Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

The following was just submitted to the Vancouver Sun:

I was back home in Vancouver but one day when I was vividly (and sadly) reminded that my month long vacation in Honolulu was over. I'm not referring to the dramatic change in weather, but rather the drastic "climate" change on the streets.

First, let's look at an overview of the two cities:

Population: 377,000
Area: 272 sq. km

Population: 612,000
Area: 115 sq. km

Metro Honolulu
Population: 910,000
Area: 5,509 sq. km

Metro Vancouver
Population: 2,117,000
Area: 2,877 sq. km

One fact that's not well illustrated in these statistics is that there are over 4 Million tourists visiting Honolulu every year, most of them packed into the relatively small area of Waikiki (think English Bay to the Burrard Street Bridge, Davie to the waterfront). Such a large number of visitors can expose a community to major problems.

Both communities are plagued with homelessness and drug addiction. A friend of mine in Honolulu, a retired police captain, described just how rampant crystal meth addiction is there. So make no mistake, Honolulu has definite problems just like Vancouver does.

But there is one big difference, one critically important difference that my 76 year-old mother and I immediately noticed. There are no street people harassing tourists and locals alike! None. Zero. Nada. Returning home to Vancouver and walking along the so-called upscale South Granville area, I was brought back to the reality of having to weave my way through the gauntlet of sad looking souls asking if I could spare some change; 2 or 3 per block seems to be the norm. It did not escape my attention that most of these folks were young men in their 20's and most of their ilk has been engaged in this "profession" for several years.

Back in Hawaii, these same sort of people are there, pushing the shopping carts around, but they do not harass those around them. I suspect that if they did there would be some immediate consequences. Does that last word still exist in Canadian dictionaries?

Here in Vancouver we seem to have a constant barrage of politicians and others telling us that "this is a way of life for a growing city", that we "should feel grateful for what we have and sorry for those asking us for money", and the all purpose pass-the-buck excuse, "there's nothing we can do, you need to complain to the federal government".

The federal politicians (and that means ALL of them) must indeed accept some of the responsibility for the general lack of civility on the streets of Canadian cities. To fully realize just how lax the Canadian Justice System has become, let's look at a case recently in the news in Hawaii. A criminal named Rudy Bernardino was sentenced to 20 years in prison for operating a methamphetamine laboratory out of his apartment. Please reread the last sentence. He received TWENTY years for manufacturing crystal meth (aka poison). Does anyone think an identical crime in Vancouver would get him even 6 months?

As a mere tourist, I don't know all that the Hawaii police and the District Attorney are doing to combat crime but it clearly must be a lot more than is being done here. I would strongly recommend that the Vancouver Sun send a reporter or two over to Honolulu for a few weeks to do a series of special reports, comparing the differences between there and here. I'm sure it would be an eye-opener for all British Columbians!


David Berner said...

Terrific piece, Robert.

I'll put a notice of it on my blog at once.

Good for you.


bb62 said...

Excellent post Robert!

Anonymous said...

Similarly, New York City, once famous for the mayhem on its streets, is now a far more civil and pleasant city than Vancouver (in terms of harassment by street people). On a four-day trip there last fall, I saw three homeless people and was bothered by panhandlers once. In Vancouver, I beat that rate after within a block of my apartment.

I believe that the public perceptions of city residents plays a large part in the aggressiveness of panhandlers. In Vancouver, people have been encouraged (by ineffectual governments seeking to evade their responsibilities by redefining the problem, and by highly effective addict advocacy groups such as DERA, VANDU, the Portland Hotel Society, etc) to feel sorry for the street people, to "help" (that is, enable) them. Vancouverites have bought in to the lie that addiction is a mental illness, that the poor street people are incapable of choosing any other life for themselves, that giving them money somehow helps them.

I see it all the time - beggars working the lineups at nightclubs, beggars claiming to be hungry, beggars hectoring people, following them for blocks. And people, rather than reacting with disgust and disdain, give them money - sometimes from fear (which is well-grounded, given that Vancouver beggars know they can operate with impunity), but usually out of some sense that they should help the poor people. (As if financing a drug habit helps anyone.)

Beggars will stop if people stop giving them money. Vancouver beggars get more numerous and aggressive because it works - because Vancouverites buy into the illogic. New Yorkers (and, I suspect, Hawaiians) do not.