Ever since the Asian capitalist class decided to relocate their family and money to Vancouver, torrential wealth flowed into this city at an ever-increasing rate.
Within a few decades, waves immigration and redevelopment projects turned this once unknown location into the Pacific gateway of the Western world. Lands are rezoned, buildings are torn, and new communities are designed with the multicultural sensibilities that so characterise this place.
Emerging from the demographic reshuffling are the 600,000+ population hosted by 36 distinct neighbourhoods that currently make up the Vancouver we see today. Those neighbourhoods, each with their own personalities, weave an intricate cultural mosaic that is currently in a constant state of flux.
Here, we will be looking at seven of them. Together, these seven neighbourhoods make up Central Vancouver, or what people colloquially refer to as “Downtown Vancouver.”
Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Canada. It started in the 1980s as a self-segregated enclave and has evolved into a cultural relic culminating in its designation in 2010 as a National Historic Site of Canada. It features a variety of heritage buildings such as the Chinese classical garden, traditional architectures, historic alleys, and the narrowest commercial building in the world.
Chinatown today faces many obstacles in its quest for survival. Issues of identity and redevelopment challenge those who wants Chinatown to retain its roots but at the same time remain economically relevant and sustainable. Regardless of its fate, Vancouver’s Chinatown has already become a permanent fixture in the Canadian cultural mosaic. Read more about Chinatown here.
Coal Harbour is located at the northwest corner of Vancouver’s Downtown peninsula. It got its name from coal discoveries in the 1850s but was never developed into a commercial mine. It was once known as the Blueblood Alley for its wealthy mansion owners and is now one of the most exclusive residential neighbourhoods in Canada.
Coal Harbour consists mainly of Neomodern high rises built out of floor-to-ceiling glass panels, reflecting the North Shore mountains and waters of Burrard Inlet. It is spacious, clean, and modern – a stark contrast with Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood on Hastings Street in Downtown Eastside. Read more about Coal Harbour here.
Once the commercial and political centre of Vancouver, Downtown Eastside (DTES) has, since the 1903s, been undergoing severe urban decay. Upscale department stores have long disappeared, replaced by homeless shelters, heroin-afflicted alleyways, and large open markets for loots, prostitution, and drugs.
Efforts are made to alleviate the hardship of Downtown Eastside, but questions remain at how to structurally improve the neighbourhood without displacing its original residents.
Aside from issues of health and poverty, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside DTES is also the epicentre of Vancouver’s gentrification debate. Pamphlets against redevelopment can be seen posted in shop washrooms, utility poles, and window coverings in the area.
This ongoing war between anti-poverty activists and developers and businesses register prominently in the psyche of Vancouverites and, perhaps unfairly, locks the neighbourhood into a gloomy image. Read more about DTES here.
Downtown Vancouver is Vancouver’s central business and shopping district. When it comes to luxury goods and services, it is where one can find the best Vancouver has to offer.
Luxury accommodations, couture, private clubs, and yachts and super cars reflects the purchasing power of the city and its residents, especially immigrants. Major shopping areas include Robson Street, Pacific Centre, Nordstrom, and Sinclair Centre.
Aside from entertainment, Downtown Vancouver is also the core transportation hub that connects Vancouver’s underground metro system, seabus, and railways.
From the Waterfront Station, a Neoclassical style architecture built in 1914, one can easily take the seabus to the North Shore. Alternatively, one can also choose among the three SkyTrain lines to Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey, or Richmond.
When travelers think of Gastown, they think of the tree-lined cobblestone streets leading to the steam-powered clock Gastown is famous for. While it is true that this National Historic Site of Canada figures prominently on most traveler’s must-see list, it is more than tourist shops and historic landmarks.
Gastown bridges the impoverished Downtown Eastside and its more affluent commercial core to the west. It has gentrified sufficiently in the recent decades that there are now more boutiques and galleries than social housing. Unlike Yaletown, however, Gastown still retains that unrefined, raw grit of its former self.
Gastown is not just a hip neighbourhood, but also one that is witnessing an emerging tech startup scene. Taking advantage of the lower rent of the area and a supportive environment in close proximity to venture capital firms, founders of tech companies have since then been setting up shop and their home in the area.
This urban migration contributes to the already creative community of Vancouver’s art galleries, music studios, and film schools. Recently nicknamed “Silicon Valley North,” this new urban phenomenon is on its way to displace Ontario’s Waterloo as the ground zero for the country’s IT innovation.
West End and Davie Village
There are no other neighbourhoods in Vancouver that feel as close-knit as West End. West End is bordered by Stanely Park in the west, Coal Harbour to the north, and Yaletown to the east. It features older rental apartments punctuated by Queen Anne style architectures built in the late 1890s.
It is also where Davie Village, Vancouver’s gay village, is located. While it is not as modern as Coal Harbour, as trendy as Yaletown, or as touristy as Gastown, its demographic diversity and community solidarity is unparalleled.
Not only does West End host one of the highest concentration of community gardens, it is also home to Western Canada’s largest LGBTQ community. Along the neighbourhood, the streets are quaint and peaceful, contrasting the bustling atmosphere of its adjacent neighbourhoods.
Neighbourhood trees are decorated with handcrafts; sidewalks are equipped with chairs and tea tables. Both the young and old are seen socializing in parks and on sidewalks. West End is truly organic and highly livable.
Yaletown is one of Vancouver’s trendiest neighbourhoods. It used to be an industrial wasteland until Li Ka-Shing redeveloped the place in 1988. Adopting Vancouverism, an innovative approach to high-density urban living, Yaletown now boasts a clean waterfront and marinas framing its parks, high rises, and historical warehouses and platforms.
Yaletown’s loft apartments and offices host a high concentration of well-educated young urban professionals. Its spas, boutique, lounges and fine dining establishments provide for a chic lifestyle unmatched by any other. It is youthful and energetic. It is a success story of Vancouver’s urban redevelopment. Read more about Yaletown here.