Living the Happy City: A Seawall Completed

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Back in March, I wrote an essay for Vancouver Is Awesome about Charles Montgomery’s fantastic new book Happy City, and how it perfectly articulated our family’s own decade-long journey from the suburbs of Toronto to the heartbeat of Vancouver. In the coming months, I’m going to share with you the experiences unique to this city that fill us with pride, joy and excitement; allowing us to build a happier city, just by living it.

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When our family woke up on Mother’s Day, we sat down for breakfast – as is our usual Sunday tradition – and chatted about what we wanted to do that day. With the sun in the sky, and nothing else on our plates, we opted to pack up some sand toys, sunscreen, and snacks; and saddle up for a leisurely ride on the seawall. For the four of us, hitting the beach on our bicycles is a cherished summer tradition, and one of the main reasons why we adore living where we do.

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This time around, however, we had one additional location at our disposal; a place we haven’t been able to visit by bike the entire time we’ve called Vancouver home. While we would otherwise never dare to venture any further west of Kitsilano Beach, the recent completion of the Seaside Greenway now affords us the ability to cycle comfortably to Jericho Beach, without having to deal with the speed, danger, and unpleasantness that once defined Point Grey Road.

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I don’t have to describe how breathtakingly beautiful it was on Sunday. If you were lucky enough to be in Vancouver, you were no doubt outside experiencing it first-hand. It was one of those rare days when the entire city sparkles like an azure diamond, with no better place to experience it than from the magnificent promenade that surrounds it: the buildings, bridges, blossoms, boats, birds, and bikes. Summer is undoubtedly around the corner, and everything feels so alive!

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Needless to say, this was our family’s first opportunity to cycle the new Point Grey Road, and in the glorious May sunshine, the recent upgrades felt nothing short of transformational. There was a diverse range of ages and backgrounds making use of the shared space: walking their dogs, hanging out in the parks, riding their bicycles, and yes, even taking out their convertible for a scenic drive. I was overwhelmed with how much more human the street felt: everyone was smiling and interacting, regularly stopping to chat with friends, acquaintances, or total strangers; as we did, on three separate occasions.

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We rolled up to Jericho Beach just after lunch, our kids showing no sign of tiring after the 15-kilometre journey that brought us there. Not having to worry about finding a parking spot (a difficult task in this neck of the woods), we locked up our bikes, and wandered over to find a comfortable spot in the sand. We spent the next couple of hours eating, playing, and relaxing by the ocean, until we had enough of the sun, surf, and sand; and began the slow-paced, 90-minute trek home.

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Something that continues to amaze and inspire us about this city is the fact you’re continually surrounded by nature, even in an urban setting. The omnipresent ocean, trees, and mountains are one thing, but every once in a while, something else pops up to completely surprise you. On this particular day, we first spotted a pair of harbour seals playing in False Creek, and then – later – an entire gaggle of baby Canada Geese on the grass near Granville Island.

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We made one final stop on our way home – The Olympic Village – a place that has become a regular tradition for us. It serves as a convenient spot to caffeinate and recharge our batteries, before the home stretch up the hill to East Vancouver. In the past few years, it has gone from ghost town to a hub of activity; a destination for both locals and tourists to get together, or pass through on their way elsewhere. And regardless of the time of year, it’s always absolutely teeming with bicycles.

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We made it home for a late dinner, after which both kids crashed pretty hard, the 30-kilometre round trip having finally caught up with them. My wife and I weren’t much later ourselves, drifting off to sleep with wind burnt faces, chapped lips, sun kissed necks, and saddle sore thighs. These are the familiar and pleasant pangs of summer; sensations we haven’t experienced for quite a while. Like many Vancouverites, we’ve learned to make the absolute most of days like these. And on those occasions, the city never manages to disappoint.

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Chris Bruntlett is a Residential Designer and father of two, living the (car-free) East Van dream. Outside of the office, he diligently documents the rise of mainstream bicycle culture via words, photographs, and film. He cherishes the ability to live and work in a dense, vibrant, sustainable city, and contribute to that vision on a daily basis. You can find Chris on Twitter: @cbruntlett