The Hunger Games

My daughter is driving with her husband to Texas and then back to Calgary by way of Chicago and some of the Northern states. It’s a business trip. “The worst part is the empty highways, Dad. You go for hours and pass through small towns most of which are like – or are – actual ghost towns. We have passed a lot of empty, deteriorating, shuttered places. It’s depressing.”

Sal and I were staying aboard a yacht moored in False Creek, Vancouver when she phoned to tell us that. We were surrounded by the modern high-rises of Yaletown. It was almost Hong Kong like in density.  ALMOST – not quite.  All around us was new and bustling – even the yachts. Jimmy Pattison’s immense yacht, Hotei, was a few berths from us and had a constant crew going out every few days. An even bigger one (After Eight) went out more often. The seawall has people on it all the time. So do the waters of False Creek – there is kayaking and dragon-boating and boating in every sort of way, all day every day – so much so that the ‘creek’ resembles much more a busy parking lot than a mooring place. The area is a hive of activity ten or even twenty more times what it was when we were last living here thirty-four years ago. Amazing.

And stupid-expensive. Street parking is $4.00 an hour. A simple Chinese food dinner sets us back $50.00. A metal water bottle sold at the Urban Fair Market was $58.00. (some imbecile ahead of me in the line up bought two!)  I think the city requires a person to make at least $100,000 a year to live downtown (more if you drink water!).  Maybe two could do it – barely – on $150,000 but, of course, they’d share community cars, ride bikes and hike for entertainment. Maybe share a water bottle?  It ain’t easy being a young Vancouverite.

Sharing cars, by the way, is brilliant.  A friend uses EVO (one of several such services).  He finds an EVO-car near his home in New Westminster, climbs in and starts it by way of his ‘phone’ and drives to Vancouver.  Downtown.  He parks in any one of many usually very-close by spots and locks up and walks away.  Total cost: $14.00.  Maybe less if it takes less than an hour.  No parking fees.  No gas or insurance.  No car payments or repairs.  If I lived in the penitentiary they now call Vancouver, I would do that.

But, I have to admit, it is all a much nicer environment than the little dead towns of the old Route 66 or similar ‘lost’ towns in the US.  Vancouver is nice.

Lesson: cities good. Small towns bad.

And it is all kind of news-to-me.  Kinda.  I have been to the Rust Belt. I have passed through the ghost towns of the Midwest. I have seen Appalachia. But I didn’t ‘put it all together’ like I did recently.  On my previous travels, I would usually find a nice place or eventually enter a larger town (Boise, Spokane, Taos, Albuquerque, etc) and the dead and dying spaces were quickly forgotten. Plus most of that traveling was done twenty years ago. It wasn’t as bad as it is now. I do recall being in Globe, Arizona, three years ago. Just outside Phoenix, that town was striking in its obvious death throes. It was rapidly falling into disrepair and vacancy. Given the juxtaposition (66 miles) to Phoenix, it was shocking.

Given our recent Thailand sojourn, it is now even more shocking.  Which country (USA or Thailand)is third world in YOUR mind?

But, in the past, I would remember the nice spots or the real horror shows and not really see all the more common, little dying towns dwarfed by a Walmart and gone in a blink. Such was the way of RV travel back in the day.

According to my daughter, small town USA is not doing even that well. Small town USA is in deep trouble.  Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul…..on the other hand….?

Trump knew it. The Deplorables know it.  The deplorables live there in Globe.

But, according to Michael Moore, the Democrats didn’t seem to know that or care. There is a scene in Fahrenheit 11/9 shot in Flint, Michigan, with Obama showing abysmal disregard for the water quality there.  The Dems, it was intimated, were too busy riding bikes, buying expensive water bottles and frequenting Starbucks to care about the deplorables. They forgot their hinterland. They forgot their country cousins. They worked on computers and did not get dirty. They became the modern ‘perceived elite’.

It’s really all about equality……………

The point? Vancouver is the centre of the BC universe and is doing very well, thank you. Vancouver is also very clean. Tourists are everywhere and it was even well-past the end of the tourist season when we were there.

The news reports that real estate prices are now ‘over the top’ and we all know what that means . . . every other price in Vancouver will soon follow. Vancouver will move from the much-vaunted ‘world class’ status to the ‘elite’ class and only the rich 1% will live here.  BCers (like us) will soon plan a ‘visit’ to Vancouver like we do to New York, London or Tokyo. Whether you accept it or not, you (if you are a BC’er) have been shunted to the lower echelon. Most of you/us, anyhow.

Personally, I am actually more than OK with that.  World class, I am NOT.

