Jon Hernandez, CBC, November 29, 2018
Jon Hernandez, CBC, November 29, 2018
“The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
Goldman Sachs’ kind walk among us. They’re definitely smaller, a little less conspicuous, but every bit as bloodthirsty. The Beedie sub-species are on display at the 105 Keefer rezoning application open house at the Chinese Cultural Centre. They’re here to observe and spin, in the face of community opposition, a positive impression of the latest iteration of their Chinatown condominium project.
Of course they’re playing the game, making revisions, changing designs. They’re all too willing to shave off a floor, reduce the number of social housing units, and plop some art, somewhere.
But it’s their forth kick at the can. They’re not here to engage in some kind of public dialogue about the cultural life of Chinatown. This is America: time is money. It’s the square footage they want and they’ll take it anyway they can. This is going to happen, by hook, crook, and campaign donation. Patience is running low. The beast must feed.
The tension level is set by the rent-a-thugs at the front door. Beedie’s security drones are thick of limb, thicker of skull, and dead of eye. I saunter past a lunk watching me with all the sentience of an upended chesterfield. Clearly, I’m too legit. With others they take a more hands-on approach.
I enter on a demonstration already in progress: a phalanx of placarded youth are rallying against. Meanwhile, community organizer Melody Ma is being harassed by the aggressively incoherent marketing subordinate Renu Bakshi.
A few City of Vancouver flunkies decorate the periphery, trying their best to blend into the displays. They’re doing well.
Judging by the architectural drawings, Beedie & co. are definitely not wedded to an idea, a “vision.” The concept, if we can call it that, is an out-of scale lump, sporting a few Chinese characters and staggered setbacks.
A street-level passage will invite porousness. It’s fun trying to locate it in the renderings.
And there will be retail and restaurants, if not exactly those depicted.
I thought myself early, but the intrepid Kevin Harding is already here the better part of an hour. He reports a large crowd of very-unlikely locals filling out comment forms and promptly leaving. Stooges, more like, of the lower company echelon variety.
But senior management, the squids proper, remain. In this crowd of the unfashionably but comfortably attired they stand out like highly polished carbuncles – artisanal warts. It’s mostly white male gym jockeys, in form-fitting suits and Italian shoes. I suspect they have lines of credit to accommodate their obviously intensive grooming regimes.
Perusing the bumf, I wander into earshot of well-articulated concern about the private wealth these projects produce for a few and the negative consequences they bring to many others. Bravo.
In response a little company twerp wannabe – sporting a tight suit, a tighter haircut and a flag pole stuck up his ass – offers, “Well, there’s the Community Amenity Contribution.” I snort so hard that I involuntarily power eject a glob of winter mucus out of my left nostril. Not very classy, I know, but I would argue a fitting contribution, given the circumstances.
I wander over the scale model. This is how they see Chinatown: a bland undifferentiated collection of beige polygons begging the gift of their cynical capital.
Squids drift into view. They hover over Chinatown like a pair of outsized, well-healed, coldly calculating aliens, contemplating the lifeforce to be sucked dry. And if its blood they need, the empty lot at Keefer and Columbia is a bulging artery, all too exposed to the funnels that are steadily probing.
Outside, beyond the models and the thugs of various description, in the cold, some other ideas.
1940 to 2017
Sea levels are rising, but the flood is already here.
It’s a tidal wave of cold, hard, dirty cash, a roaring, murky confluence of loose policy and looser barriers. The floodgates and sewers have been opened wide and the custodians have abandoned their posts, leaving us to the Fates.
It’s trashing everything in its path and the signs of its passing are everywhere: a local daily, wrapped in an ad hustling concrete and glass; the ass of a bus, adorned with a rictus smile eager to primp and pump or dump your home in a landfill; on Commercial Dr. street lights, usually reserved for notifications of flea markets, concerts, and burlesque, invaded -like a rash- by Boffo’s snake oil shill; the trees wrapped in orange mesh; the trees disappeared, for nothing more than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. As the deluge reaches 12th and Cambie, it turns into a 12% pay raise.
I seek refuge –the high ground- but it’s not safe: I find is another whirlpool of filthy lucre ready to swallow me whole.
