A Tale of Two Cities: Vancouver vs. New York

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Vancouver vs New York City

Vancouver is often touted as a world class city by local boosters. While the costs of living and real estate prices are certainly indicative of that caliber, our culture (or lack thereof) and the locals inability to get to know themselves without making a big stink about how dissatisfied we are with one another, leaves us to question whether or not our very young city is really ready to step up onto the global stage. There’s only so many years a city can ride on having hosted the lesser of the Olympics, no matter how many gold medals were won by locals. Only so many venues can close before the so-called ‘creative’ class finally throws in the towel and leaves everything to the mercy of developers, corrupt political parties and their sycophant friends. So since I’ve just returned from a five month stint in New York, I’ve been asked by the good people at Vancity Buzz to write up a piece comparing some of the finer points of life in both cities.

Geography and Population

Simply put, New York City is massive. Even though it’s got roughly half the area of Metro Vancouver, the population density is double what we’re able to muster. Over eight million people packed together day in and day out make a busy stroller and shopper laden weekend on Robson Street look like a day in the park. Narrow streets and buildings dominate, but let’s just say that after seven years of driving in Vancouver neighborhoods and dealing with our ‘idiosyncratic’ commuter culture, it wasn’t particularly difficult to adapt to the ebb and flow of New York traffic. Much like in Vancouver, it’s a specific kind of insanity encouraging a person to actually use their car to get around and try to find parking downtown, which explains that while many people own a car, they use it sparingly. Also like Vancouver, New York is a port city, with dozens of waterways and canals crisscrossing Manhattan and the Five Boroughs. However, you won’t often see pleasure crafts idly sailing by as they do through False creek and English bay. Instead, you have ferries, shuttling commuters back and forth between the city core and outlying areas.


Transit and Getting Around

New Yorkers have a healthy contempt for those who choose to get around by automobile,unlike Vancouver – their contempt stems from the high-minded delusion of becoming the “World’s Greenest City” (what does that even mean?). In Gotham, it’s a case of practicality and the fact there’s not enough room for everyone and their brand new crossover. Hefty tolls are charged to use New York’s bridges and tunnels and dissuade those who just want to go for a leisurely midday joyride. Those who complain bitterly about the four dollar charge on the Port Mann would do right by checking themselves against the $13 it costs to cross the George Washington Bridge EACH WAY, every day.

The smart cookie uses the famous New York subway. With about 24 lines, give or take, the subway moves over 5 million people a day quickly, efficiently and cheaply. $2.50 will take you anywhere you need to go, from the southern most point of Brooklyn, all the way to deepest darkest Harlem, to Queens and beyond, as long as you stay within the confines of the stations. Yes, the trains get crowded, but even though space is at a premium on that early morning commute, I did not once have the dubious pleasure of witnessing the angry crush of a Vancouver-style, Skytrain shoving match.

New Yorkers are hip to crowds and how to move around in them without getting angry at one another for accidentally bumping someone with their courier bag. While the MTA is just as corrupt as our Translink, they do understand that if you keep the people on the move and can get them to work and home on time and on budget, they’re less likely to complain about the service. And so, there’s always some multi-billion-dollar project going on to expand and improve on the several hundreds of miles of track buried under the ground. Whereas in Vancouver, there are far more important stuff to take care of, like cutting bus route frequency and installing complicated and unproven fare gates to stem the ever-rising tide of free riders, instead of putting in more rapid transit along North America’s busiest corridor.

As a side note, the New York subway is a great equalizer. You never know if that scuzzy looking hobo type is actually a dotcom millionaire or famous actor. Everyone takes the train. And the one thing I must admit here though, is that with respect to just the Skytrain experience, nothing can beat seeing the gorgeous scenery of the lower mainland whiz by at 80 km/h from a vantage point two stories in the air. I guess we really are paying for the view here.



