March 23, 2018
Adapted from a local magazine (credit and link below)
There is always a lively debate among feature writers on local quandries—whether macarons are still a thing, whether the Sylvia Hotel is haunted, et cetera, et cetera—but “What’s the best neighbourhood in Vancouver?” was the question that really brought the heat. Suddenly, it was east-siders versus west-siders, trendiness versus longevity, and hours of production time lost as we argued over the specific boundaries of whatever “the Fraserhood” is.
But subjectivity can take one only so far when it comes to finding an answer. After duking it out and doing our research (we are professionals, after all), we finally put our opinions aside and boiled “livability” down to its bare bones. Beyond lifestyle preferences and the intangible—and deeply personal—cool factor, we could all agree on a few things (see our full wish list below): a great urban neighbourhood will always be walkable, have reliable neighbours and feel safe and connected.
Our qualifiers established, we then turned to the expert, award-winning data journalist Chad Skelton, to mine stats and figures for analytic gold. Skelton worked with us to define quantifiable measurements for everything on our list, from trustworthy data sources like Stats Can and the City of Vancouver. To determine ethnic diversity, for example, he measured the chance that any two people, chosen at random, will be of a different race; for biking, walking or transit, he collected data on all the commuters who get to work without a car.
A few editorial decisions were made once the numbers were in hand. UBC ranked highly in all of our qualifying categories, but we agreed that recommending the campus to non-students was unrealistic. We cut a few lower-profile residential ’hoods from the comparison altogether (no offense, Arbutus Ridge!) to focus on the more diversely developed areas of the city. Ultimately, though, it was the cold, hard data that decided our 2018 Best Neighbourhood—the West End. (Just a coincidence that this is where our editorial director, Anicka Quin, happens to live…though that hasn’t stopped her from gloating.)
Of course, everyone (not just our opinionated editors) needs something different from a community—access to running trails, a great ramen bar, a safe place for your kids to play, a lively singles scene. Though each of the neighbourhoods on this list may be great, they’re also just a starting point—so we’ve put Skelton’s amazing interactive neighbourhood finder tool for you to tweak for yourself. Play around with categories that mean the most to you, find your personal best neighbourhood and then let us know where you landed. Because even after putting this issue to bed, we know this is one debate that may never reach an end.
Lots of good restaurants and cafés
Great for biking, walking or transit
Plenty of green space
A mix of owners and renters
Educated and civically engaged neighbours
The Vibe: Friendly beachside hangout
Average Monthly Rent: $1,287
Average Home Price: $635,738
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Hit up Score for out-of-control Caesars; the seawall for dodging rollerbladers and taking in the ocean views; Maple Leaf Bakery for giant apple fritters.
Locals Say: “You’ll never feel unwelcome or out of place here. It’s a cute residential neighbourhood in the middle of downtown, next to a beach so beautiful they called it ‘Sunset.’ Eat it, every other neighbourhood.” —Caitlin Howden, 35, director at Blind Tiger Comedy and member of the Sunday Service
The Vibe: Heritage blended with hipsterdom
Average Monthly Rent: $741
Average Home Price: $583,725
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Japanese-Italian fusion at the always-busy Kissa Tanto; the best barbecue buns at New Town; east- side-cool workouts at Tight Club.
Locals Say: “One side of my family originally settled here when they arrived in Canada. The other side owned one of the first Chinese restaurants in Vancouver; if it were still standing, it would be only a few blocks from my apartment.”—Geoff Louie, 29, accountant
The Vibe: High-end shopping plus charming heritage low-rises
Average Monthly Rent: $1,363
Average Home Price: $804,606
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Grab chi-chi drinks at West, then fulfill your reno fantasies at the dozen home decor shops that line the SoGra strip.
Locals Say: “It’s my favourite area to stroll on a sunny day. It’s full of beautiful pre-war apartment buildings, and there are always neighbourhood dogs to say hello to. Plus, the wild mushroom gnudi at Fiore on 12th are delicious little pillows from heaven.”—Sally White, 31, creative director at Owl Crate Jr.
The Vibe: Sleepy—but just a short walk away from action in any direction
Average Monthly Rent: $1,279
Average Home Price: $684,255
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Coffee at Elysian before a workout at Gymbox—gotta be fit to climb that Oak Street hill.
Locals Say: “The Laurel Street land bridge starts on the corner of West 7th Avenue and crosses over 6th Avenue. I love that you don’t really know when you’re on it—it’s a really beautiful example of landscape integration.”—Marianne Amodio, 46, architect
The Vibe: Big-city bustle
Average Monthly Rent: $1,692
Average Home Price: $785,058
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Shop-hop Robson’s swanky brand-name stores and get lost in the Holt Renfrew Beauty Hall; peruse the food truck options outside the Vancouver Art Gallery as carefully as the art inside.
Locals Say: “The food court at International Village is surprisingly wonderful, especially Bali Thai and Canra Sri Lankan, and you can buy literally everything you need at Yokoyaya. But I would recommend never going to Jam Cafe because there is no brunch in the world worth that lineup.”—Michelle Cyca, 30, writer
The Vibe: Techies and tourists collide on boutique-lined cobblestone streets
Average Monthly Rent: $914
Average Home Price: $644,599
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Work your way through the 50 beers on the menu at the Alibi Room; stock up on fashion basics at Frank and Oak.
