Print Story Ask HuSi: Is Vancouver's Gastown Safe At Night?
By MichaelCrawford (Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 07:04:15 PM EST) Vancouver, British Columbia, Gastown, Downtown Eastside (all tags)
        I am considering an opportunity that would involve working on-site as a software engineer at a company in the Gastown district of Vancouver, British Columbia.  The work would pay well enough to solve a lot of problems I have.

It is close to the Burrard Inlet waterfront, the Waterfront Station and Portside Park.  My question for HuSi is: would I feel safe walking in that neighborhood at night?

It's on the edge of the Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighborhood in Canada.  While efforts are underway to revitalize it, it is widely regarded as a dangerous place to be.  I will be quite close to West Hastings Street.  The East end of that street is vividly described in the above-linked page as a really scary place.  Downtown Eastside was once where a serial killer plied his trade.

I normally work from home.  I last worked on-site in the South of Market District of San Francisco in late 2000.  I had to walk about a mile to catch the Bay Area Rapid Transit Train at the Powell Station.  When I had to do so at night, it scared the living bejeezus out of me.  I swore never to do it again.

Poll: Should I take the job?

Even if you think I'd actually be safe, my concern is more whether I'd feel safe.  My overall objective in taking this job is to cut my stress level.  There's plenty of work I could do from home in Nova Scotia, but it's always been very hard on me.

From what I'm able to ascertain via Google, Gastown as apparently quite a nice place during the day.  It is a historic saloon district, the site where the city was founded, and quite a tourist attraction.

But throughout my career I have often had to work at night.  I expect that to be the case with this job.  I don't expect it to be an option ensure I always get home before the Sun goes down.

Even if I never got into any trouble, my wife Bonita is going to stay in Nova Scotia as she has another year to go in art school.  She is very much the sort to worry about me if she thinks I might not be safe.  All the money in the world wouldn't be worth Bonita losing her peace of mind.

The job itself would be ideal.  It seems like a great company and great work.  I just don't know what possessed a software company to locate smack downtown in a big city instead of the burbs where the rents are cheaper.

The Waterfront Station is a stop for the SkyTrain light rail, SeaBus ferry and West Coast Express commuter rail.  It's not a very long walk from the station to their offices.  So it would be convenient to get to work on public transportation.  I guess that's why they chose the location they did.

Thanks for any advice you can give me.

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Ask HuSi: Is Vancouver's Gastown Safe At Night? | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
For once I may be able to contribute by skippy (4.00 / 4) #1 Wed Aug 23, 2006 at 09:43:31 PM EST
something useful, because I live in Vancouver.  Vaguely near the area in question, and I happen to bus through the downtown eastside (DTES) almost every day - except on the few days when my wife doesn't need the car.

Quick summary:  the DTES is a really sketchy place, but it's not threatening once you understand its character.  Also, while you will be on its fringe, you most likely will not need to walk through it ever (unless you want to).

The only bad things that typically happen in the DTES are either (a) minor property crimes (B&Es, breaking into cars, vandalism), or (b) crimes committed against the people who live there by either other people who live there or those who are preying on them (the serial killer went after prostitutes and/or homeless women - the vulnerable and downtrodden). 

Random middle class programmer types are not their targets.  If you have a car parked on the street there, maybe it would be, but the parking garages are more-or-less secure.  I'd still recommend transit, though, it's just easier to deal with downtown.

One thing you will need to get used to is turning down people asking for change / food / whatever.  Usually they don't bother people in Gastown during the day, and on many nights of the week there are a fair number of clubgoers in Gastown as well.  Most of the addicts out there are fairly benign - I have had more issue with drunken/high idiots accosting me on the bus (far away from downtown) than I ever have while actually downtown.

When I was fairly new to Vancouver (back in my early university days), late one night I walked right through the middle of the DTES (through the notorious Pigeon Park) while I was looking for Gastown.  I felt somewhat uncomfortable, but back then I was but a wee Mennonite lad, new to the strange ways of the big city.

If you're working in Gastown, you have a good route back NW towards the Skytrain station, and up to Seymour/Howe where there are usually a fair number of night busses that run.  There's usually someone out there at night, and it shouldn't be more than a kilometer to a bus stop.

