-blown aquatic playground with free-for-use floating toys, suddenly appearing fountains and a mini “river swirl” where children can learn to keep on the water while moving with the flow.
You see, in Vancouver a pool isn’t a consumerist perk of country club members, but an unalienable right of every person.
Non-Profit Cooperative Bike Shops
Sure, you could get your 70’s vintage bike from one of the myriad bike shops across the city (don’t ask my why vintage, but that’s what goes here). But Vancouver offers a more egalitarian alternative: cooperatives. These are non-profits, where volunteers are happy to help you choose your new soulmate bike, Do-It-Yourself stands give you all the tools you need to fix your existing one, and bike mechanics workshops allow to learn the craft of bicycle maintenance – so that no capitalist would take advantage of your bicycle illiteracy.
How could I pass over Vancouver’s favorite pass time? There are 80 dispensaries all across the city, all ready to help you with your depression, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. All you need is a referral from a doctor, which is mostly a formality.
Community Centers, Family Houses & Neighborhood Houses
Every neighborhood in Vancouver has a community center. Imagine a modern building with a gym, a library, a host of activities for children and adults, and sometimes even a skating rink – that’s a community center. They are operated by the city and are just as fundamental to the social fabric of the city as kindergartens and schools.
Many neighborhoods also have family centers, where parents can come with their children for a family drop-in.
Which means that you get a child-friendly space stocked with toys and books and friendly staff ready to help parents with parenting ‘best practices’.
In addition to all that, neighbourhoods also have neighbourhood houses, which organize local festivals, hold classes for adults and help immigrants adapt and socialize through workshops and trainings.
Bonus: Farmers Markets
From May till October, every weekend the city is overrun with farmer markets. Organized by a non-profit society, their goal is to promote locally-grown food and support independent farmers. Also – support retired country musicians whom seem to be an inevitable part of every such market.
You’ll find here fresh (mostly organic) fruits and vegetables, baked goods, artisan food products, fresh fish, local craft beer, and even artisan vodka!
The markets are producer-only and all of the vendors make, bake, grow, or catch what they sell. No imports or re-selling of products are allowed at the markets.
What are your favorite Vancouver institutions that may be surprising to people not from here? Share in the comments!