Housing and Real Estate Development

I’m no expert when it comes to discussing the finer points of housing and real estate, however as someone who at this point can never even hope to think of one day dreaming about the mere thought of buying a property in or around Vancouver, it’s important to mention that many New Yorkers are in the same boat. I was warned that everything is much more expensive in NYC, but this isn’t true at all. If anything, prices for lodging are almost exactly the same. My trendy, 1500 square foot loft cost close to, if not slightly less, than what you’d end up paying here, which is about three grand per month. And just like here, it pays to have roommates.

There are always new development projects happening all over the city, with walk-ups and high rises popping up all over New York, like zits on a teenager’s chin, boasting deals “starting at only 500K!” The difference between there and here is less of a marketing push. Of course, there are the requisite flyers falling out of every free weekly, but I didn’t notice such an in-your-face attempt as Vancouver’s to get me to sign over the next 30 years of my wages in exchange for a tiny, poorly built shoebox in the sky. Nor did I see any buildings wanting to have sex with the handsome new 12 story about to go up just off Bedford. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t looking, or there was a lack of real estate focused billboards, I don’t recall.

New Yorkers, while dealing with various gentrifying forces, are less likely to complain about being priced out of their neighborhoods thanks to fairly rigorous rent control initiatives, which, like the subway, place the rich and poor side by side, often in the same building. Still, just like Vancouverites, there are grumblings among Gotham locals about everything going condo and being sold to absentee foreign investors. But boy did they have a laugh when I showed off CrackshackorMansion.com.


Work and Leisure

There’s nothing like being able to work from a giant multinational coffee distribution conglomerate’s storefront. The freedom of not being shackled to some office cubicle is like sweet ambrosia to those of us choosing to make Vancouver our home. But the blurring of life and leisure is a concept foreign to many New Yorkers. With the average New York workweek inching close to 50 hours, the idea of being able to take a three hour walk along the seawall between meetings is something akin to seeing unicorns or dragons roaming the streets. That being said, the hardest working city in the world is nothing if not an epic party town. Bars are everywhere and stay open LATE, since a lot of people punch the clock at 6:30 p.m. rather than 4 p.m. Within two square blocks of my apartment in Brooklyn, I counted no less than six watering holes, all offering lengthy happy hours, a wide variety of locally brewed craft beers, and the tried and true five dollar beer and shot special. If nine dollar pints and $20 per ounce whiskeys are more your speed, there’s plenty of overpriced dives in Manhattan.

There isn’t an entertainment district like we have here in Vancouver, with N.Y. city bureaucrats taking a more liberal approach to the idea that people can and usually do police themselves pretty well. Speaking of police, much like our local cops, the original “Boys in Blue” are heavily militarized, brutal and murderous. Try to stay away from them no matter where you are, because the Stop and Frisk law will put down anyone for looking strange, or behaving in a way considered to be out of the ordinary.

One of the worst things about New York, I have to say, are the ridiculous prices being charged for recreational drugs. Coke reigns supreme, as does high quality MDMA, but when it comes to the natural stuff like weed and mushrooms, expect to put up at least double to what you’d pay here on the left coast. Vancouver takes the cake when it comes to things to do outside. I was oddly proud to see the looks of astonishment on people’s faces when I described being able to do a few morning snowboard runs down Grouse and to hit the beach by noon, or the wonders of an evening walk along the Seawall. New Yorkers beat us out with the volume of people who use their bikes to get around. With or without helmets, these folks brave the mean streets and weave expertly between honking cars, hoping not to get doored by some oblivious four-wheeled airhead.


Art and Culture

There’s really nothing to compare. Being the hub of North American art and culture puts New York light years ahead of anything Vancouver can even attempt to offer. They simply have more and better schools, museums, theatres, galleries, television / film productions and live venues. It’s where the ideas we think are ours come from.

Nothing in the world of Vancouver culture exists without paying its due to the city that never sleeps. In fact, the city of New York is so keenly aware of the billions of dollars that art and culture bring to their coffers, it does everything in its power to facilitate new works and projects. Sure beats that poodle on Main, or the next season of The Real Housewives of Vancouver. But seriously, there’s always a new venue opening somewhere, be it an indie movie theatre in Williamsburg, or a high-tech arts incubator hidden away somewhere in the Bowery. Whereas in Vancouver, it seems that every other day there’s another closure or some not-for-profit going belly up after running out of government cheese. If art and culture is what you seek, go east, or put your nose to the grindstone and create it yourself.


Food

Both Vancity and NYC pride themselves on their ability to consistently produce amazing things to eat. And I can’t argue with either city’s claim on gastronomic superiority. From the greasiest of greasy spoons to the heights of molecular gastronomy, both here and there are a foodist’s paradise. That is all.

Business

At this very moment in New York City, there are over 900 tech start-ups ready to hire 3000 people. From the latest hit app, to the renaissance of the American manufacturing sector, there are dump trucks full of money being offered up by VCs hoping to score big on the next great innovation. And while most people think a stint on Wall Street is the be all and end all of business success, the tens of thousands of small business owners setting up shop in NYC would beg to differ. Regulations have been streamlined to allow new business owners a fast track to getting set up and making money for the local economy. Meanwhile, here on the west coast, it’s harder than ever for a small operation to bootstrap itself and begin making a difference in our increasingly chaotic economic climate.

Even with the appearance of several start-up incubators here in the city, their almost exclusive focus on apps and software leaves ignored the talents of those who can actually make real products, as opposed to simply banging out a few thousand lines of code. Still, not all is lost as there will be tons of work available to those who are willing to put aside their ethics and devalued BA’s to take a lucrative position on the impossible to stop Northern Gateway pipeline project.


People and Dating

Last year’s Why Do Vancouver Men Suck article caused an uproar among the singles set. Both sexes lashed out at one another like spoiled children, pointing fingers in accusation of being aloof, boring, unapproachable or just downright mean. Now while I have never had any problems here in town with meeting people and scoring, this is not the case for many lonely, entitled singles who won’t settle for anything less than what they think they deserve.

The scene in Vancouver is like shopping for any number of consumer products. The humanity of the situation has been eradicated in favour of online dating (which worked fine for me) or even worse, the burgeoning matchmaking industry. While in New York, the place where OKCupid is the straight equivalent of Grindr, I was approached by friendly members of both sexes. Some of whom were just down for a drink and pleasant conversation with a new friend, or some just down to knock boots. Being a loyal guy who loves his lady, I had to decline several kind offers to participate in some form of nocturnal emission or another, but couldn’t help thinking of how much happier people in Vancouver would be if they just let go of their preconceived notions of what a perfect partner should be.

As New Yorkers know, love is just as much a numbers game as high finance. You win some and you lose some, but you’ll never know your worth unless you have the stones to play. Romance aside, the people of New York have learned, through tragedies like 9/11 that even though everyone is out for themselves, people sometimes need to stick together. I haven’t had an easier time making friends anywhere, and was welcomed by everyone I had the pleasure of meeting socially, to join their circle, without any feelings of pressure or awkwardness.

Poverty and Gentrification

Both cities have a long, storied history of class division. The rich and poor locked in a constant struggle over who should benefit from material and social wealth. Vancouver has the distinction of spawning several world famous social and environmental initiatives, most recent of which is the famous Occupy movement. But it took a massive protest in New York’s financial district to really bring the movement to the forefront. And where else can you find a government sponsored ever growing poverty industry, working hand in hand with real estate developers to keep the status quo in Canada’s poorest postal code, but in Vancouver’s downtown eastside?

New York’s poor are kept out of sight for the most part, with the marginalized being quickly incarcerated by the constabulary, or by being stuck in parts of town that no one in their right mind would dare set foot in. Whereas here, our municipal, provincial and federal governments see fit to let exist a literal circus freakshow of mentally ill and drug addicted citizens, running rampant throughout the rapidly shifting wastelands of the DTES.

