Best of Vancouver 2012: Our contributors’ picks

Neon is the comeback kid in Vancouver. It’s energizing the Granville Entertainment District at night, casting an urban glow around the Stanley Theatre on the West Side, and radiating like a beacon from the East Van Cross towering over False Creek Flats.

In the heyday of neon in the 1940s and 1950s, Vancouver had enough glowing signage to rival Paris, not to mention any city east of Shanghai or Hong Kong. In that era, you practically needed sunglasses to drive down Granville or up parts of Kingsway at night. But like all crazes, the fascination with neon faded in favour of unobstructed views, stripped-down modernist architecture, and sober urban planning.

Of course, neon never went completely out of style in Chinatown and at such historic Downtown Eastside haunts as the Ovaltine Cafe, the Balmoral Hotel, Save On Meats, and the Only Sea Foods restaurant. What long-time resident over the age of 40 or 45 doesn’t feel a twinge of nostalgia over the shimmering Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret sign that used to illuminate what has since become the seediest section of East Hastings Street?

This year’s 17th annual Best of Vancouver issue hopes to bring a similar glow in the midst of too much melancholy gripping the city. Sure, we know that many of you aren’t happy with the NHL lockout, high housing prices, and the “challenging” economy, which is really a euphemism for having to work twice as hard to get the same result. Some of you can’t find a job. Others are no doubt facing some worrisome medical conditions. But hey, not everything is going dark. There are lots of bright spots around us. Our mayor doesn’t answer to the name of Rob Ford. Chad Kroeger won’t be dating your daughter now that he’s engaged to Avril Lavigne. Our air quality surpasses that of Paris, which is considered to be the most gorgeous city in the world. And we have more street festivals than any town our size has a right to be holding.

The Khatsahlano! Music and Arts Festival attracts tens of thousands to West 4th Avenue to enjoy an abundance of local musical talent. For free. Maybe next year, Chavril will make an appearance. Then there are those car-free days along Denman and Main streets and Commercial Drive, offering music, culture, and more than a little politics. For free. The Latin American, Taiwanese, Indian, Caribbean, Italian, and Greek communities put on terrific parties. For free. And then there’s Pride, which has helped change the way we interact with our LGBT brothers and sisters.

There’s a great deal to celebrate in this region. Did you know that Vancouver has been home to more world-changing environmentalists and environmentally oriented academics than any city in North America? When was the last time you considered how successful Vancouver has been at integrating newcomers from other countries in comparison to places like Amsterdam, Tokyo, or Los Angeles? How does it feel knowing that there are incredible hiking trails and dazzling beaches accessible for no more than a transit fare? Are you proud that Vancouver has been a world leader in making itself more accessible to people with disabilities? We are.

There’s a brilliance about Vancouver that is on display in our institutions of higher learning, on our performing-arts stages, and in our thriving indie-music scene. It’s as lustrous as those signs that used to make Kingsway such an enjoyable thoroughfare in bygone days.

This year’s Best of Vancouver issue aims to turn a spotlight on all of this. We’re offering an incentive to read this issue with a contest that closes on Wednesday (September 26). Discover how you can search for a secret code within the pages of the Best of Vancouver. If you end up seeing the light, you’ll have a chance to win a $3,500 gift certificate from INspiration Interiors.

The Readers’ Choice boxes scattered throughout this newspaper were compiled from an online ballot on that attracted more than 350,000 responses in 260 categories. We joke that if someone racks up a Best of Vancouver readers’ choice designation, it means they’ve basically won the city election in their category.

We also feature our writers’ picks, based on their observations over the past year. And in every Best of Vancouver issue, we highlight four communities to shed some light on people in the city who are making a difference, often off the media’s radar screen. Finally, there are the “Best of the Bands” photos, which cause untold work for our music editors and writers but which always seem to elicit lots of laughs.

by Carolyn Ali, Maya Beckersmith, Matthew Burrows, Yolande Cole, Michelle da Silva, Martin Dunphy, Amanda Growe, Gail Johnson, Chantelle La Violette, John Lucas, Brian Lynch, Adrian Mack, Tony Montague, Miranda Nelson, Steve Newton, Carlito Pablo, Paul Phillips, Jennie Ramstad, Doug Sarti, Charlie Smith, Janet Smith, Craig Takeuchi, Stephen Thomson, and Mike Usinger.