Ten minutes. That’s how long I spent walking around Vancouver’s downtown core this afternoon. But ten minutes and a camera are all you need to capture the signs of the times.

What times are those? Let’s start with the most trivial one: The Vancouver Canucks hockey team. Here in Canada, the trials and tribulations of the local NHL franchise surpass even “the weather” as the topic most likely to unite strangers who, otherwise, would share only awkward silence. The mood of a Canadian city ebbs and flows with the fortunes of its hockey team, and the Canucks are currently mired in a seven game losing streak — the strain of which is worn on the face of many Vancouver residents.

The sign? A metaphorical one. A discarded Canucks ticket lies upon the city sidewalk. On it is the face of Canucks centre, Ryan Kesler — as trampled and wretched as the hockey club itself.

Example of the times, number two? The collapse of the housing industry. For the past decade, every building that didn’t scrape Vancouver’s sky was bulldozed and replaced with one that did. 200-unit condominium towers would sell-out before the developer erected the first construction crane. Prior to the building’s completion, each unit would exchange hands a half-dozen times. Condominiums ceased to become residences, and became currencies of exchange. But like a giant cosmic game of musical chairs, the music stopped. And when it did, those caught holding condominiums could no longer find purchasers. The luckiest developers, who witnessed the market’s collapse before they broke ground, have all turned their construction sites into instant “urban parks.” The unlucky developers, who have projects in-progress, are now facing mounting bills, unsold units, and bankruptcy.

The sign? A literal one. Specifically, the one in front of the 190-unit H&H building in Yaletown — the trendiest neighborhood in Vancouver. With the developer bankrupt and 44 units still unsold, liquidators continue to slash prices in an attempt to find a realistic market value. This photo contains a “bonus sign” to the far left — a “For Rent” sign. Faced with mortgages they can’t afford, and units that are worth only half of what they paid just 6 months previously, thousands of desperate “ex-investors” are becoming “unemployed landlords.”

Times example three? Retail’s inevitable collapse. At the base of all those high-rise condominiums are retail outlets. Unlike the units stacked above them, most are still occupied. But for how long?

The sign? Look through the front door of any retailer. Any one you choose — it doesn’t matter which. What do you see? If you see customers, you’re witnessing a sight more rare than a flute player in a rock band. And, for all I know, that elusive shopper might actually be Ian Anderson.

Need a fourth glimpse of our times? How about jobs? Or rather, the lack thereof? Thousands are disappearing every day. Many who were lucky enough to survive the first round of layoffs are facing significant salary reductions. Those presently unscathed by either unemployment or reduced wages live in fear of being “next.”

The Sign? Ketchup becomes a side dish. If times get worse, it may become a meal.

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©2009 grEGORy simpson
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