Cultural Revolutions

An Inelegant Place

Vancouver was a stately if inelegant place when I last visited it 26 years ago. The harbor was a breathtaking sight, although the downtown area was rundown and the architecture undistinguished. Still, Vancouver was memorable because it was a city framed by mountains, with extraordinary vistas and a congenial climate. It had a rare calm and charm, the kind of charm that lures you into returning.

Obviously the mountains, the vistas, and the congenial climate haven't disappeared. Moreover, Vancouver has developed its inner city. Gastown, the old city, now has precious shops and bistros that rival any in San Francisco, and Pacific Center Mall is reputedly the largest underground mall on the continent. All the chic stores can be found here, from Laura Ashley to Ralph Lauren. The area surrounding Stanley Park has high-rise apartments with high-rise rental fees. Granville and Maritime, once pristine islands at the gateway of the harbor, are now built-up middle-class neighborhoods with museums and playgrounds and are the site of a world-famous bathtub race—bathtubs outfitted with outboard engines racing across the harbor. Bv any measure Vancouver has entered the ranks of the world's greatest cities. Yet this is only part of the story, perhaps the least important part.

When Vancouver was discovered by the cognoscenti in the 60's, it became a melting pot for every nationality and every "lifestyle." Its...

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