Vancouver, officially the City of Vancouver, is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. The 2011 census recorded 603,502 people in the city, making it the eighth largest Canadian municipality. Vancouver is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada; 52% of its residents have a first language other than English. The Greater Vancouver area of around 2.4 million inhabitants is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country and the most populous in Western Canada.
The City of Vancouver encompasses a land area of about 114 square kilometres, giving it a population density of about 5,249 people per square kilometre (13,590 per square mile). Vancouver is the most densely populated Canadian municipality, and the fourth most densely populated city over 250,000 residents in North America, behind New York City, San Francisco, and Mexico City.
The original settlement, named Gastown, grew around the Hastings Mill logging sawmill and a nearby tavern, both established in 1867. Enlarging to become the townsite of Granville, with the announcement that the railhead would reach the site it was renamed “Vancouver” and incorporated as a city in 1886. By 1887, the transcontinental railway was extended to the city to take advantage of its large natural seaport, which soon became a vital link in a trade route between the Orient, Eastern Canada, and London. As of 2009, Port Metro Vancouver is the busiest and largest port in Canada, and the most diversified port in North America. While forestry remains its largest industry, Vancouver is well known as an urban centre surrounded by nature, making tourism its second-largest industry. Major film production studios in Vancouver and Burnaby have turned Metro Vancouver into one of the largest film production centres in North America, earning it the film industry nickname, Hollywood North.
Vancouver is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life, and the Economist Intelligence Unit acknowledged it as the first city to rank among the top-ten of the world’s most livable cities for five consecutive years. Vancouver has hosted many international conferences and events, including the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, UN Habitat I, Expo 86, and the World Police and Fire Games in 1989 and 2009. Canada will host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and several matches will be played in Vancouver, including the final at BC Place Stadium. The 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics were held in Vancouver and nearby Whistler, a resort community 125 km (78 mi) north of the city.
As of 2011, Vancouver is the most densely populated city in Canada. Urban planning in Vancouver is characterized by high-rise residential and mixed-use development in urban centres, as an alternative to sprawl. As part of the larger Metro Vancouver region, it is influenced by the policy direction of livability as illustrated in the Livable Region Strategic Plan.
Downtown Vancouver as seen from the Harbour Centre
Vancouver has been ranked one of the most livable cities in the world for more than a decade. As of 2010, Vancouver has been ranked as having the 4th highest quality of living of any city on Earth. In contrast, according to Forbes, Vancouver had the 6th most overpriced real estate market in the world and was second-highest in North America after Los Angeles in 2007. Vancouver has also been ranked among Canada’s most expensive cities in which to live. Forbes has also ranked Vancouver as the tenth cleanest city in the world.
This approach originated in the late 1950s, when city planners began to encourage the building of high-rise residential towers in Vancouver’s West End, subject to strict requirements for setbacks and open space to protect sight lines and preserve green space. The success of these dense but livable neighbourhoods led to the redevelopment of urban industrial sites, such as North False Creek and Coal Harbour, beginning in the mid-1980s. The result is a compact urban core that has gained international recognition for its “high amenity and ‘livable’ development”. More recently, the city has been debating “ecodensity”—ways in which “density, design, and land use can contribute to environmental sustainability, affordability, and livability.”
Libraries in Vancouver include the Vancouver Public Library with its main branch at Library Square, designed by Moshe Safdie. The central branch contains 1.5 million volumes. Altogether there are twenty-two branches containing 2.25 million volumes.
The Vancouver Art Gallery, formerly the Provincial Courthouse
The Vancouver Art Gallery has a permanent collection of nearly 10,000 items and is the home of a significant number of works by Emily Carr. However, little or none of the permanent collection is ever on view. Downtown is also home to the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver). The CAG showcases temporary exhibitions by up-and-coming Vancouver artists.
In the Kitsilano district are the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre, and the Vancouver Museum, the largest civic museum in Canada. The Museum of Anthropology at UBC is a leading museum of Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations culture. A more interactive museum is Science World at the head of False Creek. The city also features a diverse collection of Public Art.