Best of Vancouver 2014: Our contributors’ picks

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      This summer, we have a few more reasons to be thankful to be living in Vancouver.

      We’re on the other side of the world from Ukraine and Syria, where they still haven’t figured out how people of different ethnic origins and different religious backgrounds can live in harmony without killing each other.

      We’re not in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where gays and lesbians often remain closeted to avoid persecution from the state and from mobs in the streets. In Vancouver and Burnaby, our boards of education have created policies shielding LGBT students from bullying. This might ensure that the next generation won’t grow up nearly as hateful as its predecessors.

      There’s also not a drug war going in Vancouver like the one that’s ripping apart Mexico. Here, the City of Vancouver estimates that there are more than 45 medical-marijuana dispensaries operating out in the open.

      Our problems are more mundane, ranging from a SkyTrain system that shuts down periodically without notice, costly housing, and a teachers’ strike, which closed schools this month. None of these concerns comes close to the terror inflicted by Ebola hemorrhagic fever sweeping across Western Africa or the beheading of journalists and an aid worker in the Middle East.

      In fact, there’s a great deal to celebrate about living in Vancouver that goes beyond the firing of Mike Gillis and John Tortorella and the hiring of a new Canucks management team headed by local hero Trevor Linden. Last year, there were only six murders in Vancouver. That’s the lowest homicide rate in the city’s history.

      Then there’s the astonishing variety of food. Where else in a city of this size can you go out on any given night and eat outstanding North Indian, South Indian, Nepalese, Spanish, French, Turkish, Ethiopian, Ukrainian, Peruvian, Japanese, Shanghainese, Lebanese, Malaysian, and Italian cuisine? There’s nothing like our selection in nearby Seattle, Portland, or Calgary.

      Meanwhile, beer aficionados have been able to sample an explosion of craft-brewing products in our town during the past couple of years, putting us at the forefront of Canada in this burgeoning industry. All of this spells good news for tourism.

      The B.C. film industry has enjoyed a remarkable rebound, thanks to a lower Canadian dollar. And the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Douglas Coupland exhibition captured our imagination.

      This year, we also saw unprecedented cooperation from many galleries and museums to highlight the centenary of the Komagata Maru’s arrival in Vancouver. These exhibits greatly enhanced our understanding of sacrifices made by B.C.’s South Asian pioneers.

      First Nations also demanded to be taken more seriously. It’s apparent in Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and Art Sterritt of Coastal First Nations emerging as two leading critics of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

      This region is moving forward, as much as we hate that slogan being used by Vision Vancouver. Progress is visible in our less draconian approach to marijuana and alcohol consumption, as well as in the advancement of arts and culture in the suburbs.

      Two decades ago, who would have predicted that Swangard Stadium would host the Korean Cultural Heritage Festival, which would attract curious onlookers from across the region? Or that downtown New Westminster would experience an urban revival anchored, in part, by an Asian restaurant in a waterfront public market? Or that Whalley would be home to two landmark buildings designed by famed architect Bing Thom?

      Dramatic changes are taking place along rapid-transit lines. Entirely new communities are sprouting around the Brentwood, Surrey Central, Marine Drive, and Sapperton stations. With increased urbanization comes more dining choices, more arts and culture, and more use of transit.

      That’s not to say we don’t face monumental challenges. There’s a growing gap between rich and poor, to name just one. But all things considered, it sure beats civil war and an Ebola outbreak. And, thankfully, nobody has lost their head in our region.

      The Georgia Straight’s 19th annual Best of Vancouver issue is one way in which we recognize what makes this city so delightful. Throughout the paper, you’ll see boxes featuring the results of a vote of visitors to who responded to questions in 272 categories. Turnout tripled in this year’s Best of Vancouver “election”, with almost 500,000 individual questions answered. Congratulations to all the winners and runners-up.

      Those filling in the Best of Vancouver ballot were entered in a contest to win a trip for two to the world-famous Ka’anapali Beach Resort in Maui. The winner, Liz Sager, received a round-trip flight courtesy of Alaska Airlines. The prize package also included use of a compact rental car and two tickets to Ka’anapali Fresh, a three-day food and wine festival.

      This year’s Best of Vancouver issue offers readers a chance to win a one-year lease on a Kia Soul SE automatic, courtesy of Kia Vancouver.

      Check the sidebar to see our staff-written Best of Vancouver items. And don’t forget to check out the Best of the Bands feature in the music section, which includes photos of local musicians coming together in some great locales.