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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Vancouver Song: “It’s a big big city, but there ain’t no place for me”

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“The Vancouver Song” by Tim Sars, 2016

The man in the video is Tim Sars.  He is the leader of the Vancouver institution “The Carnival Band” which has brought joy and colour to street festivals and everyday life in Vancouver for almost 20 years. Tim is feeling the crunch of the Vancouver housing market like most people, only Tim was able to write a song about it.

“It’s a big big city, a big big city, but there ain’t no place for me”

Tim’s song, “The Vancouver Song” was admittedly written out of frustration when he learned that he, his wife and two small children were going to be evicted from their rental home in East Vancouver. Their house was being sold and the new owner did not want to continue the relationship with the young family. Tim and his family simply had fewer rights then owners.

This is a sad and frustrating circumstance where the housing options for young families are scarce. Places with more than two bedrooms can be hard to come by, whether you are renting or buying.  The uncertainty surrounding evictions makes renting an unstable situation for families who are in desperate need of stability.

This is the fate of many Vancouverites, (even Metro Vancouverites!) who are forced to rent because they have been priced out of every form of housing market. This does not just refer to the exorbitant prices commanded by single family homes, or home ownership, as Tim sings; he “can’t get into a co-op, ‘cause my incomes just too low”. Even alternative forms of housing are not filling the gap, and rental housing can be unreliable at best.

Tim’s plight is not unique; the housing affordability issue affects almost everyone, but Vancouver’s creative class is unfortunately serving as the canary, in this situation.  The “Hippies” in Tim’s song can be taken to mean good-natured people who create and foster a sense community.  Without using it’s more negative connotations, the term can be stretched to include a large swath of Vancouver’s population. The #donthave1million campaign from 2015 illustrated this well.

Some of Vancouver’s greatest assets are in its younger population, these are the people who contribute to the city’s much celebrate Green, Creative and Technology economies. Despite this, there are plenty of highly educated, well-paid professionals who are also calling it quits.

Cities have historically been places of commerce and trade, but alongside that, cities have also been places of concentrated cultural richness. People like Tim Sars choose to create things and bring people together.  They add colour to the street and music to the air. They make the city interesting and fun. They make the city worth living in.  Without a creative class what has Vancouver got?  The scenery for sure, though the natural setting can only take you so far.  British Columbia “The Best Place on Earth” or “Super Natural British Columbia” has fantastic natural settings in spades.

“My papa says the sacred land is somewhere in the Koots”

The “Koots” refers to the Kootenay Rocky region of south eastern BC. Outside the lower mainland, there are many great small towns where it is still possible for young families to have a balanced living situation. Many are slowly coming to the conclusion that it may just not be worth it to live in a city that values property without vibrancy. Besides, who would even want to?

The question is, what will be left, and will it still be a great place once all the “hippies” have gone? The creative class is not going to stop creating, but they may choose to create a new culture and vibrancy someplace else.  The city only stands to lose.


You can learn more about Tim Sars at his website.


Andrew Cuthbert works as a planner and has a love for everything to do with spatial data. When not working Andrew can most likely be found on his bike taking in the sights and fresh air.