I’m not so sure, though, that small town BC will go the way of the Rustbelt or Globe, Arizona. It seems, at least on Vancouver Island, the opposite is happening. Nanaimo is more expensive, active, growing. Comox is too. Even Campbell River is keeping pace to some extent.  But Victoria may soon go ‘over the top’ on cost of housing and, eventually, cost of living.  I wonder about Cranbrook, Nelson, Salmon Arm and Vernon. Are these towns going the way of decay and vacancy as the migration to the city continues?  Or are the baby-boom retirees and the urban rejects keeping them viable?

Is that what happened in Ontario? Is that how a populist like Doug Ford follows on the heels of Trump? Do the small-towns-dying create more deplorables who reject the ‘new establishment’ and the foreigners and the latte mochas all at the same time? Is that how it works?  Is this how we are divided as a country, as a province, as citizens?

If there is a whiff of plausibility in that crazy picture, it would do Horgan and the gang in Victoria a lot of good to put additional resources into the small towns. If they don’t and we turn against each other (like in the US), some new Nazi-wannabe will emerge from the financial sewers promising to make BC great again.

9 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

  1. Small town British Columbia services logging, ranching, some dairy farming , recreational properties and mining. Service centres offered locally are key to small town survival. A friend recently bought a 1200 square foot home on one half an acre close to a town for $100,000 Canadian dollars. Spent $30,000 on renovations. A fully serviced property, including wifi.. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Winters are dark and long but offer a large variety of winter sports.


  2. The housing sales market has stalled in the larger urban areas of BC.
    Prices are dropping. Sales stagnating. Sept sales in Vancouver are down 43% from last year. Stick a fork in it…this real estate ponzi is cooked.
    And there is a 100% chance Canada will raise its bank rate by at least a quarter point this month with another rate rise possibly by Dec 31st.
    Fewer people are qualifying for mortgages with the new B20 rules and a 100k salary doesnt impress the money lenders here unless you have huge equity.

    The US employment numbers come out tomorrow and are astounding. 500,000 new jobs.
    With inflation rearing its ugly head we can only expect more US rate rises. Which means Canada must follow suit if they want our dollar to hold on at 78 cents.
    Canadian economists are predicting three rate rises in Canuckda by Dec 2019.
    Not good for house sales.

    Stay tuned. It may not just be small communities along Route 66 that will require life support



    • ooops!
      Employment numbers in the US “only 170,000 last month.
      My bad.
      3.6 % unemployment.
      Lowest unemployment rates since the Beatles had a #1 on the charts and a Ford Mustang cost $2500.00
      Stock markets took a crap.
      Canuck buck wobbly.
      Chances of a Canadian interest rate hike on Oct 24th …. 100%
      Kiss those Realtor commissions bye bye


  3. It is social Darwinism. That’s pretty deplorable. Employment increases are one thing, ensuring a decent living wage is another.

    Investing in small communities is critical. In Australia, this means giving subsidies or special concessions to big mining interests to stick a coal mine next to the town, which is quite off-putting for tree changers and young families who want to live in clean places. So these communities are evermore dependent on the sole employment provider, at least until the resource or the subsidies run out. Meanwhile big companies donate big bucks to sympathetic political parties and the voters become more polarised. Investment in public infrastructure is vital. Clean water, clean land, good quality healthcare and schools, communication systems, etc. Places that get these type of investments are normally marginal electorates. I’m looking to live in one of those places. I just need to keep my mouth shut when I’m there about the politics.

    My sister-in-law just came back from Vancouver. She said it was lovely. In the same manner that Sydney is lovely. Beautiful harbour, great coffee, etc. But most people can’t afford to live there.


  4. Thanksgiving! Bah, humbug. I had an absolutely fantastic one with 15 family members, a turkey AND a ham, but no cauliflower.
    But after cleaning up the dirty dishes and reading the Climate Change, Site C farce and tRumps nefarious activities I wonder it I’ll see another one.
    While I DO give thanks for the current year I wonder what the future holds for my children and grand children. I hope they’ll still be able to celebrate Thanksgiving!


  5. Hi Dave I read your blog and as usual I am on the same page. I have just finished my latest read “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari it will be enough to depress you about us homo sapiens and where we are going plus his comments on religions is thought provoking. Bill Byrson wrote a book about the mid-west I think called The Lost Continent” something more positive is the CBC show Still Standing about small towns struggling across Canada, I love the show. We just returned from three weeks in Portugal possibly the nicest people after Canadians on the plant.
    All our love sorry we missed you in Vancouver.
    Judy and Trevor


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