Dream City

Dream City

By Lance Berelowitz
Douglas & McIntyre, January 1, 2005, $40

LANCE BERELOWITZ’s Dream City has the look and feel of a glossy coffee-table book, the kind you might pick up in a Vancouver Airport gift shop.The first impression isn’t helped by the knowledge that Berelowitz is also the editor of Vancouver’s ultimately successful Olympic-bid book.

But Berelowitz offers up more than tourism copy and sweeping panoramas of the Coast Mountains and English Bay. He looks at how Vancouver is finally entering the national and global consciousness, a myth-making exercise that began in earnest when the city hosted Expo 86 and that wonâe(TM)t be stopping anytime soon.

Berelowitz deftly zeroes in on some of Vancouver’s quirks: the way the city’s passion for its natural surroundings is in tension with a feeling of being hemmed in and intimidated by all that nature; the way parks and waterfront substitute for more traditional public spaces such as city squares and plazas; the city’s innovative (actually liveable!) social housing; and its now oft-duplicated strategies for revitalizing the downtown core (such as the carefully balanced city partnership with developers that has them building not just condos but parks, schools and arts facilities).

It is these qualities that make the city all at once a northern simulacrum of Los Angeles, a West Coast escape for Eastern Canadians, and Lotus Land. A city of dreams. Whether or not it lives up to its image is a another story.

Berelowitz is convincing in his argument that Vancouver has crafted itself as a “dream city” and a place for urban experimentation. But the book falls short on a couple of counts. The voices of other Vancouverites are rarely heardâe”the odd city planner, architect or designer is mentioned in passing, but where are Vancouverâe(TM)s mayors, activists and iconoclasts? Some of his criticism also feels unduly muted, as if Berelowitz is resigned to the problems of gentrification, commercialization of public space, and the continuing social catastrophe in the Downtown East Side.

Fortunately, his suggestions for improvement are loud and clear. He’d like the city to preserve and celebrate some of its excellent Modernist architecture, and continue to fight sprawl and unsustainable development. He also optimistically predicts that Vancouver will continue to increase in density, that its urban cultures will continue to mature and that the city will find a way to fuse nature with a vibrant public life. In short, not squander the opportunities it has already created for itself in its short life.âe” Ron Nurwisah