Survey shows most British Columbians think newcomers may feel unwelcome

October 7, 2016

By Deboran Irvine, Vancouver Sun |

In most stories, it is said there are only two plots: a person takes a journey or a stranger comes to town. Most of us can claim familiarity with the narrative. After all, these kinds of tales have defined B.C.’s growth and development.

Yet, new research suggests it’s time to take a deeper look at that second plot line. How do we really feel when a stranger comes to town? Do newcomers find our neighbourhoods welcoming? What about levels of trust among us? Do we feel safe? Do we feel we belong?

The 2016 Vital Signs report — commissioned by the Vancouver Foundation — explores these issues as part of a wider study asking people how they feel about their communities. For the first time, we sought answers from within Metro Vancouver and across the province. Working with Community Foundations of Canada across B.C., we surveyed over 7,100 people.

We asked about the things British Columbians love, the issues they face, and how connected they are to their local community. As expected, differences exist depending on where we live, but there are also shared perceptions. Many are positive — high marks for natural beauty and quality of life — but other responses raise concerns.

For example, about that stranger coming to town: Only 45 per cent of us feel that someone new moving onto our street would be welcomed into the neighbourhood.

This is not just a big city perception. While higher proportions of people living in Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby/New Westminster felt their neighbourhoods would not welcome someone new, other regions — for example the Okanagan and northeast B.C. — also expressed doubt. Across B.C., responses ranged from 33 — 64 per cent, suggesting room for improvement in all regions.

Equally telling is the demographic breakdown. Those aged 25 — 34 and those of Asian descent polled lowest in their perception of welcome. Worse still, only 13 per cent overall strongly believe our neighbourhoods are welcoming.

This is not the expected narrative. Nor is it the national image we polish with pride when we talk about Canada’s diversity or showcase our response to the Syrian crisis to visiting royalty. But at the neighbourhood level, is our story a different one?

It’s not a simple issue, as other responses in the study show. For example, two-thirds of British Columbians say their sense of belonging is strong. But only 18 per cent describe it as very strong — so again, room for improvement.

While gender doesn’t make a difference, age does. The older we grow and the longer we live in our community, the more our feeling of belonging strengthens. It also increases if we have a spouse or partner — regardless of whether we have children — or if we are a single parent.

Another important finding relates to trust. Across B.C., 70 per cent believe a lost wallet or purse would be returned — with the money inside — if found by a neighbour. In Vancouver, this figure falls to 54 per cent compared to an average 77 per cent outside Metro Vancouver.

As for safety, 78 per cent of people in B.C. feel safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. But this perception is lower if you are female (70 per cent), Aboriginal (68 per cent) or under 25 (65 per cent).

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