Living in Vancouver:
Environment – Transport – Where to Live – Business – Jobs – Pros and Cons
Geography and Climate
Vancouver sits on the Pacific west coast of Canada.
It is the largest city in British Columbia and, as a result of its Pacific Ocean location, is a very important port, exporting Canadian goods to Asia and the USA’s west coast.
Vancouver’s climate is incredibly mild by Canadian standards; its winters are easily the warmest of Canada’s big cities.
The mild winters are a result of the combined effects of the mild Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, which block cold winter air moving in from the rest of the continent.
Snow falls in Vancouver on an average of eleven days a year, rarely reaching depths of more than a few centimeters.
Summers are dry, sunny and reasonably warm.
Vancouver is an ethnically diverse city.
About 50 percent of the city of Vancouver’s residents and about 44 percent of Metropolitan (Greater) Vancouver’s residents don’t speak English as their first language.
Vancouver takes pride in its status as one of the world’s best cities to live in; it consistently ranks in the top ten of the world’s most livable cities.
The city is renowned for its innovative programs in the areas of environmental sustainability, accessibility and inclusivity.
The city’s people are friendly and polite, but a number of newcomers have found that Vancouverites are rather reserved and difficult to become good friends with.
According to Forbes, Vancouver is the 10th cleanest city in the world.
Comparisons are often made between Vancouver and Toronto. In general, Vancouver comes across as less hectic than Toronto, with a more relaxed feel.
Commercially it also has a more white-collar, service-oriented, less industrial feel than Toronto.
Gang violence – usually drug related – has been a concern in Vancouver. The number of violent crimes has been high compared with other Canadian cities. Crimes involving firearms which were among Canada’s highest – these are usually gang-on-gang offences – are now much lower. Burglary rates are above average.
Vancouver’s police have been targeting violent gangs; there has been a rise in 2017 of gang gun violence which the police are endeavouring to tackle.
Violent crime affected 10 per thousand residents in 2018 up 4 percent from 2017, according to police figures. Police advise that the east-side corridor of downtown Vancouver should be avoided.
Business and Jobs
British Columbia, with Vancouver as its commercial hub, has one of Canada’s most prosperous economies. The city is one of Canada’s largest industrial centres and has a highly diversified economy.
Vancouver has Canada’s largest port, handling $200 million of cargo a day.
The port is ranked number one in North America for exports and, according to InterVISTAS, generates $7 billion in wages via 115,000 Canadian supply chain jobs accross the country.
Vancouver is also home to a variety of other industries including biotechnology, alternative fuels and software development.
Electronic Arts employs one thousand people in Burnaby, making it their largest games studio.
QLT Inc., a global biopharmaceutical company, is based in Vancouver, employing 350 people in research and technology.
MDA (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) employs over 1,000 people in Richmond, working in satellite and information systems technology.
Ballard Power Systems, which develops fuel-cell technology, has about 700 employees in Burnaby.
Foreign technology companies in Vancouver include Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Kodak, Microsoft and Nokia.
HSBC Canada has its headquarters in Vancouver, as do a number of mining and forestry companies.
Vancouver, however, has fewer large company head offices than Calgary or Toronto.
A vibrant, growing, film industry has developed in Vancouver – or “Hollywood North” as it is sometimes described – which produces the second largest number of television shows of any location in North America.
Vancouver’s scenic location ensures that the tourism industry is healthy too.
Both Vancouver and British Columbia were hit by the global recession. Hovever, British Columbia’s unemployment rates tend to be consistently lower than the Canadian average.
Vancouver hosted the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic winter game. The The Olympic Village is now a mixed-use community, with approximately 1,100 residential units, area parks, and a growing number of retail and service outlets.
Construction projects currently underway in 2020 include the $3 billion Senakw Housing Project and a new Vancouver subway, a 6km direct extension of the existing Millennium Line.
Vancouver is currently suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the unemployment rate has risen from 4% in January 2020 to over 14% in May 2020.
Growth is expected to return at the end of 2020 with a forecast of over 6% growth for 2021.
Vancouver has two major universities: The University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University.
The University of British Columbia ranked 2nd in Canada according to Times Higher Education with a global ranking of 37th. Simon Fraser University has been rated Canada’s top comprehensive university by Maclean’s magazine during each of the past six years.
The British Columbia Institute of Technology provides polytechnic education and offers degrees in various fields.
Vancouver also has several community colleges and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Vancouver Film School, a private entertainment arts school.
Government funded elementary schools and high schools generally offer students a high quality education.
Unless you opt for private education, the school(s) your children attend will be determined by where you live.
It makes sense, therefore, to avoid some inner-city schools and schools in poorer areas where issues associated with poverty make it harder for children to perform to their full ability.
The publicly funded high schools with the best academic performance in Vancouver and its surrounds were:
These schools outperformed many fee paying schools.
There is also a wide variety of independent (fee paying) schools available. The following independent schools were Vancouver’s absolute top academic performers:
Where to Live in Vancouver
Vancouver is an expensive city to live in.
