Vancouver study: A city of loneliness and unfriendliness?

Local survey also finds gaps between ethnic and linguistic communities

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Vancouver has been called No Fun City. But is Lonely City more appropriate?

Vancouver has repeatedly rated high on lists when it comes to livability. But while those surveys measure criteria such as education, health care, or safety, they don't factor in elements such as friendliness.

When the Vancouver Foundation sought to hone their focus as a community foundation, they polled 275 charitable foundations and 100 community leaders in 2011 to find out what their most pressing issue was. Much to their surprise, the top issue wasn't poverty or homelessness—it was isolation and disconnection.

This year, the foundation, working with Sentis Market Research, surveyed 3,841 people by phone and online (in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Punjabi) in April and May about their social interactions. Over 80 ethnic groups were represented.

What they found wasn't all gloom.

There were a number of positive findings in the survey results, published in a report entitled Connections and Engagement released on June 18.

The vast majority of respondents feel welcome in their neighbourhood and feel a sense of belonging (72 percent), with only a small number (6 percent) who don't. And 66 percent of respondents said they don't experience discrimination in the daily lives.

Forty percent have a conversation (beyond a mere hello) with their neighbour once a week or more. Seventy-four percent know the first names of at least two of their immediate neighbours.

But when it came to moving beyond mere cordiality, our city was found to be lacking in depth in certain areas. The report pinpointed various areas of concern, and exposed some chasms between various communities as well.

A third of the respondents said they found it difficult to make friends here. One in four people said they were alone more than desired. Those aged 24 to 34 and people living in suites in houses (such as basement apartments) reported higher rates of loneliness.

All of these respondents reported poorer health and lower trust of others as well.

How long you have lived here appears to be a factor in establishing relationships.

People who have lived in Canada for less than five years have had more difficulty making friends (42 percent report three or fewer close friends and 50 percent say it's hard to make new friends) but spend time with their social network more frequently than others. This group is also significantly more likely to use public spaces for social gatherings (64 percent) than longer-term Canadians (42 percent).

While our city embraces diversity, the survey results also expose divisions, and perceived divisions, between ethnic groups.

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed have no close friends outside their own ethnic group. The majority of respondents (65 percent) believe that while people are tolerant of diversity, people also prefer to be with others of the same ethnicity.

The ethnic group most likely to report have friends outside their own ethnic community are people of South Asian descent (89 percent). South Asian citizens are also the most frequent users of community centres or parks (50 percent, followed by Chinese people at 39 percent) and significantly more likely than other ethnic groups to have an optimistic view that ties among people in their neighbourhood are growing stronger (41 percent).

But South Asian and aboriginal people, and single parents, were the most likely to report discrimination (at 28, 27, and 24 percent, respectively).

Aboriginal people were the most likely to experience a lack of belonging in their neighbourhood (15 percent).

The study also discovered that the biggest barrier people face in participating in civic life is self-confidence. Twenty-seven percent believe that they don't have anything to offer to civic life, with those of Chinese descent the most likely ethnic group to feel this way (32 percent).

Language was not found to be a major obstacle for people in participating in civic life.

However, that's not how many locals perceive things to be.

Almost half of those surveyed (45 percent) see non-English speakers as not trying hard enough to participate in the community. On the other hand, 28 percent hold a contrary view, believing that non-English speakers are making an effort to do so.

Affordability was also a major issue.

While 40 percent reported that they're living comfortably, 30 percent reported that they are just about getting by, and 15 percent are finding it financially difficult.

Over half of residents feel that Vancouver is becoming a resort for the wealthy (54 percent) and there is too much foreign real estate ownership (52 percent). Residents between the ages of 25 and 34 were the most likely to agree with these statements (61 percent).

A strong correlation was found between these two attitudes—68 percent of those who believe Vancouver is for the wealthy also believe there is too much foreign ownership.

The Vancouver Foundation will continue to analyze the data, and publish further reports on the results.

But they're also doing something about their findings. Simon Fraser University is launching its first SFU Public Square Community Summit, in conjunction with the Vancouver Foundation. Alone Together: Connecting in the Urban Environment, to be held September 18 to 23, will examine civic disconnection and isolation.

You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.

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Ian G62

Jun 20, 2012 at 11:54am

I am originally from the UK. I've been living in Vancouver for 30 years and I still find it difficult to connect with people at certain levels. Even with [or in spite of] Facebook and our plethora of social media, I still find Vancouver-ites reasonably anti-social, overly discriminatory and clique oriented. Don't get me wrong, I have participated in society, volunteered, took part in things, been a part of the social fabric, I even live in a co-op. I'm at a loss to explain it, other than something to do with geography, socio-economic strata or how the city is designed. Unquestionably, the most unfriendly of all are the people who are born and raised here; it is almost as if they resent people who move here who subsequently take the space they feel entitled to.

