British Columbia

Pretty Lonely: How the Stanley Cup riots stole Vancouver's fun

Event planners believe the ghost of the Stanley Cup riots still haunts city hall, keeping decision makers locked into a model of strict regulation which is stifling connection on our city streets.

'We have to take a risk. That was seven years ago,' says head of Vancouver's Downtown BIA

Charles Gautier, head of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said the ghost of the Stanley Cup riots still haunts city hall, keeping staff locked into a model of strict regulation of public space. (Geoff Howe/Canadian Press)

The nickname "No Fun City" has been tough for Vancouver to shake off.

Charles Gauthier of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association has a theory as to why that is.

He believes the tag has stuck because the ghost of the Stanley Cup riots still haunts city hall, keeping staff locked into a model of strict regulation of public space.

'That was seven years ago'

The 2011 Vancouver hockey riots erupted following the Vancouver Canucks' Stanley Cup final loss to the Boston Bruins.

Dozens of people were injured and arrested and millions of dollars worth of property in the downtown area was destroyed.

Following the riots, the city unveiled plans to prevent further public violence by cracking down on public drinking and promoting small, family-friendly events.

The result, according to Gauthier, is a lot of red-tape when it comes to large-scale events, which is stifling interaction in public spaces.

Some event planners say if Vancouver is going to succeed at fighting isolation, it has to do a better job of making it easier to hold events in public spaces by simplifying the application process and subsidizing costs.

"We have to take a risk. [The riot] was seven years ago. We have a whole new generation of young people who may have learned that lesson," Gauthier says.

Participants dance at Public Disco, an event planned by Nick Collinet. "People want more than just a city that has pretty nature," he said "They want culture and spaces that are alive." (Jennifer Wilson)

Over-regulated base camp

According to Nick Collinet, fighting isolation means transforming the city from an over-regulated base camp for outdoor pursuits into a place where street life can thrive.

Collinet, 28, is the director of Public Disco, a pop-up street party which takes place every couple of months.

"It's 2018. People want more than just a city that has pretty nature. They want culture and spaces that are alive, they want the city around them to feel alive."

Collinet started Public Disco in 2017 because he was frustrated by the stories of isolation he was hearing. He said he wanted to bring some fun back to the streets of his hometown.

It wasn't easy.

Once a public event is expected to attract more than 40 people, the permit application becomes 18 pages long and is complex to navigate. Getting a liquor licence for a public event requires further steps and Collinet said many young people he has worked with in Vancouver are put off by the process.

No money? No events

Gauthier said the financial costs borne by event planners in Vancouver are unpredictable and the city should help foot the bill.

Currently, event organizers are required to pay for the policing and clean-up costs related to their event.

When he was on the organizing committee for the New Year's Eve celebrations at Canada Place, Gauthier said the committee would receive an estimate from the city, but the final bill would often be hundreds of dollars more than the estimate.

"It's like saying: 'How much is a ticket to fly to Santa Fe?' And the answer is: 'We'll tell you when you get there."

People paint a wall in Mount Pleasant at Vancouver's Mural Festival. (Jennifer Wilson)

Devolving permit applications

Former city councillor Andrea Reimer believes another solution could be creating permit application offices in neighbourhoods across the city.

Reimer championed an event-permitting workshop at Gordon Neighbourhood House in 2018, which she described as a success.

City staff are expected to bring a report before council in 2019 based on that workshop.

Reimer said the report will likely suggest that, rather than a one-size-fits-all application,  the permit process be adapted to suit a variety of event sizes and styles.

Events can be a winter thing

Collinet said he has seen how successful interactive public spaces can be in cities like Montreal and Berlin.

As Public Disco rolls out winter events in 2018, Collinet would also like to see the city invest in more covered public spaces to allow for fun in rainy weather.

"There' s no reason we can't normalize this to being an every-weekend thing, a winter thing, a fall thing," he said.

"But it's going to take the city talking with people like me and other organizations to figure out how we can make it happen."

Pretty Lonely

This story is part of the radio and web series Pretty Lonely, which looks into why many Metro Vancouver residents in their 20s and 30s experience social isolation.

The five-part radio series, which airs on CBC Radio Nov. 19-23, is produced by Jennifer Wilson, this year's recipient of Langara College's Read-Mercer Fellowship.

Tune into The Early Edition on 88.1 FM or 690 AM, weekdays 5:10-8:37 a.m., to hear the series.

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