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.