Call me Al

Jun 20, 2012 at 5:52pm

I agree with Ian. I'm from Europe as well and moved here as a teenager. I'm now 40 years old. I remember as a child that people in Europe made deep, lasting childhood friendships. I still correspond with some of my school friends from back home.
Here in Canada, people only make superficial relationships. Friends are disposable and you only hear from them when they want something. Relationships are the same. People here are looking for their own self-gratification and date several partners at the same time. There's no such thing as commitment and sincerity here.

Vancouverite 2.0

Jun 20, 2012 at 6:53pm

I was born & raised in Vancouver and disagree with Ian's comment about us being more unfriendly. I welcome the diversity here, but I do resent all the wealthy foreigners who purchase holiday homes, driving up real estate prices. Vancouver is getting too expensive to live in. I've lived abroad in Australia and Europe and Vancouver is a cold place in comparison. It's a difficult city to make new friends and/or break into a new circle of friends.

I occasionally smile and strike a conversation with others if there's an obvious common ground, but sometimes it's difficult when people are preoccupied with their ipods, iphones, kindle...

Nope

Jun 20, 2012 at 8:37pm

Vancouver is easy to make friends in.

Everyone is kind of lonely and therefore slightly unsocialized, but you just have to jog their skills a bit and stop being such a walking nerve ending (like everyone else, in case I wasn't clear).

I mean, do you see the irony? A bunch of fine but friendless, lonely people, eyeing each other suspiciously and convinced that they're on the outside of some clique? It's bullshit! I know because I've lived here all my life!

So, get a thimble for that heart of yours and get out there. Be generous and expect nothing! Social builders are needed in this young city! Make it yours!

Island Gal

Jun 20, 2012 at 9:33pm

I have lived in Vancouver for just over a decade now with Victoria roots (born and raised) and I was so enthusiastic about moving to this city. It took several years of the chilly social connections to finally beat me down. People who have grown up here? They are lucky as they have formed many connections, however, the "locals" tend to stay within their social pool and, while friendly at arm's length, it is difficult to form lasting bonds if you are an outsider. I have had some visitors/temporary residents comment the same to me over the years and who were admittedly surprised by my friendliness to them based on their experiences. I don't know what it is. I have made a very independent life for myself here - I can go an entire weekend without a person speaking to me - outside of a store clerk. It's okay though - my back got pretty rigid over the years and I can take it. I observe that the smartphone, etc. has become a forefront for taking the attention from human interaction. I suppose that is the way things are going to keep going until something natural occurs to shake everyone back into the real world where we may very well have to rely on the kindness of human life. I also wonder that while cultural diversity is a good thing for communities, it sometimes feels a little like there are overwhelming amounts of it to the extent that the concept of a Canadian culture is beginning to disappear-which I truly feel a little guilty for expressing such sentiment but I have noticed it over the years. It definitely feels that the lower mainland has populated far too quickly and the local/provincial governments did not put enough thought into that. It has been build, build, build - bring them in - now what? Whoopsies, we forgot about resources (i.e. transit, school systems, road planning). I recently had someone say to me - I live in Vancouver but I wouldn't call it my home - well said for a portion of us I suppose. It still is a beautiful city though with even more beauty to behold the further out you venture. At present, that is what really counts for me.

Patrick Freen

Jun 21, 2012 at 12:42am

...as someone born here I'd have to agree with almost all the comments made here.Its not only the social isolation I find that even when you do get to know someone here they are culturally stupid.Sorry to say the lack of discourse about literature, the arts etc. is so ass backward if it exists at all that it truly numbs you.Nobody reads, they know f*** all about art music cinema..and its getting worse.superifical,brain dead and completely unaware of how one should act in a Theatre, Gallery or Museum.People dress very poorly and have no social skills whatsoever.

BokChoy

Jun 21, 2012 at 4:17am

So...what do we do now?

forever alone

Jun 21, 2012 at 7:49am

maybe we'd all better socialized if we stopped bitching on these boards and went outside and attempted human connections.

R U Kiddingme

Jun 21, 2012 at 12:07pm

Vancouver, is it uniquely unfriendly? I hope not. I don't disagree that it is very rare to have someone say hi or make eye contact, but I think it just might be like that anywhere outside of a village or small town. You don't want to threaten, disturb, or provoke a stranger. The wariness grows from there.

That said, I do try, when I remember, to be polite and say hello to people as I walk around because your neighborhood is your village. People are almost always quite nice and say hi back!

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