Without knowing exactly where this company is located in Gastown, it's hard to say what the immediate surroundings are like.  The entire area is becoming gentrified - the old empty buildings are being turned into new trendy lofts (and selling for ridiculous prices), and even the old Woodward's building (almost in the heart of the DTES) sold out in just over a day.  There's also a great restaurant called "The Alibi Room" at Main and Alexander - we held our wedding reception there, and that's only three blocks from Main and Hastings.  Alexander St. going west (along Water St., etc.) is just fine.

I can't guarantee that you will feel safe, but I wouldn't have a problem going to/from my company's offices at night, if they were in Gastown.  Actually I would be incredibly happy, because that would shave 40 minutes off my commute.  A lot of up-and-coming dot-com-style (or would it be "Web 2.0 style" now?) companies used to set up shop there, and probably still do.

The Granville mall strip, Robson St. and Gastown are very interesting areas of Vancouver that showcase how a large city can have a vibrant, dense downtown core that doesn't need to be locked down immediately after dark.  Yes, the DTES is a sketchy area, but it's really not that bad once you get used to it.  I can't say that I would spend any time there - it is rather unpleasant - but I don't feel threatened by it.

If you have any more specific questions about the area but don't want to post openly, you can always send me a private message (assuming that feature works) and I can answer you.

Hope this helps!

What he said by theantix (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 09:00:31 AM EST
If you're not a drug dealer encroaching on someone else's turf, you'll be as safe in Gastown as you would be in any Canadian city.
I'm sorry, but your facts disagree with my opinion.
[ Parent ]
Possibly safer. by skippy (2.00 / 0) #5 Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 11:12:26 AM EST
But then, I haven't wandered through the downtown of any other Canadian cities at night...

[ Parent ]
I hear Saskatoon is really rough at night by theantix (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 11:41:49 AM EST

I'm sorry, but your facts disagree with my opinion.
[ Parent ]
Your post and janra's at Kuro5hin convinced me by MichaelCrawford (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Sep 04, 2006 at 03:39:40 AM EST
I took the job, and am posting this comment by taking advantage of the free wireless at the Blenz Coffee at Robson and Bute.  I spend most of my time at the Robson and Burrard Blenz though, as the staff there is much friendlier.

If you'd like to meet up for a coffee or a beer, email me at mdcrawford at gmail dot com.  Act now and you'll receive a free copy of my compact disc Geometric Visions, but supplies are dwindling as I've found free compact discs to be great ice-breakers.

I can burn more CDs, but it will be a while before I can afford a new CD label printer.  My wife is staying behind in Nova Scotia until she graduates from art school, and needs our printer to make prints of her artwork.

[ Parent ]
Dude, it's Canada. by blixco (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 03:51:17 AM EST
The worst thing that can happen is someone will be rude to you.
Taken out of context I must seem so strange - Ani DiFranco
uh by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Aug 24, 2006 at 09:14:19 AM EST

Forensic analysis is very difficult because the bodies of the alleged victims may have been left to decompose or allowed to be eaten by insects and pigs on the farm.
it was revealed that human flesh may have been ground up and mixed with pork from the farm. This pork was never distributed commercially, but was handed out to friends and visitors of the farm.

[ Parent ]
Meh. by blixco (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Aug 25, 2006 at 02:59:09 AM EST
Garden variety stuff 'round these parts.
Taken out of context I must seem so strange - Ani DiFranco
[ Parent ]
remind me not to accept pork from friends by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #8 Sat Aug 26, 2006 at 02:49:37 PM EST
'round your way...

[ Parent ]
I took the job. Read all about it: by MichaelCrawford (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Sep 04, 2006 at 03:48:42 AM EST

My company flew me first-class from Nova Scotia on Thursday.  Friday was my first day on the job in Gastown.

  I spent all day Saturday fruitlessly looking for a place to live, but found a great place today, Sunday, quite close to the Joyce SkyTrain station at Joyce and Vanness.

If you'd like to meet for coffee or a beer, email me at mdcrawford at gmail dot com.  While supplies last, I'll even give you a free copy of my compact disc Geometric Visions.

I'll post future installments of The Vancouver Diaries here at HuSi as well as at Kuro5hin.

Thanks for all your help.  Even though I've only been here a few days, my wife and I are completely convinced we made the right decision.

By the way, I decided to venture out onto East Hastings Street to see if it really was as bad as they say.  It only took about ten seconds to get solicited by a really hard-looking prostitute.  A glance at the unfortunates hanging out down the street quickly convinced me that East Hastings was the wrong place for a naive country boy like me.

Ask HuSi: Is Vancouver's Gastown Safe At Night? | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback