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Vancouver manifests crapulous real estate hubris in grotesque paean to post-apocalyptic capitalism

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What is left to say about Vancouver's real estate market? I suppose we could begin with the ritualistic monotony of citing the latest in a long line of studies that names Vancouver as the second-most unaffordable city in the world. For the seventh year in a row. Ho hum, no one can afford to live here, ever. And politicians at every level across party lines stuff their hands in their pockets trying to hide now their embarrassment, now their incompetence.

Then, I suppose we could move on to Vancouver's latest celebrities, Eric and Ilsa, a couple who scrapes by rent-free on the meager income of $450,000 per year. The Globe and Mail published the most Globe-and-Mail story in its 170 year history and somehow failed to spontaneously burst into flame with the universe imploding around it. I've been turning this article around in my head for over a week now and I'm still struck dumb.

Who comes out worse here? Eric and Ilsa, for being so out-of-touch with regular people that they somehow failed to anticipate the enormous backlash against them? The Globe, for apparently hiring Canada's first-ever trolling intern to bring poor bashing and rich-people agitprop to new and baffling levels? Or the rest of us, for being the stupid suckers we've always been -- not only reading this tripe and failing to treat Canada's "paper of record" with the contempt it deserves, but living in a city that makes this scenario in any way plausible and not putting those responsible in Gulags.

No matter. File this confounding tale of woe away with other similar parables of absurdity: crack shack or mansion? or Are you fucking kidding me, Vancouver? or this shocking compendium of Vancouver's architectural heritage now sitting in the Delta DLC landfill. Vancouverites need to adopt a baseline sense of incredulity just to navigate their daily, ludicrously unaffordable lives. Taking the preposterous as normal becomes a survival mechanism.


The Icepick

How else is this monstrosity possible? How else does this become a real thing that real human beings meticulously designed and said to each other, "yes, let us put it here" in good faith and in all seriousness? Michael Kluckner dubbed it "The Icepick," apparently after Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. The "building" (sic) itself is terrifying, in a Fritz Lang Metropolis kind of way. But the way it fits into the existing urban landscape (the 1914 Waterfront Station building, a heritage site, is next door) is much like it must have looked when Cthulhu awoke from his slumber and prepared to swallow the world.

In his defences of The Icepick, Vancouver's director of planning and development Brian Jackson has insisted that "provocative" architecture is necessary for a modern and "mature" city like Vancouver. I guess. If your idea of "provocation" is walking into a house party with a white t-shirt with the words "I AM SO RICH" printed on it. While draped in a headdress of solid gold.

Everyone hates it, obviously. Even the Sun's Jeff Lee (although he tempered his view this morning) and the NPA's Michael Geller. Pulp Fiction's Chris Brayshaw opined that "this thing looked better in the 2001 Sim City expansion pack." Local designer and writer Lindsay Brown asked if it is meant to represent "the 1% trapped under mountains of money." There is no doubt that this hideous cathedral of glass and light is tied up with bizarre fantasies of capital and futurity. But tellingly, as Brown says in a Facebook post, it is "the sort of hubris-filled idea of architecture that would only fly in the Hicksville or small pond that Vancouver is repeatedly proving itself to be."

In the real capitals of capital -- London, Hong Kong, New York -- we repeatedly see hyper-phallic monuments erected to global finance. The Gherkin, The International Commerce Center, the, um, World Trade Centre. They are still grotesque, of course, in the sense that capitalism is grotesque, but at least they're not so damn boorish about it. The same people that cringe whenever Toronto's politicians talk about their "world-class city" should double down every time a big-name Vancouver architect gets a gas cloud of inspiration. 

Meanwhile, this charming piece of Vancouver's cultural fabric is slated for demolition. What else is new, right? But it is endlessly infuriating that the things that actually make Vancouver a cool place to live, grow and flourish within (Malcolm Lowry!) are consistently flattened to be replaced by the shittiest humankind has to offer. I am perpetually amazed how any politician -- even the most shameless -- can look her electorate in the face. I suppose it is no accident that both B.C.'s premier and Vancouver's mayor seem to be molded out of the same high-grade polycarbonate that will do doubt buttress The Icepick's hateful colonnades.

The last two elections, provincial and municipal, have proved that the electoral realm cannot save us. At this point, it is hard to believe that anything will. As always, Vancouverites will take the only solace available to us: see how much bitterness we can cram into our laughter before it chokes us cold.


Many thanks to Lindsay Brown for hosting an edifying (so to speak) conversation about The Icepick on her Facebook wall.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article mistakenly said that architect Michael Green defended the Icepick with misattributed quotes. In fact, the defences were made by Vancouver's General Manager of Planning and Development Brian Jackson.

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