Locals Say: “I live and work in Gastown, so I basically never leave. In the afternoon, I like to head over to Crab Park with friends for a barbecue and soak up the sun; it’s not uncommon to see something unexpected, from an interpretive dance performance to a brass band on parade.”—Kristyn Stilling, 37, film producer
The Vibe: West Coast yuppie paradise
Average Monthly Rent: $1,910
Average Home Price: $1,095,068
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Early morning SoulCycle sweat sessions; scones at Small Victory; vodka tonics at the Distillery Bar and Kitchen.
Locals Say: “Being a first-time mom actually means I can only do one or two things out of the house a day, but spreading doggie play dates at Coopers’ Park and Hurricane Grill patio brunches throughout the week makes it a great place to live.”—Deirdré Fang, 30, standardized-patient trainer
#8: Coal Harbour
The Vibe: Polished and serene
Average Monthly Rent: $1,823
Average Home: $1,358,013
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Cycle the seawall to earn that hot chocolate from Mink.
Locals Say: “It’s the best location for North Shore mountain views and seaplane watching, with easy access to the West End, downtown, Stanley Park and the North Shore.”—Maureen Leyland, 62, retired lawyer
The Vibe: Gritty and up-and-coming
Average Monthly Rent: $560
Average Home Price: $679,218
Neighbourhood Dream Day: The Settlement Building is home to Postmark Brewing and excellent brunch spot Belgard Kitchen; find modern Québecois cuisine at the buzzy St. Lawrence and handcrafted furniture from Hinterland Design.
Locals Say: “Railtown still feels very quiet and removed from the city, even if it’s just blocks away. Once people come here, they often stay.” —Kate Horsman, nutritionist at Rebel Healt
The Vibe: Chill but connected
Average Monthly Rent: $1,512
Average Home Price: $1,277,759
Neighbourhood Dream Day: Snag a spot on Darby’s second-floor patio—with views for miles—on a sunny day; the beach and Arbutus Greenway offer a little nature escape from the city.
Locals Say: “Walk down to 4th for breakfast pizza at Nook, hop on the bikes, cruise the Greenway, end up down at the Kits dog beach—it’s all the perks of a regular beach, plus cute dogs.”—Colin Sharp, 28, copywriter
#11: False Creek
#12: West Point Grey
#13: Main Street/Riley Park/Mount Pleasant
#14: Commercial Drive
#15: South Cambie
#19: Kensington-Cedar Cottage/Fraser Street
I fell in love with the West End before I ever set foot inside Canada. It’s the pin-up in that billion-dollar Tourism Vancouver beauty shot: all gleaming high-rises; the ocean hugging the beachfront shoreline; Stanley Park glowing greenly at its tip, with snow-capped mountains rising majestically to complete the can’t-believe-it’s-not-Photoshopped image of perfection.
When I moved to the city in 2012, I wound up in a sublet in Kits and would longingly stare at what felt like the “real” Vancouver across the water. As soon as I could leave, I did so, and found my home among the gay bars, gyoza joints, all-night supermarkets, beautiful beaches and gorgeous green spaces of the West End. I loved that this was where the city comes to party: for Pride, for the annual fireworks, the concerts in Malkin Bowl and movies in the park. I loved its easy walkability, discovering the beauty of Mole Hill, the heritage homes scattered like hidden treasures, the summer market in Nelson Park and the contrary joy of snickering at the drum circle and fire-stick twirlers at Third Beach while secretly loving them.
From nesting crows randomly dive-bombing our heads in the spring to the nightly urban adventure of dodging skunks and begging tourists to stop feeding raccoons: we might be in the heart of the city, but our leafy ’hood is alive with nature. And if you ever need a break from the gleeful shimmer of the disco lights strung along Davie Street or the noisy bustle of hungry diners as they wait in lineups to devour bowls of ramen and triple-fried Korean chicken on Denman and Robson, escape is a few minutes away into the hush of Stanley Park, our big and beautiful backyard. I fall in love with the city every single time I walk around Lost Lagoon, seeing those glass high-rises glittering across the water, framed by soaring firs.
"I found my home among the gay bars, gyoza joints, all-night supermarkets, beautiful beaches and gorgeous green spaces of the West End."
"I fall in love with the city every single time I walk around Lost Lagoon, seeing those glass high-rises glittering across the water, framed by soaring firs."
With luck, those safeguards will be in place as we transition through the West End Community Plan, which currently has 10 towers under construction with another four on the way, and seeks to add some 7,000 to 10,000 new residents over the next 30 years. It’s a plan that Green Party councillor Adriane Carr voted against, over fears that the Georgia, Alberni and Burrard developments would push land prices sky-high (which they have) but, an optimist at heart, Carr says she remains hopeful for the “interior” of the West End—which has limited opportunities for increased density, and for the positives of the plan: increasing community support and maintaining the leafy green centre of the West End.
I know that the West End is going to change with such increased density, and although Peter Meiszner, editor-in-chief at UrbanYVR, a Vancouver-based real estate, architecture and urban-planning news website, tells me that “the city’s West End Plan has pushed up land values so high because of the increased density now allowed that luxury condos are really the only thing that make economic sense,” I know we’ll find a way for our communities to stay strong; after all, if you’re going to live in Vancouver, there’s simply nowhere better to live than the West End, and all of us residents know that. Each spring brings the beauty of cherry blossoms to our streets. It’s an appropriate natural phenomenon for this ever-evolving ’hood: sakura viewing is meant to teach us that beauty is fleeting, that we should enjoy what we have right now. Part of loving any urban neighbourhood is accepting change and savouring the moment—and keeping the spark alive in this magical place while it’s here.