In a previous life, Gulliver was tasked with devising a way to measure the “liveability” of various cities. The ensuing report was aimed at firms who sent expatriate managers to far-flung places, to determine whether they needed to pay a hardship allowance. The trouble was, measuring things such as crime levels, transport efficiency and housing stock, meant that the most anodyne cities inevitably rose to the top. Vienna, Vancouver and Geneva always seemed to do well. Pleasant cities, yes, but mind-numbingly boring. What right-minded person would rank Vienna a better city than Rio, or Vancouver preferable to Paris?
I admit, I am somewhat enjoying watching Vancouverites freak out over this article. (More accurately, they’re freaking out about the above quote — contrary to local media coverage, it’s not actually an article about how boring Vancouver is.)
As with everything, this is a classic case of the best and worst things being the same thing. “Work-life balance”, “relaxed lifestyle”, “not Toronto” — these are the phrases Vancouverites use to describe what makes our city different from other cities. And not coincidentally, they are all ways of saying we’re a city with a slower pace than the vast majority of major North American cities.
You know what “slower pace” means to a lot of people? Boring.
And I’ll admit, I’m among them. If I were 24 and childless (or fuck that, 44 and childless) there are a dozen places I would find more interesting to live in. I would love to live somewhere that has more theatre, more community events, more shopping choices, and at least one good, independent, general interest bookstore. I would love to live in a city where people dressed up, stayed up, wigged out or did any of the things we are too relaxed to do. I would love to live in a city where I could hop on a subway and land in another neighborhood and know that I could walk for miles without running out of places to eat or stores to poke into.
But as the mom of two still-young kids, I’m deeply grateful for boring. Boring means that I can get from one end of our city to another in twenty minutes, which is about as long as I can keep my kids from going bonkers in a car. Boring means I can leave my nice clothes hanging in the closet and feel comfortable going just about anywhere in the jeans or sweatpants I wear on the days when I’m mostly with the kids. Boring makes it easy to stay home with the kids most nights, without feeling like I’m missing out.
Even if I weren’t at the encumbered-with-kids stage of life, I can see lots of virtues in boring. Boring is easy. Boring is relaxed. Boring is an antidote to a pace of life that in many cities has become exhausting and unsustainable. And when boring gets to be too much — or too little — not-boring is a plane flight or a drive away.
So Vancouverites, let’s can the outrage and embrace our unique selling proposition. In a world where having nothing to do is now a scarce and fetishized experience, boring has its own dull cachet.