Only in fabulous Vancity will you find activists picketing a new restaurant for the crime of opening in what could be described as a shithole, demanding the state build housing for those who are most difficult to keep indoors. Whereas only in New York will you find an armless Vietnam veteran, making 500 to a thousand dollars a day by guilting coked-up Wall Street Pat Bateman lookalikes into forking over a 20 dollar bill. Regardless of what we think we know about poverty in either city, it’s far too complex an issue to examine in a blog post such as this and I’ll leave it to the experts.


Conclusion

If New York is a grand dame of the urban world, gaudy, spackled with lights and experienced in the ways of love and war, then Vancouver is like a naturally beautiful teenage girl: not sure of what she yet wants or what she’s capable of, only that she’s good looking enough to, for now, have her pick of suitors at the expense of those who really have her best interests at heart.

Both cities have their advantages. The fresh air and great tasting water of Vancouver is something easily taken for granted, until you sample what can only be described by the ever popular “tastes and smells like shit” offerings of the Big Apple. Rent and costs of living between NYC and Vancouver are practically identical, with food and booze being somewhat cheaper in the Big City, depending on where you shop.

Fashion-wise, it’s no contest. We in Vancouver dress like slobs, whereas even the most disenfranchised New Yorkers try to spruce themselves up, a little bit, every day. Proximity to easily accessible nature is Vancouver’s domain, while New York leaves us looking like drooling yokels in the proverbial dust when it comes to anything cultural. Rapid transit was pretty much invented by cities like Gotham, while here in the vast lands of the Pacific Northwest, it’s still considered a relative novelty by the powers that be, who prefer we still get around in a gas guzzling SUV.

All in all, these are two different places, with their own unique styles, so is it even really fair to compare the two? Well, if Vancouver wants to keep waving the world class flag, she’d better get used to being compared to those with a few hundred years experience, because beauty and access to a lot of natural resources can only take her so far.


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  • Apgill

    Great

  • Guest

    Apes and orangutans.

  • Perspective

    Thank god one of you finally went to NYC. Hopefully it was a wakeup call and the embarrassing comparisons between our cities will finally come to an end (see “Stanley Park vs. Central Park”).

  • Stupidarticle

    Why are you posting this article? Is this person secretly working for Tourism NYC? You cannot compare NYC as its MASSIVE. Vancouver is a med-sized high density city. 

  • Van Hipster

    People here call this city world class. Population doesn’t matter but you are right it’s apples to oranges but the article shed some light on Vancouver’s problems. I enjoyed it. 

  • Clueless

    I am sorry but living 5 months in NYC you are basically still a tourist. You do not point out any real problems that NYC has and there are tons, considering the city is never ranked in one of the best cities to live in in the world (for reason)

  • Robito

    Excellent article.  I’m sure that many reading this will take it as a personal attack on themselves, as so many people in Vancouver actually equate the city they wish existed with themselves, which is creepy.  As for Clueless statement, you sound like your typical Vancouver or San francisco snob.   In New York or Los Angeles (read: real cities), you’re on the team inside six months.  People in these cities are interested in living their lives it seems, and not surreptitiously advertising the fact that yes, they live in Vancouver.  In Vancouver all people want to know is where you work and how much you make.  In New York or LA people want to know who you are and what you think.

  • Um

    “Even though it’s got roughly half the area of Vancouver, the population density is double what we’re able to muster.”

    Vancouver is not double the area of New York City. It doesn’t even compare in size. 

  • ED

    Good article, but you cannot just write 4 sentences on Food.  Some of the best restaurants in the World are in New York…EMP, Per Se, Shake Shack…just to name 3 off the top of my head.  Vancouver too has a couple fantastic casual eateries (ie. Boneta’s).  You cannot write an article about two great cities without expanding on restaurants (old vs. new) and where to shop for fresh, healthy, ingredients (farmer’s markets vs. places like Granville Island).

  • http://twitter.com/Hipsterdesigner Hipster Designer

     I’ve eaten at a few places in NYC and will do a piece on them later.

  • Titsandass

    iS THIS A JOKE? Oh CAN- NAH -DUH …. 