It has the most expensive housing market in Canada and is ranked by Demographia as the third least affordable major city in the world, behind Hong Kong and Sydney.
The city has attempted to introduce strategies to reduce housing costs, including co-op housing, increased density and legalized secondary suites. (A secondary suite is a subdivided single home. Secondary suites, or granny flats, usually have their own entrances, living areas, kitchens and bathrooms.)
A large number of people also live in high-rise condominiums.
High density housing is more of a consideration in Vancouver than other Canadian cities because any expansion of Vancouver is restricted by sea and mountains more so than elsewhere.
Real Estate Board statistics of Vancouver summarizing May 2020 found that purchasing a townhouse would cost:
$548,400 in Maple Ridge; $974,200 in North Vancouver; $793,500 in Richmond; $773,400 in Burnaby South; $905,000 in Vancouver East; $1,125,000 in Vancouver West; and $633,000 in Pitt Meadows.
For condominium apartments, prices were:
$360,500 in Maple Ridge; $577,200 in North Vancouver; $652,800 in Richmond; $678,900 in Burnaby South; $595,300 in Vancouver East; $801,300 in Vancouver West; and $500,100 in Pitt Meadows.
Most rentals in Vancouver are unfurnished and come with 12 month leases.
Estimated the monthly rental prices for bedroom suites were:
from $1,700 in Richmond for one bedroom and from $2,200 for two bedrooms; from $1,200 for one bedroon in Delta / Surrey/ Langley and from $1,600 for two bedrooms.
Vancouver’s best neighbourhoods are situated in the city’s downtown, to the west of the downtown, and over the bridge to the North Shore (West and North Vancouver).
North Vancouver has one of Canada’s lowest crime rates.
The west end of the downtown core is the most expensive area, while downtown’s east side is a more impoverished area, with higher crime rates.
Some parts of the eastern city are very run down with some of the worst drug and homelessness problems in Canada.
Moving a little farther out, to somewhere like Burnaby, will be cheaper than the North Shore or downtown and there are plenty of more affordable, family sized properties in areas such as Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Delta, Surrey and Langley.
A three bedroomed house in Burnaby will cost an average of $2,100 per month, a similar property in Delta costs $2,400 per month, rising to $3,000 per month in Port Moody.
Each of these areas have some poorer neighbourhoods that families moving to Vancouver might prefer to avoid, but they also have plenty of great places to live too, with lots of amenities that families will find are ideal.
Environment and Getting Around
Vancouver is clean and livable; this results from a combination of its beautiful physical surroundings and the government’s strong environmental policy.
A rapidly growing population (doubling in the last 20 years) has resulted in an even more rapid increase in vehicle usage. Despite this, peak levels of major pollutants have been trending downward, a sign of successful environmental policies.
Vancouver offers a variety of options for public transit, from buses and ferries (SeaBus) to commuter rail services. The Coast Mountain Bus Company operates throughout the Greater Vancouver area and the buses in the city are completely electric.
The Sky Train is an extensive rail system that loops around the city, offering an efficient, frequent service.
The West Coast Express commuter rail system is the interregional railway system of British Columbia, linking downtown Vancouver to various cities in the province.
Vancouver has just one major freeway, Highway 1, passing through the north eastern corner of the city.
There is a city-wide network of bicycle lanes and with the moderate weather all year long, the use of bicycles as a primary mode of transportation is more than viable. More people walk or bike to work in Vancouver than in any other Canadian city.
What to do in Vancouver
Vancouver has a popular and growing art scene, distinguished restaurants from a variety of nationalities, opportunities for year-round outdoor activities and a variety of sporting events.
Vancouver is a major centre for Canadian music, the Vancouver Art Gallery is a staple of the art scene, and the Vancouver museum is also popular.
There is a prominent performing arts scene as well, with a multitude of theatre companies. Vancouver is home to an annual Fringe Festival and an International Film Festival.
Despite these attractions, anyone looking for serious cultural activities would be better advised to head for Toronto.
On the other hand, Vancouver easily beats Toronto for climate, proximity to the ocean, mountains, rivers, lakes and beaches.
Vancouver is a world-class destination for year round outdoor recreation. Cycling, golf, sailing, hiking, canoeing, skiing and snowboarding are very popular.
The result of all this furious, year round, activity is that Vancouver has a low adult obesity rate – 12% compared to the Canadian average of 23%.
There are over 3200 acres of parks in Vancouver, with Stanley Park being the largest.
Vancouver is home to six professional sports teams, including two ice hockey teams, a baseball team, football and soccer.
Vancouver is a metropolitan city offering something different from most cities. Its large downtown core offers an affluent arts scene, diverse foods and sporting events.
On top of this, Vancouver is surrounded by ocean and mountains that result in a moderate climate allowing outdoor recreational activities all year round. The housing market in Vancouver is the highest priced in the country, and crime rates are higher than in “competing” Canadian cities.