Lydia Cotic-Ehn’s urban life started when she was born in the family condo. She was the youngest of three siblings, and their family of five shared a unit with two bedrooms and a den.
Growing up, there was a time when she wanted a backyard.
“My parents would tell me, ‘But you do have a backyard. You have Stanley Park, you have the beach, and you have downtown.’”
Cotic-Ehn grew up in the West End, one of Vancouver’s densest neighbourhoods. The West End is 1.7 per cent of the city’s land, but about seven per cent of the city lives here. It’s an iconic part of Vancouver, with its highrises on the downtown peninsula.
However, are downtowns good places to raise kids? There are still some planners and politicians who will say no, citing dangers, such as traffic, and challenges, such as space, which Cotic-Ehn sometimes felt having to share a bunk bed with her sister.
Some believe that cities’ urban cores are for singles, seniors, and even young couples, but not families.
Today, Cotic-Ehn is 18 and would disagree with anyone who thinks that an urban childhood is lesser than growing up somewhere more suburban. She knew her neighbours just the same (even helped babysit in her building), trick-or-treated just the same (apartment lobbies welcomed kids with open doors) and biked around the neighbourhood just the same (rides along the beach and the seawall).
It’s so convenient in the West End that not only is a car unnecessary to get around, but Cotic-Ehn rarely takes transit.
“I walk everywhere,” she says. Friends, shops, restaurants and school are minutes on foot.
Even the challenges, like bunking with her sister, have upsides. Cotic-Ehn says it brought them closer.
But before you use these anecdotes as examples of urban living to advocate for more density or sell condos in Vancouver, you need to realize community doesn’t simply happen when you pack more people together.
There’s a lot that’s special about the West End that makes it work, from its diversity to the fabric of its streets, and you can see and feel it immediately when you go for a walk in the neighbourhood.
As development continues in the city, there’s a lot that can be learned from the West End on how to build for people.
Read the full story in the Vancouver Courier here.