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'City in transition': New York Times itinerary for tourists touches on Vancouver's 'thorny' issues

The DTES is described as an "area in transition where homelessness, drug use and gentrification remain a thorny challenge."
Locals share their views on a 36-hour itinerary created by the New York Times for visitors to Vancouver, B.C.

One of the world's biggest newspapers released a guide for spending 36 hours in Vancouver -- but some of the inclusions may surprise you. 

Vancouver-based journalist Remy Scalza comprised a list for the New York Times of the city's "key stops," including Stanley Park, West 4th Avenue, Commercial Drive, and the North Shore's Capilano River Regional Park.

The itinerary kicks off in Vancouver's massive urban park, described as the ideal place to start exploring the city. Cyclists can enjoy stunning views of the "rainforest, beaches and gardens" as they ride along the seawall's 6.6-kilometre path. 

Many of Vancouver's other typical tourist destinations appear on the list, including Commerical Drive, described as a "refreshing counterpoint to Vancouver’s glitzy downtown," as well as the city's "rugged backyard," Capilano River Regional Park. While Commerical Drive offers a less-touristy reprieve, Capilano's park might steer them just a little too far off the beaten path -- at least for a day-and-a-half stint in the city.

By taking tourists across the water to North Vancouver, the itinerary doesn't offer much time to explore the City of Vancouver proper. For a brief "glimpse of old-growth forest remnants and rugged canyons," folks following the schedule are advised to "take an Uber or taxi just past the tourist magnet Capilano Suspension Bridge" to get to the park.

And after wandering around the North Vancouver park, travellers are advised to stop in at the Museum of North Vancouver. Instead, they could have made a stop at the Museum of Vancouver and had time for another at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre.

While it might not make much sense for visitors to cram into their brief stay, the "out of town" portion of the itinerary does make a striking departure from the 2017 NYT installment of "36 hours in Vancouver." The previous itinerary focuses on the typical tourist hits, such as Granville Island and the Vancouver Art Gallery, and recommended popular activities like riding a bike in English Bay. It also suggested a stop at the Museum of Vancouver. 

Michelin Guide highlighted in new Vancouver itinerary

The latest itinerary highlights the city's dining scene's recent inclusion in the Michelin Guide, noting that it now has "eight single Michelin-starred restaurants." 

Considered by many as a hallmark of absolute excellence - and for some chefs and restaurateurs it's a life goal - Michelin stars are determined by esteemed "inspectors" dispatched to a destination and chronicled in the tire company's vaunted guidebooks. 

While the majority of the 2023 itinerary focuses on key places to shop, explore, eat, and stay, the visitors' guide also touches on one of the city's underlying issues. 

In the piece, Vancouver is described as a "city in transition," grappling with gentrification "as property values have skyrocketed." Formerly low-cost neighbourhoods in East Vancouver, such as "one-time working-class strongholds like Commercial Drive," are filling up with "trendy shops and restaurants." While Vancouver is described as an evolving city, the author doesn't outline exactly what that means. Posh eateries and boutiques have cropped up in formerly affordable Vancouver neighbourhoods but the city struggles with what to do with people who have been forced out, resulting in several tent cities and crime. 

For example, at 7 p.m., the itinerary suggests vistors have a French Canadian dinner at "Gastown's eastern fridge." Described as an "area in transition where homelessness, drug use and gentrification remain a thorny challenge," tourists can enjoy a meal at one of the city's recent Michelin star awardees, St. Lawrence, which is touted for its "haute take on traditional Québécois cuisine" and offers a prix-fixe menu at $125 dollars per person. 

While the restaurant is considered one of the best in the city (and requires booking weeks in advance), the brief note on where it is located doesn't indicate whether the area is safe or how bad the issues are.  Advocate Travis Lupick, author of Light Up the Night: America's Overdose Crisis and the Drug Users Fighting for Survival, commented on how the itinerary would have "people talking" since it brings attention to this issue without discussing it further. What should a visitor to Vancouver take away from this information?

Aside from the brief comments on gentrification, the rest of the itinerary moves the tourist through the city from Stanley Park to Vancouver's first neighbhourood," including a stop for "a brew with a view" at the Stanley Park Brewpub & Restaurant (great location but not really a great example of the city's incredible craft brewing scene), as well as one to pick up some new kicks at Native Shoes’ flagship store. 

For other places to visit, such as Kitsilano Beach, the author mentions how the destination is an "urban oasis for those seeking sun, sand, beach volleyball and a dip in the cold Pacific Ocean" but doesn't mention how crowded it is during the summer.

The itinerary also includes a stop to shop at Arc’teryx, which "got its start locally," but also happens to be a huge retailer with locations across Canada, the U.S., and around the globe - hardly a store where you'd find the most Vancouver souvenir to pack home.

There are several other brand mentions, including an independent toy store on Commercial Drive called Dilly Dally, but the story misses opportunities to highlight other small or Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) businesses. A couple of examples include Hogan's Alley Clothing, which is an ode to the neighbourhood’s legacy and a fusion of African culture and Western style, as well as Totem Design House, famously known for its blend of pop culture icons like Star Wars with Indigenous art.

Vancouverites weigh in on New York Times' itinerary 

Several locals voiced their views of the itinerary on social media. Local Jordan Ross chimed in on the discussion, remarking that West 4th, which was included as one of only four key stops, shouldn't be such an important visit on the roundup. 

Another local mentioned in a tweet that they live three blocks from West 4th Avenue and only visit it about once a month.

"It is a miserable traffic-clogged street with boring expensive shops. Why on earth would anyone fly across the continent to visit it? Or even travel across the city?" they quipped. 

While West 4th might be a surprising second stop on a Vancouver "must-see" itinerary, it again differentiates it from the 2017 version, which focuses on strolls through False Creek and the University of British Columbia.

Local Ali Gibbs noted on Twitter that it was "a really solid take on spending some time in Vancouver," while another Vancouverite said that it made them want to "do a little hometown sightseeing." However, they noted that the restaurant selections were too pricey

With files from Lindsay William-Ross, Maria Diment, and Allie Turner.