The Museum of Vancouver’s Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver claims to engage “visitors with the bold visual language and lingo of real estate advertising as it presents the visions of talented Vancouver designers about how we might design the cityscapes of the future.” Or, to put it succinctly, “FOR SALE!”
Bought and paid for by Marcon Investments Ltd., Wesgroup Properties LP, Macdonald Development Corporation, Glotman Simpson, Henriquez Partners Architects, Adera Development Corporation, BTY Consulting Group, Brooks Pooni Associates etc etc etc, it’s a vision oblivious to the tsunami, unruffled by a spike of deaths among those sleeping rough, the young people living in vans, money laundering, corruption, empty homes, disemboweled communities, or the loss of canopy.
But hey, it’s nice and quiet here; have a look through the showroom and help yourself to the spec sheet:
“Each of those casements opened onto a room where how many comedies had transpired! And how many dramas, for that matter! Their shudders had been closed in times of mourning, they had been bedecked with bunting and hung with fairy lights on occasions of victory. For the first time there came to me the vague thought that houses have a soul, composed of the joys and sorrows and labors of those they have sheltered, and that all have their history: secret, romantic, or joyful.”
G. Lenotre, in Luc Sante’s The Other Paris
“When these old homes come down, a whole history goes with them—the materials that were used to build them, the gardens, the successive owners and their secrets. These old houses and apartments are repositories of narrative. The story of our city is diminished every time one disappears.”
Vancouver Vanishes: Narratives of Demolition & Revival, Anvil Press
Where’s the perimeter? Where does the psychopoleconomic entity that is “Vancouver” play out? What lies beyond? How far do I have to go to break free of its gravitational pull?
Politically and bureaucratically, Vancouver extends out to the confines of Metro Vancouver –the Greater Vancouver Regional District- an area comprised of 24 local authorities –cities, municipalities, townships, the University Endowment Lands, and that vaguest of constructs, “Electoral Area A.” By this reckoning the edge is marked by Bowen Island and Lions Bay, the nether reaches of Maple Ridge and the Township of Langley, and the US border. However, like too many official demarcations, it’s artificial, ignoring well-established links to other communities and coherent as natural boundaries. It’s too tightly packaged and constrained.
It’s imprecisely defined, but the “Lower Mainland,” or the Lower Fraser Valley, generally covers the swath from Squamish to Chilliwack. This offers a certain coherence, bookended as they are by First Nations place names, and naturally excluding those distinct others: Whistler and Hope. (We are, definitely, this side of Hope.) Chilliwack in particular resonates nicely with Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel, being the initial rest stop for Maggie Vardoe’s escape from a loveless marriage to a real estate agent. However, too much is missing. Whither the near-by-ferry: the Sunshine Coast and the Gulf Islands? What of the communities just south of the border?
The geography assigned to the 604 area code is way off. Aside from being defined in an office by people wearing ties, its both massive -reaching from Desolation Sound to beyond Hope- and omits so much that’s nearby; again, there’s the border. It’s simultaneously too big and too small.
I’m want something organic, a system that transcends municipal and international borders and bodies of water, but respects distance. I find it in FM radio, the footprint circumscribed by local radio broadcasts.
It’s the very high frequency voice of the metropolis, invisible, but physical over virtual. A sphere produced by economics and regulation, but an imperfect one, flattened and deformed by local circumstance. There’s a consistency, too: with most transmission towers located on Mt. Seymour, the footprints of Vancouver’s FM radio broadcasts are virtually identical.
With Squamish, Chilliwack, Nanaimo and Bellingham within reach, and Whistler, Hope and Victoria beyond, there’s a symmetry and balance –the periphery may lie a bit far by road or ferry, or the political hurdle that is the border, but as the crow flies not far at all.
The area described as a “local” signal corresponds exactly to my own free form and long-term research conducted by the limited receiving capacity of a car antenna. Driving south on the Pat Bay Highway on a return from Vancouver to my then-home in Vitoria, the CFMI signal craps out completely halfway down the Saanich peninsula, somewhere around Keating Cross Road. The switch over to 100.3 serves as a confirmation that I cross a boundary.
Because of FM’s line-of-site broadcasting, the complex topography of the geography means that not all stations can be heard in all places. This makes for interesting idiosyncrasies. While Horseshoe Bay is virtually a dead zone, it’s possible to enjoy a crystal clear edition of low wattage CFRO’s Royal Aloha Mondays program on Saturna.
