A documentary by Charles Wilkinson. Rating unavailable
It isn’t hyperbole to say Vancouver: No Fixed Address is essential viewing for anyone living in the Lower Mainland. In fact, if you don’t believe it’s too late to do anything about this city’s insane housing crisis, you might want to file it under Totally Fucking Urgent Viewing.
Documentary director Charles Wilkinson has pretty much done the impossible: he’s taken an issue that has emotionally divided residents and politicians and tried to find rational common ground. He manages to bring in all the voices of the beyond-heated debate—Chinese newcomers, condo kings, East Van millennials, eco warriors, academic economists (to give the global perspective), and even a former homeowner who’s now living in a van at Kits Beach. To his credit, Wilkinson has also included the long historical perspective, with stories from indigenous playwright Quelemia Sparrow about colonists burning down First Nations homes to make way for Stanley Park.
The big surprise is that he’s managed to do this all so artfully, editing together the dreamy vistas of Vancouver’s glittering beaches and mountains that draw so many here and juxtaposing them with the homeless in sidewalk sleeping bags against shiny glass towers. The row upon row of real-estate signs, billboards, and bus-shelter ads are also shown to be part of the landscape here. Driving it all is the music of buskers—the percussionists, violinists, guitarists, and other artists who help keep the city’s culture alive. That is, until they can’t afford a place to live anymore.
Wilkinson doesn’t uncover easy solutions. But what he does find, through thorough research and compelling interviews, is that our housing here—as in so many other big cities—has become a commodity. For whatever reasons—foreign investment, developers’ greed, lack of governmental vision, and our own desire for “world-class” status that traces back to Expo 86—we’re losing, or have lost, our sense of home and community. Millennials, families, and retirees are all getting squeezed out.
Real-estate titan Bob Rennie puts forward a simple answer here: get rid of strict zoning and allow for more mega-towers. But, as others point out, why are so many condos sitting empty? How do you prevent developers from just building more-profitable, less-family-friendly studios and one-bedrooms? And why have European cities been able to densify by using human-scale, multiple-unit housing that’s only three or four stories high?
Yes, people are finding new ways to live here: Wilkinson talks to tiny-house advocates and a young group of house-sharers. But are these ideas viable for the long-term?
Though the movie doesn’t take sides, these hard questions will linger long after it’s over. If it’s not enough to make you pack your bags, green guru David Suzuki, near the end, has an alternative: assert “I’m staying.” But that’s much easier to do if you paid your mortgage off long before the boom.