Visit to Vancouver

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Which major city on the West Coast would you say is most like Los Angeles? Or at least, that offers the most lessons in livability for LA?

Well the answer isn't San Francisco or Seattle. It's Vancouver, the Canadian metropolis where I spent a good bit of Thanksgiving week.

What I found was a city that's a lot like the idealized urbanscape that planners aspire for LA to become.

It begins at the airport. Unlike at LAX, the train option into town actually comes into the terminals. It doesn't stop a half-mile away.

Vancouver's airport also has comfortable, sunny places to sit. Places to eat where you don't feel like you're slowly dying.

And little things like signs telling you how many minutes you have to walk to reach your gate.

But I don't want this to be a rant about the failings of LAX.

Vancouver has managed to pull off the tricky balance between a city of thriving neighborhoods and a Metro area with suburbs where most people live.

Sound familiar?

The similarities to LA include, as anyone who works in Hollywood knows, a strong film and TV industry presence.

There's also a sizable gay and lesbian community, and ethnic enclaves of Punjabis, Vietnamese and other immigrant groups.

Only about half the population speaks English as their first language. When you factor in French Canadians and the First Nations groups that lived on the British Columbia coast.

And then there's the Chinese.

Vancouver, as you probably have heard, was a main destination for Hong Kong families who fled before the People's Republic of China took over the colony in the 90's.

They brought money that accelerated Vancouver's growth into one of the densest cities in North America.

The skyline is the most vertical anywhere on the West Coast –- filled with so many residential towers they call it the City of Glass.

All those immigrants have not been absorbed without some underlying tension. Sound familiar again?

A taxi driver couldn't wait to explain how each old neighborhood we rode through had been changed by the Chinese.

But a casual visitor doesn't feel the deep divides between immigrants and races that you can't avoid in LA.

Another thing you don't see is any freeways ripping through the core of the city. Highways were pushed by design to the outlying areas.

Vancouver is the only Canadian big city where the rate of car ownership and miles driven is going down.

You can walk easily across downtown or take a ferry to Granville Island, a former industrial zone now alive with artist studios, restaurants and a large public market.

I get now why Vancouver is talked about as one of the most livable cities. Even with a famous amount of rainfall.

The scale doesn't really transfer to LA. It costs much more to build a mile of subway or light rail here.

But even so, it's fun to visit one place that actually turned out the way the city planners would like us to.

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For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.