Is Vancouver a Liveable City?

The Vancouver skyline from Kitsilano, British Columbia

Once again, Vancouver stands proud in the top 10 of the world’s most liveable cities. If you missed the recent news, you’ve probably eyeballed a similar article at least once over the last few years. Or, you’ve seen various publications flood your Facebook feed to remind everyone just how awesome the city is. Vancouver – or Raincouver, Glass City, Hollywood North, Vansterdam, however you’re inclined – was this year ranked the 6th most liveable city according to the Economist, falling shy of the top five spots to Vienna, wonderful Melbourne, Osaka, Calgary, and Sydney. But in reality, is Vancouver a liveable city?

Beautiful Vancouver skyline from Kitsilano Beach

So, what makes a city ‘liveable’, you might be wondering? This particular report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (and there are a few out there, many listing Vancouver near the top) bases its results on some key factors: stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education, and infrastructure.

Having lived in Vancouver for well over a year now, I’m putting this theory to the test. Is Vancouver really as liveable as they reckon it is?

Is Vancouver a liveable city?

Yes, absolutely

Firstly, here’s a roundup of why I totally agree with this report and why Vancouver is such a liveable city. Here goes…

Natural beauty

I mean, this has to be one of the most obvious points. Those photos of the city with its sprawling, snow-capped blue mountains, ocean, and glossy turquoise skyscrapers are pretty iconic and can’t really be mistaken for anywhere else in the world but Vancouver. It’s certainly poles apart from the piss-stained streets of central London, and it’s less suffocating than the urban jungle of New York City – one could even say you can breathe here!

I still feel like a tourist most days (I have an embarrassing amount of landscape shots on my iPhone). Yet there really isn’t a lot that can beat the blue hues of the mountains, the freakin’ awesome sunsets, and the sparkling Pacific Ocean right on the city’s doorstep. People are also extremely caring about the city and its environment. This seems to go hand in hand with living in such a beautiful place. In true testament to the birthplace of Greenpeace, recycling is in abundance and it aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

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Living and working downtown

I absolutely know it’s pretty damn unlikely I’ll ever have another ten minute walk to work again in my life. For that Vancouver, I salute you. The compact nature of Vancouver is pretty unique as a reasonably small city, and quite frankly, it’s bloody awesome. Many people are able to live downtown thanks to the plethora of apartments in the downtown core. This means residential areas have both the general hubbub of the city and businesses, making it perfect for young professionals and families alike. For a lot of people it means you can cram in that yoga class in the morning before work (well, this is Vancouver after all), head to the office, set off for a happy hour at a downtown bar, cycle the seawall, and finish off with a beer and the sunset at the beach. Not bad for a day’s work, eh?

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West is best

Yes, I’m sorry if I offend a good proportion of North Americans living out east. But when you hear ‘west coast, best coast’, I’m afraid it’s categorically true. I’ve done my fair share of travelling both sides, and whilst each obviously has its merits, there’s nothing quite like the west coast. Everything about the Pacific side just seems so much more exotic and glamorous. You have the weird and wonderful cities of San Francisco, Portland, and LA all just a short flight away, as well as the awesome Canadian spots of Vancouver Island, the Okanagan, and Banff within reasonable reach. And who can complain when it’s within reasonably easy reach of Hawaii?

As its nickname Hollywood North suggests, it’s a very cool place with either a famous film, commercial, or a TV show being filmed pretty much every day. I even passed Deadpool being filmed on my morning commute last year. Let’s not forget the food too. That ocean brings some great oysters and fresh fish for arguably some of the best sushi and poke you’ll find in a city.

Great climate

Although the stereotype of Canada is all plaid shirts and eskimos, it couldn’t be more untrue in Vancouver. Known as the second warmest city of the world’s second largest country with average lows of just 6.8°C and summer averages of 22°C, it loses out just to the province’s capital, Victoria, over on Vancouver Island. The summer months are long, pretty hot and dry. In the winter it doesn’t typically snow too much in the Lower Mainland. You’re spoilt for choice, however, with the mountains if you’re a keen skier. In fact, they say it’s perhaps unique in the sense that only in Vancouver are you able to swim in the ocean by morning and ski in the mountains in the afternoon. There’s something pretty cool about that, I think you’ll agree it instantly makes Vancouver a liveable city!

Kitsilano swimming pool in Vancouver in the summer

Chill vibes

Of course, a West Coast city brings West Coast vibes. On the whole, Vancouver airs on the more casual side of life – and it’s not just famous for it’s weed smoking habits. Typically, you’ll find people wearing yoga pants and hoodies (quite often in the office too). The time difference can also make the city a little slower than those on the East Coast. That’s not to say it isn’t active. You’ll certainly pass thousands of joggers each day along the seawall, and plenty more cyclists. Green juice bars are in abundance, as is vegan food, salad bars, and dozens of other health food specialists.

Perhaps, as in Canada generally, peace and order seems pretty established in the city. Hundreds of different cultures, sexualities, and ethnicities from across the world seem to intermingle well and are each celebrated (many with their own quirks). This is more so than in many other cities I’ve visited. It’s a friendly city to be in too – and, as a single female, I really can’t stress enough how safe I feel here. For me, that’s so important in making Vancouver a liveable city.

Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver with mountains in the backdrop

Not so much

Here are a few counter arguments as to why the city isn’t always so rosy as it seems.

It ain’t cheap

This is sadly not news. Hardly a day will go by without the Daily Hive smattering its headlines with how unaffordable the housing situation is in the city. This is compared with the relatively average national salaries in Vancouver. As well as having the most unaffordable real estate market in North America, we have constant reminders of how the city is now even more expensive than Los Angeles. Well, if like me, you’re not in any position to buy in Vancouver, you’ve probably encountered the crazy rent prices too. The average 1 bedroom apartment in the city will set you back around $2,000 per month. And two bedroom apartment rentals come in at a sky high $3,200 per month.

This is on top of expensive car insurance, groceries, and other fees including Medical Services Plan payments. These, might I add, are the only medical premiums in Canada, and are exclusive to British Columbia. Well, BC = bring cash! On the plus side, this is the price you pay for living in a beautiful and much sought after city. At least your apartment will most likely be of a good standard in comparison to many other global cities. But does this have an impact on how much of a liveable city Vancouver is?

Yaletown's exclusive harbour in Vancouver, BC

Opioid crisis

A British friend of mine who has never visited Vancouver before recently called me in shock. She’d watched a Netflix documentary on the city’s opioid crisis. ‘Do you know Hastings Street?’ she asked. Well, unfortunately, yes. And if you’ve even so much as stepped foot in Vancouver for at least a few hours, you too will likely know it. I’d like to think I’m fairly well travelled, particularly across North America, but my goodness nothing prepared me for some of the sights I’ve seen here.

East Hastings Street is notorious for its perilous dwellers, drug dealing, casual shoot up sightings, strewn needles, homelessness, and prostitution amongst a handful of other crimes. Sadly, it isn’t just in this street either. With the current opioid crisis claiming 390 lives in just three months, it’s pretty clear the city has a real problem. For me, the alarming thing is that everyone knows it. It’s almost accepted. Although Vancouver is a very liberal city, I’ve not experienced another place where drugs seem almost decriminalized. It’s things like this that do make you wonder ‘is Vancouver a liveable city as much as it seems?’

View of Science World and its neon lights by night

Rain (or shine)

I’ve touched already on how Vancouver has a great climate. The city does know how to do a bloody good summer. This great weather doesn’t, however, pervade the seasons. In fact, Vancouver is extremely well known for its rain. I guess they don’t call it Raincouver for nothing. Yes, you might think I’m well accustomed to rain having grown up in England for the most part of my life, and so did I. But as the saying goes, I really do feel like in this city, it doesn’t rain, it pours.

It can get extremely grey and gloomy in the fall and winter months. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if the rain will actually ever stop. So this must be a factor when considering if Vancouver is a liveable city. I also feel the need to point out that yes, whilst the UK sees on average 156 days of rain, Vancouver sees 161. I can, however, assure you these days often give heavy rain and not the showers back home. Guess that’s the downside to living in a city with its own rainforest. No rain, no flowers – right?

Umbrellas for the rain in Vancouver, BC

One other point to touch on is the very unfortunate forest fires that the province has dealt with over the last few years. As well as causing many evacuations throughout BC and putting lives at risk, the plumes of smoke have entered the city weeks at a time, dulling the sun, making it cooler, and providing Vancouver with the worst quality of air in North America. This seems set to be a real issue over the coming years. It’s even rumoured to simply be ‘a problem here to stay’, causing ongoing changes to the city’s climate.

In conclusion

There’s my roundup. So, is Vancouver a liveable city? My answer: go figure, I’ve already been here almost a year and a half and it’s sped by. As long as you prepare to make some sacrifices and deal with the cons above, it’s a bloody awesome (and extremely beautiful) place to live.


What are your thoughts – is Vancouver a liveable city? I’d love to hear your perspective and experiences in the city!

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Laura
Laura

I’m Laura, a roaming blonde who recently made the leap from my home in the Cotswolds, UK to be based across the pond in Vancouver, BC for a brand new job and plenty of adventures.

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4 Comments

  1. September 22, 2018 / 6:29 pm

    Good analysis of strengths & weaknesses — it’s a great city, for those of us who can afford it — but perhaps that’s a core truth about any city…

    • Laura
      Author
      September 23, 2018 / 2:31 pm

      Totally agree, Penny! They do say a good thing comes at a price

  2. December 3, 2018 / 1:04 pm

    Love this post!! Really reminds me of why I love Vancouver, although I agree with you I’d never seen anything like East Hastings Street before. But to be honest, I’ve mentioned it to a lot of my Vancouver friends and they all say “yeah, but they’ll never harm you”. And I guess it’s true – I’ve never felt unsafe there, just uncomfortable… although I would not go at night!! And it really is just that one area that I didn’t feel comfortable in, so it was easy to avoid. So that aside (and the price), it’s a fantastic city to be in. Especially in the summer!

  3. May 25, 2019 / 7:03 pm

    Vancouver is indeed a livable city, but it is not an affordable city and it is not without its problems including a shortage of doctors and affordable healthcare. No city really ever is without problems. I will continue to visit, but doubt I will ever move there. Happy West Coast living. Allan

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