Vancouver to Cape Town: Cities coming in from the Cold

So posting may be a little scarce over the next 30 hours. I’m currently in the Joburg airport in the midst of my 35 hour, four flight trip home. (boo…)

However, I’m excited to be heading home and the Cape Town to Vancouver trip is an interesting one to be on since it is evoking some interesting comparisons between two cities that are, in some respects, very similar.

Indeed, yesterday, over lunch (at this wonderful place called Mariana’s) with Mark S. and his Cape Town friends we started comparing the two cities. The Cape Towners talked about how there was so much going on in South Africa, about how the country was changing and evolving, but that Cape Town seemed to be unimpacteed and possibly even opting out of this change.

I asked if Cape Town suffered from a dynamic that, I believe, has afflicted Vancouver for quite some time but that it might be on the verge of overcoming. The dynamic? Conservatism.

I’ve often called Vancouver the most conservative city in Canada. I don’t mean politically, but socially. Vancouver is so beautiful and so nice that a significant portion of the population don’t want anything to change. Change, any change, threatens to alter something about the city that people like – and so things evolve slowly in the city. (This is why the election of Larry Campbell was such a watershed moment. It is also why I’m engaged in Vision Vancouver – it’s rise could hold the promise of a more dynamic future). Fortunately (although many Vancouverites would say unfortunately) Vancouver’s growth path means that change can no longer be forestalled. The city is going to change, the question is simple do we choose to guide it and help foster a dynamic, interesting and sustainable place? Indeed, already this increased economic and social diversity and the growth that comes with it is beginning to break the old Vancouver families grip on the city’s destiny. It is also breeding a greater appetite for new approaches and strategies. the Insite Needle injection site is only the most powerful manifestation of this.

Cape Town has – according to me new friends – had a similar trajectory. It is so beautiful that no one wants anything to change. Consequently you can have a city that (like Vancouver) is quite liberal and bohemian (it is apparently Africa’s gay capital) but that is at the same time, quite conservative – in that very little changes. It has allegedly taken a back seat to the changes sweeping South Africa. The question is, will similar pressures force Cape Town to act? This I don’t know.

So, for me, flying from Cape Town back to Vancouver reminds me of why I’ve moved home. To be closer to family, but also to be part of what I beleive to be an exciting moment in Vancouver’s history – a moment when the city may shed its more convservative impulses and act on the progressive ideals that I believe underlie its culture. It’s an exciting time and I hope Cape Town captures this spirit as well.

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