'Seattle Freeze' strikes northern neighbor - Vancouver, B.C.

Jun 19, 2012

Apparently the social phenomenon known as the “freeze” – or social indifference and avoidance of strangers – extends north of Seattle.

A new survey of living conditions in our northern neighbor Vancouver, B.C., conducted by the Vancouver Foundation discovered:

“One in three people living in metropolitan Vancouver say it can be difficult to make friends here. Seventy per cent have never had a neighbour over. And 47 per cent do not trust or do not know if their neighbours trust each other.”

We’ve known for a long time that getting on an elevator or bus, for instance, around Seattle means keeping your eyes to yourself, phone conversations down and, heaven forbid, not saying anything – let alone something like, “Howdy, wanna come over for a game of cards?”

Now, a more scientific look at the freeze in Vancouver found similar issues:

Metro Vancouver can be a hard place to make friends.

31% say it is difficult to make new friends here. And 25% say they are alone more often than they would like to be. These same people are also likelier to experience poorer health, lower trust and a hardening of attitudes toward other community members.

Our neighborhood connections are cordial, but weak.

74% know the names of at least two of their neighbors but the connections typically stop there. 70% have not visited a neighbor’s home or invited a neighbor over. And 47% do not trust or do not know if their neighbors trust each other.

The most often-cited reason for not knowing neighbors is that people seldom see each other (46%). However, another significant reason seems to be indifference. People have little interest in getting to know their neighbors or say they prefer to keep to themselves (32%).

Many people in metro Vancouver are retreating from community life.

In the past year, only 23% took part in a neighborhood or community project.

It isn’t a lack of time that stops people from getting involved. The most often-cited reason for not participating in neighborhood and community life is a feeling that people have little to offer.

There are limits to how people see diversity as an opportunity to forge meaningful connections.

35% have no close friends outside their own ethnic group. And 65% believe that most people prefer to be with others of the same ethnicity.

Many people believe all new immigrants and refugees, regardless of where they come from, would be welcome in their neighborhood. However, a significant number of residents rank which groups they believe would be the most and the least welcome.

The affordability issue in metro Vancouver is affecting people’s attitudes and beliefs.

54% believe Vancouver is becoming a resort town for the wealthy. These same people also tend to think that there is too much foreign ownership of real estate.

For more information about the survey, check out the Vancouver Foundation report.

Seattle Freeze solutions?

Here’s the view from Seattle as reported in our ‘I Wonder Why …?’ story: Why is the 'Seattle Freeze' so hard to melt?

Is Seattle a great but lonely place to live?

The city often ranks pretty high on those lists of the best places to move to – There’s the food, the water, the mountains, the music. But once people get here, they find it’s pretty tough to make friends. There’s even a name for it: The Seattle Freeze.

The freeze here can play out in many different ways.

You say hello to someone walking past on the sidewalk, and they look straight ahead as if you’re invisible. Or, you’re at the grocery store in the checkout line, and the person waiting behind you keeps a distance of at least 10 feet and never makes eye contact.

The Urban Dictionary defines The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Seattle Freeze’ this way:

“A phrase that describes a local public consensus that states the city of Seattle and/ or its outlying suburbs are generally not friendly, asexual, introverted, socially aloof, clickish or strictly divided through its social classes, thus making the city/ area difficult to make social connections on all levels.”

Hats off to Seattlepi.com’s Big Blog for digging up the Vancouver story.

On the Web:

A great series of stories by The Vancouver Sun: