Lately in the news.

I’ve been feeling a bit bereft of blogposts lately. Not because I haven’t been thinking about a lot of things, responding internally to recent events, or processing my life as I always do – but because it’s seemed like too much is going on internally to attempt external synthesis in nice, concise postings about this or that topic. I’ve got moving on my mind, and beyond that I’ve been grappling with the hyper-real edge that Vancouver seems to have taken on in the last couple of months – am at once putting deeper roots into the city while at the same time wondering how tenable this urban environment is. Is Vancouver just going through a strange phase? Or is this the new permanent state in a downward spiraling economy both above and underground?

The gang violence, of course is part of what I am referring to – in the past I’ve largely ignored the rumblings from margins as the deaths have racked up – but seventeen deaths (and forty shootings) in three months is hard to tune out. Especially when they are happening in every quadrant of the city, taking their brazen place in the broad daylight of suburban streets and mall parking lots. It’s not that I feel unsafe because of them – these are very targeted killings endangering those who are involved in an underworld from which I am far removed. But they expose something real that I do fear – which is the sense that an increasing number of (young) people in my society have come to celebrate violence and the culture of it in such a total way. A quest for being tough or cool that disregards the preciousness of actual living and breathing in what is still a very privileged corner of the world – these mainly are not young men from severely impoverished communities – but from the middle class world of the suburbs and mall districts. Not that coming from these places wouldn’t be enough to drive anyone crazy – but because the models of subversion are so enmeshed in the culture from which they come – they mimic the most deadly aspects of civilization rather than seeking to overcome them. Machoism, competition, money-grubbing, wheeling and dealing. It’s no mystery where these values being emulated come from, but it is distressing to see their logical endpoint in the deaths of people who might otherwise have outgrown these behaviours to rise to their actual potential. Although there is also a more cynical side of me which figures that at least those who are prone to such ridiculous (and unnecessary) acts of “self-preservation” (which of course results in the opposite) are wiping themselves out. Not a very nice thing to say, but really one does have to wonder if there is any other way for this chapter of Vancouver’s gang history to end.

I think the whole thing has made people in the city pretty angry and edgy of late, not to mention the Vancouver police who last week shot and killed an unarmed homeless man because he wouldn’t stop walking when they shouted at him. Yes, I know he had an exacto knife, but I don’t really consider that “armed” (in the same way Dziekanski wasn’t armed because he picked up a stapler in a threatening manner), nor does any sane person in the city. Particularly disturbing is the report from someone who recorded the incident on his cel phone and was accosted by one of the officers who took the phone and erased the video before they cleared the scene – an indication that at least one of those constables present knew what was going down wouldn’t look too good if the whole story came out a la the Braidwood Inquiry. It’s obviously not the first time the VPD has killed an unarmed homeless or mentally ill person in this city – in fact it happens surprisingly often – but I wonder too if in a climate of urban warfare we have more of this to look forward to. That the public’s desire to see the police be “tough on crime” just gives the force greater license to behave badly. It’s all a little too “LA” for me – and in my whole life on the west coast I imagined this city would descend into American style crime and enforcement in the way it has.

But what really tweaks me about it is the fashion in which the violence and ugliness has been juxtaposed with the false clown mask of the Olympics, urging all citizens to join in the fun and get ready to welcome the world. As though a giant carnival is all that’s needed to restore civic pride, never mind the fact it’s draining the coffers of much needed program and development budgets for real community and youth programs. Sortof a hyper-real fun park against the backdrop of death and economic destruction motif that makes me wish I could afford to go away for the first three months of 2010 and miss it in all its immediacy. But really, that wouldn’t do it because they legacy is ours for decades to come in the form of misused public space and massive city debts. And at root I suspect that the real problem for Vancouver is that we are used to being just a city – and somehow we’ve turned the corner in the last few years and become a “big city” in the worst sense, not having figured out the underground vibrancy and urban colour that can also be a part of what defines it. We’ve got the gang wars, the corrupt cops, the blown city budgets, the late-night bar openings – but we haven’t seen the alternative arts scene, the punk rock booze cans, the community resistance that such economy of scale should bring. And so we’re empty at the moment, depressed, waiting for the prozac that is the Olympic period in February 2010 – knowing it’s not enough, that the crash will only come harder once we’re on the other side of it. How to extricate from it?

For now I’m moving further into my east van neighbourhood, putting down roots anew, focusing on my small community and looking for a community garden close by. There’s got to be some advantages to a big city – largely found in the interesting people and artists that surround us. Once I’ve got the Olympic ranting out of my system, I’m sure I’ll be fine – even if the city suffers long into the future for its madness.

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