Point of View

Vancouver 'mind-numbingly boring'? Look who's talking...

Vancouverites may be smarting from The Economist's dismissal of their city as "mind-numbingly boring." But is a magazine described as a Reader's Digest for the corporate elite really likely to be the best judge of fun?

A Vancouverite asks how likely The Economist magazine is to be the best judge of a fun city

Economist columnist Gulliver acknowledges Vancouver's liveability, but wants something a little more gritty for fun.

Is being called "mind-numbingly boring" by a mind-numbingly boring magazine an insult?

That's a question Vancouverites are asking as they consider The Economist's latest put-down: Torporville — a column that says increased livability has robbed the city of fun.

Being labelled dull by The Economist is a little like having Kim Kardashian accuse you of being vain.

This is, after all, a magazine that eagerly describes itself as a "product of the Caledonian liberalism of Adam Smith and David Hume." Yowza!

No Fun City

Regardless, the column pours salt on an old wound for a city that has long struggled with its wet-blanket reputation.

"Vancouver earned its reputation as a no fun city. Absolutely— we earned it, and we deserved it," says David Duprey, a bar owner who has been an outspoken critic of the city's lacklustre nightlife scene.

"But the fun-ness of Vancouver has changed radically in the past 10 years."

Believe it or not, that's high praise from a man who appeared in an award-winning documentary about Vancouver called — you guessed it — No Fun City.

Admittedly, Rio de Janiero provides tourists with experiences they can't get in Vancouver. But that's not always a good thing. (Pilar Olivares/Reuters)

Duprey says changes to provincial liquor laws, combined with a lively craft beer scene and wave of entrepreneurs, has ushered in a "more fun" era for Vancouver.

Perhaps not as fun as San Francisco or Portland, but getting there.

"I think Vancouver's fun," he says. 

"Could we be funner? Yes. I think we're all working towards making Vancouver a funner place."

'Where is the fun in nice?'

The Economist piece is penned by Gulliver, one of a stable of columnists who write for the magazine under pseudonyms like Charlemagne, Prospero and Schumpeter — so not pretentious at all.

Gulliver laments the edginess that has slipped away with gentrification in his own home town of London: mostly the constant threat of violence and being propositioned by prostitutes.

Apparently, he now looks for those things when he's on the road.

"Where is the fun in nice?" Gulliver asks.

"What right-minded person would rank Vienna a better city than Rio, or Vancouver preferable to Paris?"

One "right-minded person" might be The Economist's former Brazil correspondent, H.J., who lamented the country's crushing fear of violence in an article last year.

"Quite a few of the people I met in Brazil asked me about life in Europe or North America, and some would then say: 'I want to leave,'" H.J. writes.  

"The reason was always the same: violent crime. Uncannily often, even the words were the same: 'My children aren't safe here.'"

Why do we care?

Not that Vancouver doesn't have its share of dangerous places for Gulliver to sample: drugs, poverty and prostitution are close at hand in the Downtown Eastside, and a gang war is only a SkyTrain ride away in Surrey.

Vancouver's craft beers are so exciting they rarely remain in a glass for more than a few minutes. (CBC)

We don't put those attractions on the tourist brochures. Funnily enough, neither do Paris or Rio.

But if Vancouver does have one enduring problem, it's self-esteem.

From Expo 86 to the 2010 Winter Olympics, local politicians have talked about putting Vancouver on the map.

The city's beauty is undeniable: mountains, ocean, gleaming buildings.

But the moment anyone looks beyond the surface, we come off like a model sporting librarian glasses to prove they're a really deep, soulful and interesting person who just happens to be attractive.

Which is maybe why we're such easy pickings for magazines like The Economist.

This isn't the first time it has taken an ill-informed shot at Vancouver, lowering the city's 2011 livability rating, in part because of a traffic accident on Vancouver Island. 

Consider the source: this is, after all, a magazine that recently apologized for a review that criticized a book on slavery for not being objective, because it portrayed blacks as victims and whites as villains.

So, why do we care what Gulliver thinks of us?

Maybe we should feel sorry for him. After all, he was stuck in our mind-numbingly boring city, with only The Economist to keep him company.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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