On the Sunshine Coast, driving north in search of the skookumchuck, the CBC signal fails at Halfmoon Bay, or thereabouts. Instead, airwaves from Whistler, Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley all offer circa 1981 to circa 1998 top 40. But driving back much later that night, on a long and winding road, in the rain, in a twilight zone just beyond the psycho-gravitational pull of the teeming masses, I snag the past floating through the ether, a piece of 1930’s radio theatre, “designed to keep you … in SUSPENSE!”
Within this ephemeral space, physical connections are being forged. The writhing mass of turgid economics is growing in mass, extending its reach -it’s capital- out, to the edges.
On a seemingly bucolic Southern Gulf Island I overhear a conversation regarding the merits of “higher density.”
There’s another attempt to realize a foot passenger ferry service to Nanaimo. Will this be the lucky one, the enabler of the Harbour City’s long-sought aspiration of bedroom community to the metropole?
And Gibsons -Gibsons Landing, to be precise.
In my TV-damaged imagination Gibsons is far away, apart. It isn’t. Gibsons lies fully exposed, to everything from FM radiation to the dreaded turmkrankheit: the tower disease.
I question the wisdom of the Museum of Anthropology watering its lawn, given the region-wide prohibition on such activities in the face of drought conditions.
“Yeah,” says the security guard. With a craggy face and a full head of wavy hair, he looks like a world-weary character from 1970’s Canadian television. “Their kinda doin’ their own thing out here.”
July 28, 2015:
Finding Mr. Right (aka: Beijing Meets Seattle and Bei Jing yu shang Xi Ya Tu), according to the Internet Movie Database:
“City girl Jiajia is traveling to Seattle to give birth to the son who’s going to help her win over her rich, married boyfriend. Armed with his unlimited credit card and the singular goal of bringing a little U.S. citizen back to Beijing, Jiajia knows how to play this game of modern love. But when Jiajia arrives in Seattle, the city which inspired her favorite movie Sleepless in Seattle, nothing goes right: she’s stuck sharing a small house with two other pregnant ladies, she has trouble reaching her boyfriend on the phone, and eventually, even the credit card stops working. To top that off, the only person willing to spend time with her is her driver Frank. Frank is the opposite of everything she ever wanted in a man … or could he be exactly the kind of guy she really needs?”
A China-produced knock-off of a cliché-addled Hollywood rom-com featuring unlikeable lead characters, Finding Mr. Right comes off as a lifestyle advert targeted at the People’s Republic of the Recently Enriched. At least I think so; I confess I could only endure a few minutes before succumbing to an aesthetic toxic shock.
I risked such exposure following the Globe & Mail’s “Beijing meets Seattle: Rom-com sets off Asian buying spree.” In particular:
“The screenplay for the film (its English title is Finding Mr. Right) could almost have been written by Seattle real estate agents; it was that much of a boon to the market.”
“It was ‘massive advertising, and there has been a lot of response,’ said Dean Jones, chief executive officer of Seattle real-estate company Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty, which has a team of agents (the ‘Asia Desk’) fluent in Cantonese, Mandarin and other Asian languages to cater to the continuing, broadening influx of buyers.
“Originally from Vancouver, Mr. Jones said that Seattle is following a similar pattern as Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Vancouver’s reputation as a hedge city, that is, a relatively safe bet for property investors who can afford it, has spilled over to Seattle with its comparatively lower prices (30 to 50 per cent lower than Vancouver, Seattle realtors say).”
While it goes unmentioned in the article, there’s another Vancouver-connection regarding the movie. Other than a few scenes in Beijing, and a very few establishing shots of Seattle, Finding Mr. Right/Beijing Meets Seattle was filmed entirely in and around Vancouver.
So, while real estate shills and pundits and their political affiliates dismiss the influence of Chinese money on the Vancouver market, the city serves as both a discount production centre for extended advertisements of Pacific Northwest Coast property for Mainland China and a source of human capital to serve that market. Beijing meets Seattle, with Vancouver serving as a kind of relationship facilitator. Or pimp, if you prefer.
Finding Mr. Right performer Wei Tang shilling lifestyle at YVR: