37 Vancouver

PopulationMetro: 2,335,000
The most Asian city outside of Asia is as smart as it is gorgeous. Too bad about the price of entry.

Like many boomtowns hungry for cheap labor to extract the resources of industry, Vancouver has always been a city of global immigrants. As the terminus of a cross-country railroad built by laborers from all over Asia, Vancouver was built with a foundation of Chinese, Japanese and Southeast Asian sensibility.

Vancouverites with ties back to the Old Country became, over decades of political and environmental upheaval, an escape route for new waves of immigrants seeking new opportunities and solace among the city’s rainforests and resource industries. Since then, the city has been an anchor in a sea of change for many Asian communities. Vancouver accepted a large share of Vietnamese refugees in the late ’70s and thousands of Chinese emigrants after the repatriation of Hong Kong by the Chinese.

The city’s comparatively sparse population, relative proximity to Asia and, in the words of one recently arrived Chinese student, “a land [that’s] vast, the air is clean, the pace of life is calm, and people are friendly” makes Vancouver a natural (literally) choice for those with means to make it here.

In the process, it has become the largest Asian city outside of Asia, with the southern suburb of Richmond recently obliging businesses to put up English-language signs (along with the Chinese ones that have dominated the retail landscape for decades).

CITY PERFORMACE
Place
Place 40
Product
Product 19
Programming
Programming 9
People
People 94
Prosperity
Prosperity 35
Promotion
Promotion 14

In the process, it has become the largest Asian city outside of Asia, with the southern suburb of Richmond recently obliging businesses to put up English-language signs (along with the Chinese ones that have dominated the retail landscape for decades).

Vancouver ranks #10 for largest foreign-born population, and #6 in our Educational Attainment subcategory. Increasingly, the term ‘visible minority’ doesn’t really mean anything here. The latest census places residents born outside of Canada at 44%, led by immigrants from China, India and the Philippines.

Despite the success of this welcoming, Eden of coexistence, not all is calm.

Always on the lookout for foreign investment, various incarnations of provincial and federal governments made citizenship available to foreigners with sufficient capital, with little oversight on taxing foreign funds.

Chinatown Millennium Gate

As such, Vancouver’s housing prices are now mostly hitched to a global context, largely decoupled from local wages. The result is a looming crisis whereby the city risks becoming a resort town—with a transient renter class serving real estate owners who are either retired or not working locally. Business leaders are fearing an exodus of the young and middle-class who can’t afford to buy a home. Everyone is bracing for impact.

Despite this, the city’s identity is tied to its openness to new arrivals, and it’s reaping the economic benefits. In 2014, China surpassed the UK to become Vancouver’s second largest international tourism market after the U.S.

Even the smallest boutiques have tailored VIP lists and campaigns on Chinese social media, and they’ll take Alipay on Chinese-issued phones. The Richmond Night Market is a portal to Asian street bazaars just a 30-minute SkyTrain ride from downtown Vancouver. The National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks played their 2017 preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing. Meanwhile, the recent Hurun Report—a survey of hundreds of Chinese individuals whose net worth ranges from $1.5 million to $30 million—placed Vancouver as the fifth-most coveted city in which to buy property and settle. If anything, the largest Asian city outside of Asia will only become more so.