Amazing Gaze

I think about the first line to Jonathan Kozol’s book Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation every time I ride my bike back home from the University of British Columbia campus. It reads:

The Number 6 train from Manhattan to the South Bronx makes nine stops in the 18-minute ride between East 59th Street and Brook Avenue. When you enter the train, you are in the seventh richest congressional district in the nation. When you leave, you are in the poorest.

There are certainly many differences between Manhattan and the west side of Vancouver and there are also loads of differences between the South Bronx and the Downtown Eastside, but the wealth discrepancy is very similar. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the prices for homes in West Point Grey. On this website, there are 58 homes for sale in West Point Grey. The cheapest is a 1400 square foot two bedroom for $998,000 (though, admittedly, property value is not entirely indicative of wealth). I also discovered somewhere that the west side of Vancouver is the 6th wealthiest parliamentary riding in Canada (but not the wealthiest in the Lower Mainland; that would be West Vancouver). And the Downtown Eastside seems to carry “Canada’s Poorest Postal Code” as a slogan.

The ride up to UBC goes fine until West Point Grey when the road takes a sharp incline for two kilometres. I have to go so slow up that hill that I get to know the road quite well. The homes on the left, not all of them large by North American standards, have perfectly manicured lawns and are finely detailed. They have unimpeded views of the mountains, water, and downtown because they are across the street from a lovely park. I played basketball in that park the first day I arrived in Vancouver and, despite the lack of nets on the goals, I decided it was the nicest court in the world, mainly because of the views.

On the way back from UBC, the rider has to take care not to hurt himself since the drop is so dramatic. I’ve yet to time myself, but I’m sure I could get from West Point Grey to the Downtown Eastside by bicycle in less than 18 minutes if I tried even though it might take twice as long to go the other way. I suppose the trip’s a metaphor somehow.

I used to work in West Point Grey, so I know the neighbourhood rather well. It’s no mystery why the property values are so high. It’s western boundary is a 763 acre woodlands that stretch from the Fraser River on the south to the pristine beaches of English Bay on the north. I witnessed two hawks circling above me on my ride through the park and I used to run through the trails when I lived on campus. My wife and I were married at the church where I used to work, just next to the best basketball court in the world. It would be a wonderful place to grow up with its mix of commerce, country, and beach so close to the downtown of a major city.

On my ride yesterday, I was reminded of a controversy there several years ago where residents were concerned about the construction of medium density condos that would impede the views of some houses and possibly lower property values. Ironically, my new neighbourhood is experiencing a similar controversy right now as residents are protesting the construction of high rise condos in Chinatown. However, the residents here are concerned that they would raise property values and, in turn, rental prices.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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One Response to Amazing Gaze

  1. Kathy says:

    Hi Drew! I seem to think that I wrote to you before but could not find it. So, I will do it now and assume you did not just delete my note. If you did, I will surly get suspicious this time around. 🙂

    I have really enjoyed your posts. You are a gifted writer and observer of life. Ken and I always remember you fondly and wished we would have found/had a more sensible room in our home during the time you lived with us. We often find ourselves sharing stories about “this really great and funny guy named Drew that lived for a time in our horrible basement.”

    I know that you are doing some work at Regent, but I would love to hear more about that. I would also love to know more about ending up on the Downtown Eastside.

    Thanks for sharing your daily glimpses into life. Sometimes I feel as if I am walking along those streets with you.


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