  • Jimslim

    Vancouver is a retirement home! come on.. really how the f would compare this to NYC? lol Oh wait we got mountains..and  oh beautiful? and Cannucks, oh and we import 80% of our goods and one of the most expensive cities where a man has to throw away 90% of income in rent what F’n joke! not to mentions men who act like they are extremely wealthy and women who find that attractive, NYC feeds, Vancity Takes! what ever Vancitybuzz just needs to suck it up and stop comparing our bubble with cities with “histories”

  • Mapgeek

    Your maps aren’t to scale. I did it the right way months ago. Want me to send you the file? 

  • Cotter

    There are lots of bone-headed statements in this article. But one of the biggest has to be “actually make real products, as opposed to simply banging out a few thousand lines of code.” You clearly have no idea how much effort goes into writing software or how much software companies contribute to the economy. It’s a hell of a lot more than goes into writing articles for this rag!

  • Rommyghaly

    I love how many Vancouverites rely on “best city to live in” rankings for validation.

  • Vacation you is different

    Remember. When you’re on vacation you’re more open to new things and meeting new people and more open in general. You’re probably a different person when you’re here in Vancouver so that could affect your judgment on the friendliness and openness of others.

  • Van

    Let’s see, super city of 8 mill that’s been around for a few hundred years compared to vAncity at 650 k and a 125 years young……..pretty pointless comparison really. Same with London, where I lived before. Given the 8 million more souls, it ought to have more going on. A more realistic comparison is vAncity vs Seattle, or Manchester or how about Perth? That being said, Vancouver offers so much in a small package. Decent, compact city, very walkable, enviable access to the outdoors and evolving.

  • JS

    It is a joke to compare any city to NYC! Their is nothing like NYC especially not this place here. You want to know “quality of life”? It is when people actually acknowledge you as a living entity! Try talking to a random girl on Vancity’s street….. Gluck!

  • http://www.604yvr.tumblr.com/ 604YVR

    Your right. Central Park is nowhere as nice as Stanley Park!

  • Westcoastboi

    wow … such comparisons is usually a Toronto thing.  I always thought Vancouver was incomparable. 

  • http://www.twitter.com/danrevill Dan Revill

    Rommy, it’s all we’ve got! Don’t take it away from us!

  • http://www.twitter.com/danrevill Dan Revill

    In order for Vancouver to approach even being like NYC, it would require North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby and New Westminster ceasing to exist as separate cities, and instead become boroughs, like New York has. I don’t know if this would actually make more sense in the long run, but given that some people living in these areas already consider themselves Vancouverites, it’s probably not a stretch to think it would be embraced.
    I have only been to NYC once, but it’s a much more pulsating entity than Vancouver is. Vancouver may be a one of a kind city, but to even think that it is is the big leagues of NYC or Chicago or LA is ludicrous (I would throw Toronto into that mix, but I have yet to be there, so I can only go on hearsay).

  • Van

    Wow, what a shallow comment, falling on tired clichés….the big apple is the epi centre of the see and be seen crowd. Wall street has come to define the upwardly mobile where one’s earnings are viewed as the hallmark of success.

  • Carl

    “darkest Harlem” …

  • Michael Nedelec

    New York City is 783 square kilometres vs Vancouver 115 sq. k — so its almost 7 times the physical size! not sure what stat. the writer is using as a comparison? 

  • Letsbeatouristandreportback

     Firstly, this article is a pointless one comparing such different size cities. A tourist for 5 months. Way to go.

    Transportation: NYC Subway is $2.50 but it does not last 1.5hrs like the Skytrain. So you cannot go somewhere do some errands and come back again and not pay. You didnt notice being squeezed into a NYC subway, than you didnt ride at rush hour?

    Do you even live in Vancouver? You claim that Vancouver uses our gas guzzling SUV’s. Last time I checked we have the lowest car/person ration in North America! Its one of the most walkable cities/transportation/car sharing friendly cities in NA especially for its size.

