When we first moved to Vancouver, we rented in the rapidly gentrifying Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. We had almost everything we needed or wanted a few blocks from our door: the Canada Line for rapid transit, a Whole Foods, a library branch, a book store, and lots of hip cafes, restaurants, pubs and boutiques. In front of us was Broadway with its bus lines and commercial buzz, and behind us were the beautifully restored heritage houses of the cherry-tree lined 10th street. Within a few minutes on foot we were on Main Street, a rapidly developing stretch of town attractive to young professionals with a constantly improving mix of modern, cosmopolitan and ethnic pubs and eateries, and a soothing absence of chain stores. We weren’t walking distance to a movie theater or gym, but our attitude was “you can’t have it all” and we were quite happy there.
But leave we did, because our landlords returned to reclaim their home. And we ended up in Kitsilano, a well-established once hippie now hipsters kind of neighborhood positioned between Kits Beach to the north and somewhere past 12th Street to the south, hemmed in at the sides between the neighborhoods of Fairview to the east and Pointe Grey to the west. At first, I was disturbed by the thought of a move there. It was just so obvious. Everyone seems to want to live in Kits. It’s got a reputation for being expensive. The beach is a party scene on summer evenings and we’re way past the age for that sort of thing.
The move has turned out to be for the best. We are a short walk to everything we had in Mt. Pleasant, with the addition of a first-run movie theater, a hair salon and a community centre with fitness classes, exercise equipment and a hot tub, on whose site the summer Farmers’ Market takes place. We walk to the bank, the book store, the hardware store, the coffee roaster, the fine wine store; on a lazy night we go to our usual sushi joint; when the weather is good we walk to Granville Island or the Go Fish shack for lunch, or to pick up prawns from the wharf; if I need Japanese sweet potatoes or something fancy, my feet will carry me to Whole Foods in ten minutes. The gluten-free bakery is a three minute walk away and one of the city’s best butchers is around the corner. The car stays mostly parked in the garage.
Everything we need to buy is a short jaunt away. On 4th Street we have every kind of restaurant available, including one of the best in town. There are French bistros, certified Neapolitan pizza and “hot chef” kinds of places. Tea shops and the hipster kind of cafes that prevent feelings of isolation on those dark winter days are found several to each block. We have the odd chain store, like Roots, The North Face or Icebreaker (are you getting an idea of what kind of clothes are popular in Vancouver?), but tucked into the side streets are quirky establishments that charmingly eschew the mass market.
The residential buildings range from spanking new condos to turn of the century wooden homes that we ogle on our regular walks to the beach.
Interspersed are pre-war apartment buildings, usually pretty run down, sources of cheaper rentals (although never actually “cheap”) and rare visual references to Vancouver’s past. They add character, sorely lacking in the newer housing.
House owners tend their gardens, sharing their floral delights all summer long. The many private and public schools in the area mean kids playing or running relays for recess are part of the daily ambient sound, regardless of all but the worst weather.
Kits, and Vancouver as a whole, are dog friendly, but what would old neighborhoods be without their guardian felines? We’re always being observed by one or two (although their owners should take care to bring them in at the end of the day with all the coyotes that run around at night).
Vancouver has its share of eccentrics, and you can find them in many neighborhoods, including well-established ones like Kits. I like the mix. It shouldn’t be all the same everywhere you look, should it?
And the trees! The warped trunks and branches stretching to the sky reveal the area’s age and provide the carpeting of colorful leaves come autumn.
Now, we do not have access to rapid rail transit, neither the Canada Line or the Sky Train. So far, we haven’t needed it. When we inevitably will, the many city buses will have to do.
I feel freer in Kits than I could probably feel anywhere else in the city. Lesson learned: don’t reject the obvious out of hand.
My favorite spot? The place where everyone gathers, in every season.