The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tee'd off in Vancouver

By Tamara Lee

Phew. The strike in Vancouver is finally over.

Oh, you didn’t know there was one? Well, it’s hardly surprising. City bureaucrats don’t want the folks who may come visit our “fair” city in 2010 to get a whiff of the crap that’s going on around here.

But if there has been any doubt whether we in Canada do in fact live in a class-conscious society, one needn’t look any further than the debacle that has just transpired here, in this Olympics-quagmired town.

For the past three months, the Vancouver city workers—inside and outside—have been on strike. For the bulk of the summer and fall, we have been without garbage collection, community centres, city hall, and library workers.

Sure, there were many folks able to cart their garbage and pay for disposal in neighbouring cities, or call in private companies to take care of their nasty business. Those same folks were also able to hire private teachers and day care workers to help ease their burden from the strike. Those people didn’t mind paying the eventual fines for continuing building projects without a permit. Those people can afford to pay the YWCA’s new exclusive rates in order to get their pilates on rather than sacrifice their figures. (The Y’s newfound exclusivity and lack of charity is so confounding, one can only shake her head and think, “Only in Vancouver.”)

For me, the greatest inconvenience of this strike was the lack of libraries. I felt it in my research work and my working-class pocketbook. My bookstore pals told me they too noticed an increase in traffic these last few months, much of it homeless folks with nowhere else to go, since the community centres and libraries were not available to them. While book sales increased some, bookstores had a lot more browsers. And I can assure you, bookstore folk hold a secret contempt for the readers-not-buyers, those who would break the spines, dirty the pages of expensive hardcovers, and fill up precious space where real patrons might stand and choose to buy. (Ever notice how there are fewer and fewer chairs in bookstores?)

During the strike, each day the Vancouver Southam-owned papers (the Province and the Sun), were filled with letters and commentaries about how Vancouver was chipping in in the effort to keep the city going, how people were barely feeling the pinch from the strike, and weren’t we all just so commendable and full of community.

None of these people, obviously, had ventured east of their comfy neighbourhoods to the rest of the Vancouver community, the east side, home of the blight and particularly dirty little secret of 2010, the downtown east side, an embarrassment and an eyesore.

There, had they bothered to notice, they would have seen piles of litter and filth of the kind we see in other-countries-not-ours, an increase in rats and fruit flies, groups of children with nowhere to go but garbage-strewn alleys and parks that hadn’t been mowed full of garbage and feces (animal and human) hidden amongst the tall grasses.

The west side did not see any of this. But the City, in their infinite wisdom and with great sense of real priorities, made certain the “Community” (read West Side) golf courses remained open and properly tended.

Let them golf, our city council seemed to say. (And while we’re at it, Let them pay the average $1000 month for a leaky basement suite on a $7.50 minimum wage, so that those who can afford to make the 10% down payment on a $750,000 home can afford to make their mortgage payments.)

This Olympics has been doing a number on the spirit of this town, a town I grew up in and loved so well. The poorest neighbourhoods will be feeling the effects of this Extravaganza for a long time to come. But no one will ever see in just how many ways the invisible citizens are going to have to pay.


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Well said, Tamara. It boggles the mind, truly. The image these host cities present the world are false, fake, as are the records the Olympics produce. Steroids, anyone? At least Vancouver isn't Beijing. I shudder to think how they'll be "cleansing" their image in preparation.

Mon Oct 22, 08:05:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Great piece, Tamara!

Mon Oct 22, 09:00:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, guys.

Tony, as a Montrealer, I guess you know very well how long a city can be paying for an Olympics. Forty years for your town, right? Crimey.

Mon Oct 22, 12:13:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I was by our Olympic Stadium this past summer when we went to the Biodome. The whole complex looks outdated and forgotten, sorry to say. The stadium structure still won't support a roof, as I understand it. Sad, but you know what? I think a lot of people have fond memories of the games in Montreal, mostly people who had the best of summers finacially, those who were in business at the time. Oy, again with the business, meanwhile our amatuer athletes are in dire need of some support in this country.

Mon Oct 22, 12:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Well said, Tamara. I can feel your outrage. It seems like every city has its Shadow Side, too.

Tue Oct 23, 01:32:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Thanks, Tricia.

It seems hometown folks aren't supposed to talk about their city's (or country's) dark side. Is that a Canadian thing, I wonder? Folks do seem to get rather defensive if one muddies the pristine water of their deceptions.

Tue Oct 23, 04:26:00 pm GMT-4  

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