  • Shallow

    Sounds like a shallow, ego-driven piece written by a smitten tourist. Frankly, you lost me at your belittling and disrespectful “lesser of the Olympics” comment five lines in. However, I can respect a decent comparison, but what’s the point in comparing cities? They each have problems and both have wonderful things to offer that are unique not to just each other, but every city. An NYC/Vancouver comparison doesn’t make sense anyway. If you’re going to boast about New York’s history, culture and cuisine, then maybe even-up the odds, make it more fair. How about NYC vs. Madrid. But, again, what would be the point?

  • Vince

    GREAT ARTICLE. Agree with everything. Vancouver is still a small fishing village

  • sully54

    I’ve read a lot of ridiculous things on VancityBuzz but this by far has to be one of the ridiculous. 

    The person who wrote this sounds like such a pretentious jerk calling New York “Gotham” as if they’re on first name basis with the city. I have yet to meet a New Yorker who routinely calls their city Gotham. This writer said it 3 times. 

    And the tone of this post is so far from being balanced. I don’t care if Vancouver gets compared to other cities and its deficiencies are revealed in the process (because let’s face it, Vancouver is far from perfect) but the bias of this article is so imbalanced, it makes it seem like the writer is trying to justify the 5 months they spent there by writing about how much they think they enjoyed it in New York. 

    If the author is telling the truth and VancityBuzz did ask for this piece to be written, then I just have to ask: VancityBuzz, are you that insecure about where Vancouver stands in comparison to other cities that you just had to commission this article to be written? What were you expecting to be the result of comparing a city which has had a 200 year head start to Vancouver? Vancouver doesn’t stand a chance against cities like New York. Why even pretend?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with many of the points raised in this article. But the tone of this article blatantly and consistently paints Vancouver to be this wannabe city and New York to be so much better. It just seems like the author is somehow so embarrassed to be living here that they feel the need to belittle this city in the process of doing a simple comparison between New York. 

  • sully54

    oh and by the way, Sophia Loren (second to last photo above Pamela Anderson’s) isn’t from New York. She doesn’t even live there.

  • Dennis Kam

     Shake Shack really?

  • Dennis Kam

    Well-written opinion piece, I know a lot of people are angry at this attempt but I personally think you’ve been observant during your 5 months here.

  • http://twitter.com/hthrwritesstuff Heather Stoutenburg

    Ok Gotham made me cringe, but so does (ugh) “Van City.”

  • Katia

    Sully you’re an idiot 

  • Guest

    Interesting article. It’s interesting reading the comments below. Although I do believe NYC does have a lengthy head start on urban / cultural development, compared to Vancouver’s rather young upstart. But I say why not compare. NYC is used as the standard to compare cost of living in these ‘best city’ reports – so indeed let’s compare and see where Vancouver falls short. Great Article.

  • Stomko

    I lived in New York for 5 years, up until 4 years ago. In Vancouver for the rest of my life. I find it next to impossible to compare the cities in any of these categories. They are so rapidly different. I can’t say one is better than the other, but I’m personally more comfortable here. It honestly took about 3 years before I started realizing NYC wasn’t the place for me. The first 2-3 years was like a vacation, but going through ups and downs in my personal & professional life is when I learned what New York was really like. Both cities are world class, but it’s not fair to compare them or their people.

  • http://twitter.com/MattFoulger Matt Foulger

    “Deepest darkest Harlem”… yeeesh. Don’t know if you meant to sound like Marlow looking for Kurtz in the jungle, but this wording is ignorant. And as other commenters have pointed out, there’s not much to gain from a comparison of NYC and Vancouver. We have a lot to learn from NY especially in terms of its approach to transportation but it’s important to take some historical perspective. One other line that stood out for its lack of subtlety was “Speaking of police, much like our local cops, the original “Boys in Blue” are heavily militarized, brutal and murderous”. Is that your take on Vancouver’s police force? You’re essentially equating them with the NYPD? Consider how differently the two police departments handled the Occupy demonstrations, for example. There are just too many glib, facile statements in your essay. Hate to say it but you sound like the kid in high school who spent the summer in London and came back with an affected accent. And I love NYC.